What moblie service to get, part 2

Joel Newkirk moko at newkirk.us
Sat Mar 10 19:10:18 CET 2007

I used to sell T-Mobile, Cingular, AT&T (before they merged), & Sprint.
 I've been a T-Mo customer for about seven years, and I wanted to offer
the benefit of my experience and knowledge.  The info I offer is based
on T-Mobile USA service.  [Disclaimer:  I don't - and never did - work
for a carrier, and I am not associated with - or benefitting at all from
anyone selecting - any of these service.  In addition, I accept no
responsibility if something I say here is incorrect and you end up in a
35-year contract for useless services ;)]

T-Mo prepaid is voice and messaging only, no data services.  (well,
that's not exactly true - they offer prepaid service for the Sidekick,
at $1/day for data plus $0.15/min voice, but I'm pretty sure this
requires a Sidekick)  Cingular/ATT is the same - the GoPhone deals offer
'data' services, but AFAIK they're carrier-provided services like
weather, news, etc only, NOT general unrestricted internet access.  So
you can send SMS messages and use GSM (voice) channels, but no true data

You CAN run dial-up over GSM - I now work for an internet provider, and
have successfully had my old Nokia 6600 GSM phone configured to directly
dial up to one of our dialup racks, using the dialer and browser in the
phone, as well as bluetooth from a Zaurus.  Connection speed is 9600
baud.  (er, bps - showing my age there ;)  Sufficient for some limited
uses, but not suitable for most web browsing, let alone
bandwidth-consuming uses like google maps.  (a typical 640x480-sized
browser view of google maps takes well over a minute to load imagery
with satellite/hybrid selected - by contrast, SSH works pretty
satisfactorily, with the exception of the noticeable keystroke lag,
which is present over GPRS and EDGE as well)  GSM utilizes a voip codec
that is named (wait for it::) GSM.  The GSM codec is designed to
compress audio to fit within a 9600bps datastream.

Data services.  There are two basic grades of service here.  The first
is the 'walled-garden' variety - with T-Mo this is called 'T-Zones' and
'T-MobileWeb', and offers access only to services provided by T-Mo
themselves or their partners - these services are NOT what most
participants in this mailing list are interested in.  (Reading plan
info, they are careful to always refer to the 'mobile web' - this term
isn't well explained, but it means 'mobile data services that the
carrier allows/offers')

The higher grade of data service is full data plans.  These can be
stand-alone data plans ($50/month unlimited data, "T-Mobile Total
Internet", NOT Blackberry or Sidekick plans, which AFAIK require IMEI of
one of those devices) or, more commonly, add-ons to a voice plan. At the
lower end of the spectrum are plans with very limited amounts of data
included, and charges per kb (although priced per mb, IIRC) beyond that.
   At the upper end are unlimited data plans.  While carriers may
classify their plain data plans as 'smartphone' vs 'pda' vs 'laptop',
the only significant difference between those is the amount of included
data per month.  (at one point, at least, the 'smartphone' plans only
allowed HTTP, SMTP, POP3, and DNS services through - but I'm fairly
certain that's no longer the case, given the variety of devices
available with ever-differing lists of features)

FWIW, I'm on the T-Mo 'Unlimited VPN' data plan, an add-on to my basic
voice plan.  (also at some times called 'internet3' because the access
is configured to 'internet3.voicestream.com')  They don't offer it
anymore AFAIK, although it would be well worth the trouble of asking if
they'll give it to you.  This add-on plan is $19.99/month for unlimited
data, and the 'vpn' part refers to the fact that you have a persistent
dynamic IP, whereas the ordinary data plans IIRC have many customers
behind a single NAT IP.

Service is tied to the SIM, and you must either have an
unencumbered/unactivated SIM from that carrier, or buy one, almost
always with a phone rather than by itself.  (just buying a SIM they
charge ~$25)  Carriers subsidize handset prices to the dealers, to the
tune of $100-$200 a pop sometimes.  If you bring your own device (IE,
Neo1973) to sign up for new service, a dealer will be ecstatic since
they will get the subsidy without providing a handset.  Most dealers
will NOT offer anything back to you as the customer, (none that I've
ever heard of) they just count the money and smile.  The carrier
themselves MAY offer a deal if you contact them directly, but don't hold
your breath - their entire system is designed to put locked handsets in
the hands of the consumers.  With US carriers I'm familiar with, NONE of
them will give any discount or rebate if you bring your own device at
sign-up, although with a little finagling (and repeated requests to
speak to a supervisor ;) 0it should be possible to sign up for service
without requiring a contract, since the primary (but not sole) purpose
of the contract is to ensure that you remain a customer at least long
enough for them to recoup the subsidy they expect to pay for your new
locked handset.

As long as you have a valid usable SIM for your chosen GSM carrier, you
can slot that SIM into any locked GSM handset from that carrier, or any
unlocked GSM handset.  Carrier-specific features will obviously be a
problem if you bring an unlocked handset to the game, and because of
this and their low expectations of consumer understanding, they often
simplify the truth by claiming you can only use their devices.

{aside:  Many people, though likely not too many participating on this
list, experience confusion about the word 'lock' in relation to cell
phones.  There's basically four types of locks.  Keylocks keep you from
accidentally dialing the phone. There's the ability to lock the handset
until a PIN code is entered - usually at powerup, and this type of lock
will usually lock the phone 'deeper' if the wrong code is repeatedly
entered, such that an unlock code will need to be obtained from the
carrier.  Then there's the ability of the carrier to lock the SIM or
handset so it will no longer connect to the service, and finally there's
the kind of lock we're talking about here, where the phone handset is
'locked' to only work with a SIM from a specific carrier}

Final advice:  NEVER accept the first answer you get from the first
person you speak to at ANY carrier - most of them are competent only to
deal with ordinary customers and ordinary needs, whereas anything
dealing with BYOD or data services are pretty much outside their
experience and/or training.  IF you're a current customer, it may be
necessary to escalate to the 'Retention' department (responsible for
trying to keep customers from leaving - just tell them you want to
cancel service and this department fields the call) before you get
someone who will make the effort to actually find answers and solutions
outside the standard offerings.  As an example, I bought a new handset
about 5 months ago with T-Mo, then a few weeks ago I contacted them to
ask about their 'myfaves' offers.  (unlimited calls to/from 5 numbers)
It wasn't until I spoke to the SECOND person at tier2 support that I
even got someone to admit that I did NOT have to buy a new
'myfaves-compatible' handset.  (they wanted me to spend $100 and sign
another year contract to get the same exact handset I already have, but
in Purple with myfaves support, which amounts to the ability to change
your 5 numbers from the handset itself instead of needing to go online
or call customer service to make changes)  In the end, I didn't sign up
for it, instead they gave me an upgrade of my already un-offered voice
plan, to where I get 1000 mins instead of the standard 600 or my
previous 800 mins per month.  Carrier loyalty can pay off after a few
years, but only if you pursue it, and pursue it beyond the first tier of
customer service drones.


Mike wrote:
> OK totally excellent info Erik thanks.  (You MIT alums beat us CMU alums
> sometimes I guess.)  The openmoko people definately need to address this
> stuff. A couple questions inline,
> Erik wrote:
>> I agree that this should be in a FAQ somewhere, because it's something
>> lots of US free-your-phone users need to know.  It isn't OpenMoko
>> specific, but definitely relevant.  I already wasted ^H^H^H^H^H^Hspent
>> some time looking in to this so I'll share what I've found:
>> 1. I believe Cingular prepaid can do GPRS data.  This would normally
>>    be excellent news.  Except that its $0.01 per kbyte. [!!!]  If you
>>    get the max bitrate that works out to something like $4 per minute!
>>    So "spending minutes" to use data would be a bargain.
>> 2. But I'm not holding my breath that I will be able to just spend
>>    voice minutes getting infrequent data access from a prepaid plan.
>>    A cellular telephone voice connection is extremly highly compressed
>>    in ways that sound ok for speach, but ways that mean very little
>>    data would get through if you tried to use standard modem codings.
>>    Plus, the little cpu in the thing couldn't really be expected to do
>>    the decoding.  Perhaps someone could do a great hack with a
>>    self-powered modem on the headphone port, looping back into the
>>    unit via a bluetooth-to-serial dongle.
>> 3. Data plan it is.  You can't add a data plan to a prepaid card.  So
>>    either you have a prepaid voice card + data plan card, or you suck
>>    it up and sign up for a voice plan as well.
> Is there really such a thing as a "data plan card" ?  I can't find that
> on the gophone section of the cingular site. It only lists:
> $15    30 days
> $25    90 days
> $50    90 days
> $75    90 days
> $100    365 days
>> 4. Cingular differentiates plans based on what kind of phone/interface
>>    device you have, and how you intend to use it.  The cheapest is
>>    smartphone, the next is pda, the next is laptop.  And to use one of
>>    their locked smartphones or pdas as a bluetooth modem you have to
>>    pay an expensive extra $$ per month "tether" fee.  My guess is that
>>    all data plans work in all unlocked devices... but maybe I'm wrong
>>    and theres a whitelist on the simcard.
>> 5. It seems to be a grey area, using a phone that they don't provide.
>>    I can see a good argument for calling the OpenMoko a SmartPhone.
>>    Which is great 'cause theres a $20/month unlimited data plan for
>>    smartphones.  But there's no way to limit whether you can use it
>>    for tethered/laptop data access so who knows if they'd want to slap
>>    the tether fee on you. "just in case" fortunately I don't think
>>    they're that clue-full.
> I have a feeling that both tmobile and cingular are going to do whatever
> they can to prohibit the openmoko phones.  And I'm thinking the cheaper
> "smartphone" data plans will only work on cingular's devices, right?
> Like the device has to do something in order to be able to make use of
> it- some technical limitation?  Otherwise I don't know why cingular
> sells two different plans, the "smartphone 5mb" is $9.99 and the "Data
> Connect 5MB" is $19.99. I don't get how else they'd be different. Would
> the neo be compatible with both? Who knows?  I hope someone from the
> openmoko project reads this thread.
>> 6. It seems that you can only order a plan [get a sim card] with a
>>    phone.  That's not such a financial problem if you're just getting
>>    a cheap voice plan, because there are lots of cheap/free after
>>    rebate voice phones you can get and not use.  But to order a data
>>    plan from Cingular [of any of the tweleve types] you have to order
>>    a phone that is valid for that plan.
> OK, you're saying no matter what plan I sign up for with cingular, even
> prepaid, I have to buy a phone from them too, right?  I can't like, go
> on ebay and buy a cheap used phone and still sign up with cingular, even
> prepaid?
> The one useful piece of info I may have then, is to tell you about the
> service I have now.  I have ecallplus.com, which resells cingular.  They
> have a few GSM plans, and you can bring your own phone...  So if your
> sprint phone breaks you may have a cheaper path to GSM through them for
> your holdover.
>> 7. So to get a SmartPhone unlimited plan [$20/month... unlimited data
>>    not bad imho] you'd have to also buy a smartphone. [$150]  There's
>>    a $100 rebate on the cheapest phone, but who knows if you'd
>>    actually get the rebate.  And who knows if it'd actually work in
>>    the neo.
>> 8. I'm not even sure that you can have a data plan without a voice
>>    plan.  Seems like at the very least you might not get the
>>    smartphone rebate if you don't get the rebate.
>> Good luck, please share what else you find!  You are indeed not the
>> only one trying to figure all this out!
>> -erik
>> ps.  A reasonable default, if you need a phone right now, is to buy a
>> cheap prepaid phone and use that for the couple months until it
>> becomes more clear exactly what plans work with the neo in the US.
>> That way you're not locked in... and you have a sim that you can use
>> for voice testing at the very least with the neo.  That's what I'm
>> going to do when/if my 4year old phone [on sprint month-to-month/no
>> contract all its life] croaks before i get a phase 1!
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