The Carrier Choice

AT&T Wireless has screwed me for over $500 in mobile phone charges in the past month. I signed up for an automatic pre-pay account when I first arrived thinking that would be a reasonable solution to the mobile phone problem while I was looking for an apartment/job/etc. It cost $43.98 a month for like 400 "minutes" and data services at 1 cent per kb. The problem is that they charged me for $1.50 a minute for international calls even if I was on the *receiving* end. This is of course ridiculous, but I didn't realize how bad it was until a week or so ago when I noticed a dozen charges to my checking account.

I may have been able to forgive AT&T for this because I should've been paying attention, but last week while I was in the last rush to get things done, they decided to "upgrade" their billing system and really screwed me. Ana called me, we spent the cash I had left, the phone cut off and instead of automatically getting charged another $43.98 so at least my phone would work (which is why I liked AT&T over T-Mobile and Cingular) the recharge wouldn't go through. So I was stuck for 2 days without a mobile when I needed it the most. Not only that, but if you called me on Thursday or Friday, you got the message "this number is no longer in service." And then when I finally was able to get through to their automatic system while waiting in the airport, it blocked me from making international calls.

Thus AT&T Wireless is no longer going to be my mobile provider.

Now of course, I need to decide which carrier to go with, which plans to try *and* which cool-ass phones I'm going to get with the sign-up promotions. The GSM carriers are T-Mobile and Cingular. T-Mobile has a kick-ass $19.99 unlimited data plan that I'm really hot and heavy on, but their coverage is a bit spotty.

Let me say that again for the Europeans. Their coverage is spotty. Dead spots. Places where you actually *can't* receive a phone call. I lived in Spain for 4 years and there was no where you could go except maybe some *really* buried elevators where you would be without service. Here in the Bay Area, however, I drop connections *constantly* and the quality of the voice drops so bad sometimes to make it *impossible* to hear. It's incredible. The U.S. may be catching up in terms of mobile functionality, but has *sooooo* far to go in terms of quality. New York is even creating a list of "dead zones" that they're going to publish once number portability comes into effect to spur the wireless carriers to fix them.

When it comes to GSM, part of this problem is the frequency. The higher frequencies here in the U.S. just aren't as good as the lower 800Mhz in Europe. You can literally hear the difference. I use my same exact 3650 here and in Europe, and whereas the quality in Spain is close to that of a land line, here in the U.S. conversations take on the tone of a Star Wars X-Wing battle. "Zzzuuupp. Red Five standing by. Bzzattt. There's a zzarrphht coming aarrzzzzzzvvvqqqqatch out!"

That is a serious consideration and makes me thinking about swapping over to the other side of the fence. Yes, dear friends, I'm talking about moving over to the CDMA camp. The phones are flips, don't have SIMs and are years behind the GSM guys, but the quality is solid and the data services are rock-on CDMA2000 1x goodness with EVDo already launched in San Diego and Washington D.C..

If I'm thinking about the future, then the future is CDMA. It might be a good idea to get over there and figure out what's happening in that technology. The coolest thing about being here in California is that we're "in the middle" between the European GSM and the Asian CDMA camps. Last week I got to fondle a neato Korean CDMA 3G phone and have coworkers with neat and light CDMA flip phones alongside the Nokia's and other GSM phones. This is something I never have seen in Europe and definitely gives The Valley an advantage in understanding both technologies. Yes, most of the world is GSM, but the future is 3G and 3G is CDMA.

Anyways, that's my rational for even considering CDMA because I reject the whole non-SIM phone thing just out of principal and the GSM phones available are just so much cooler. Well, except for the Treo 600 is available from Sprint and Verizon. Hmmm. (The don't seem to be supplimented though. Damn.)

Decisions, decisions...


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