Author Topic: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area  (Read 4007 times)

MuchoMula

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Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« on: December 17, 2015, 11:55:12 AM »
Need some advice on cell phone options.
We currently have 2 iPhones through Verizon at $180/mo
Combined usage is about:
Talk: 200 min/mo
Text: 400/mo
Data: 1500MB/mo

We live in a very poor reception area for Sprint/T-mobile (we had Sprint before moving here and could not make a call), so I feel really stuck with Verizon.

I have read advice from Daley's Frugal Communications Guide, but still feel a bit lost about my best option. I also struggle with the thought of losing our iPhones. I know I know, they are a luxury, but I do use it for my home business quite a bit (I do a lot of social media management and need easy access to phone only apps like Instagram, Facebook Page Manager, etc and not sure what's available on other phones??).
We also love the ability to find nearest gas station or on demand directions when on the road, and I'm not sure we'd be able to get this from another phone (or limited data plan)??
My kids also love doing Facetime with grandma, who previously had a lot of trouble navigating Skype, so this is a big convenience factor when not living near family.

Any advice/experience greatly appreciated! Thank you

Exflyboy

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2015, 12:48:12 PM »
needing data will of course be more expensive than just talk and text. We have a Republic on T&T for just $10 a month unlimited and I think their data plans start at around $25.

Now of course they are on the sprint network which is bad, but if you use mostly at home it will automatically drop onto your wifi signal where you'll get perfect calls.

You can also look at the coverage maps for Airvoice wireless (on the AT&T network) and PTel (not sure who's network they use.

I thought Verizon had and NMVO as well .. Ting maybe??

Daley

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2015, 01:55:57 PM »
First, people are rarely ever stuck with Verizon. Check your AT&T coverage maps.

Second, the only Verizon iPhones officially stuck with Verizon at this point is the iPhone 4, which is both horribly End of Life (EOL) with unpatched security issues and also the first CDMA iPhone handset ever released. 4S? CDMA+GSM, and Verizon is now carrier unlocking these 4S handsets for domestic GSM use. 5/5s/5c/6/6+/6s/6s+? All Verizon LTE handsets, and all come carrier unlocked for all GSM networks from the factory due to LTE spectrum requirements imposed on Verizon. Word of warning, the antennas on the iPhones suck, but Verizon has dense antenna saturation which helps hide the problem - as such, expect less solid signal quality if you switch to an AT&T provider with these handsets as opposed to pretty much any other Android phone, excuse the Samsung Galaxy SIII. Second word of warning, most AT&T MVNOs and iPhones don't mix if you need/want MMS support, and data APN programming now requires you to use third party websites like unlockit.co.nz unless it's one of the small handful that are blessed as being iPhone approved - you can blame/thank Apple for this mess.

Third, if you're stuck with the cost sink of using Verizon anyway (either handset or coverage), the best (and about only) currently guide-approved Verizon MVNO is Selectel. They can even activate Verizon LTE handsets now. There's also Puppy Wireless, but they're still too new to reliably recommend. That said, I'd reasonably trust the owners (Kitty Wireless, the well known and long established PagePlus master dealer) to notify their customers to port out if they wind up in trouble and have to pull the plug down the road.

Fourth, you'll be able to save some money switching, but the real savings aren't going to come until you kick that data habit of yours in the junk. It's easy to save on mobile data, even if you use a navigation crutch like GPS. It just takes planning, prioritizing and using your phone's on-board storage for as much data as possible. As such, take the extra couple minutes to prepare in advance before you leave home, especially on long trips. If potentially running out of gas is that important to you, make sure you either have enough in advance of your trip before you leave, or fill up as often as possible and don't run on fumes. Problem solved. If my father could drive I-40 from Albuquerque to Bakersfield in one 14 hour shot mostly after dark by himself in a 20 year old car with 300+k miles on it in the late 1980's using only a Rand McNally road atlas without so much as a cellphone, let alone a data plan, I think you'll be fine too. The key here is to plan ahead and be prepared. If you can't save your own butt without depending on your magic wireless computer slab to do so, you're already dead.

Fifth, since people seem to think I'm some irrational fool to suggest against smartphones and curb data usage anymore anyway and as such typically ignore my advice, if AT&T coverage works for you in your area, just go to Consumer Cellular as they're on the Apple blessed MVNO list. If you can actually keep your collective usage at or under those numbers you quoted, you shouldn't need to spend more than $45/month plus tax. That should be your high bar, and it'd be way easier to get it down to $30/month or less on other AT&T MVNOs using something other than an iPhone if you can stem or eliminate the data usage. Otherwise, if you wind up needing to go Selectel or Puppy anyway, expect to pay around $60-70/month just to support your 1.5GB data habit against maybe $15 in PAYGO minutes and texts. That's just the price of big data on Big Red.

Any questions, let me know.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2015, 02:00:23 PM by I.P. Daley »

pompera_firpa

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2015, 02:28:40 PM »
Just pitching in re: the Facetime conundrum: while switching phone providers, I kept my old iPhone and basically just hooked it up to WiFi as an iPod. My parents have iPhones, my sister on the other side of the planet has an iPhone, and this way we can still have my kid chat with her grandparents and her cousin on Facetime. AND I was able to keep the learn-to-read apps I got for my kid (which have like $40 in add-ons thanks to some fortuitous gift cards). Everyone's happy!

Also, regarding apps: darn near everything that's on Apple has also been developed for Android (which runs nearly everything else). Believe me, I had a lot of the same fears about not being able to use my apps anymore, so I checked before switching to make sure everything was also available on Android devices, and yes, everything I use on a regular basis was there.

I can't speak to the coverage you have out there, but if you switch to something that (re: data plans) only charges for the data you use, and then only use the data when you need to, you'll use a lot less. It's just a matter of figuring out what apps use a lot of cell data-- which I gotta say is a lot easier on Android than on Apple-- and then hashing out whether it's an app that you can deny cell access.

AZDude

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2015, 03:20:17 PM »
I had T-Mobile before moving into an apartment several  years ago that seemed to be made out of some kind of nuclear-proof bunker material. No cell signal, TV signal, nothing... could make it into the living area. Having to outside to make a phone call(and even then it was dicey) was new to me.

I ended up switching to republic wireless(I know Daley has issues with them, but there are plenty of similar alternatives). Saved well over $100 a month, and suddenly I could make calls inside my apartment again. Yeah, not having data was a PITA sometimes, especially being in a new area, but it was hardly insurmountable.

I havent had data on my phone for almost three years now, aside from Wifi, and I have never been in a situation where I *needed* data. Even driving, getting lost, and wishing I had a map. You can make do. Data is a luxury. If you have a huge stache and no debt, then not a big deal. However, make sure you tell yourself that data is a want, not a need.

There is nothing you can do on Verizon that you cannot do without them, save legally watch NFL football on your phone.

Daley

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2015, 06:24:35 PM »
I had T-Mobile before moving into an apartment several  years ago that seemed to be made out of some kind of nuclear-proof bunker material. No cell signal, TV signal, nothing... could make it into the living area. Having to outside to make a phone call(and even then it was dicey) was new to me.

I ended up switching to republic wireless(I know Daley has issues with them, but there are plenty of similar alternatives).

The greatest irony with this statement is that you actually left a mobile carrier that had already offered a better implementation of WiFi calling using UMA since 2007, and it only would have taken a handset switch to get it (if the phone you had wasn't already capable). Instead, you're now locked into a proprietary handset using a lousy implementation of mVoIP. And now, P'tel supports WiFi calling as well on the exact same handsets that T-Mobile offers the feature on.

I don't say this to be mean, it just goes to show how poorly educated most users are about the very offerings they're already paying money for.

The_path_less_taken

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2015, 08:11:19 PM »
Don't laugh: I'm still on an ancient flip phone pay as  you go AT&T thing I bought from Target in 2005 (for $18: now that's Mustacian). $14 last month and I felt like a talked a lot on it.

I dropped it on a tile floor yesterday and it split into three nice pieces....a guy at work fiddled with it some and it's lighting up...haven't tried to use it yet.

But I know I'm about to the point where I will "need" a phone. The sales job I'm taking after this one does require data usage...theoretically you could tell the customer to wait while you go inside and research off of landlines. But all the other salesmen have it.....

So I'm following in the hopes that someone has great advice for either an AT&T phone (so I can keep the same number) and a NOT SPRINT carrier.

Most of the salesmen have an iphone of some sort...

sonjak

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2015, 08:28:26 PM »
I had T-Mobile before moving into an apartment several  years ago that seemed to be made out of some kind of nuclear-proof bunker material. No cell signal, TV signal, nothing... could make it into the living area. Having to outside to make a phone call(and even then it was dicey) was new to me.

I ended up switching to republic wireless(I know Daley has issues with them, but there are plenty of similar alternatives).

The greatest irony with this statement is that you actually left a mobile carrier that had already offered a better implementation of WiFi calling using UMA since 2007, and it only would have taken a handset switch to get it (if the phone you had wasn't already capable). Instead, you're now locked into a proprietary handset using a lousy implementation of mVoIP. And now, P'tel supports WiFi calling as well on the exact same handsets that T-Mobile offers the feature on.

I don't say this to be mean, it just goes to show how poorly educated most users are about the very offerings they're already paying money for.

IP, Can you give me some advice? 

I have had a home phone for several years via Comcast.  It's been cheaper with the bundle package and I prefer it for longer phone calls.  I have a tracfone which I use for occasional texting and shorter calls while I'm out and traveling - I only pay for use, not the monthly charge.  Recently I found out that Comcast no longer offers bundles in my area without a contract (and a ridiculous cancel fee).  They also now will charge me an additional $5? per month to be able to block calls.  To not pay a cancel fee, my phone/internet package will be $40 more per month than just internet.  I decided to just cancel my home phone and upgrade to a still inexpensive but more reliable cell (Tracfone has sucked for all the reasons you mention in your guide but it's been okay.  But it's not sufficient as my sole means of communication.).  I really don't talk on the phone a ton - mostly my friends/family (and I) prefer in person communication but texting for random communication is important for some of those relationships.

Coincidentally, I also moved into a similar "bunker" situation as AZDude.  My cellphone reception here is terrible.   Can't send texts, lucky if I receive texts, can't make calls.  I'm in OR and looking at ptel's coverage makes me question if it would be the best choice for me.  Also nervous about buying a phone and finding out it wouldn't get coverage.  It's just me so don't need a family plan.

I use a dummy phone (not flip - has a full keyboard - but not smart either) and don't need a ton of data.  Don't use/need internet on it.  I just bought a new modem and router (they are enroute) so that I can also quit paying for Comcast's modem.  I'm really kind of an ignoramus when it comes to hardware, that change is scary for me but this recent change pissed me off so much I'm inspired to kick them to the curb as much as I can (and saving more money in the process would be really nice) so can you suggest something that would work for me in this situation?

Thank you!
Sonja

Daley

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2015, 10:09:05 PM »
So I'm following in the hopes that someone has great advice for either an AT&T phone (so I can keep the same number) and a NOT SPRINT carrier.

Pretty much any carrier unlocked GSM handset will work, but honestly you'll find far cheaper and more flexible AT&T service from one of the five MVNOs mentioned in the guide than sticking with Go Phone. As for handsets, if you insist on doing a smartphone, look into the Nokia Lumia 635. Dirt cheap even carrier unlocked (get the carrier unlocked model), and has all the important features that most smartphones no longer have: a less insane user interface, good antennas, and a user replaceable battery. There's also no shortage of ultra-cheap, carrier unlocked, used basic feature phones, including Nokia and Samsung candybar and flip phone handsets.



IP, Can you give me some advice?

There's not an easy or simple answer to this for a multitude of reasons, and this risks forking into a whole other discussion from OP. It also highlights the need for researching beyond just the basics sometimes, and questions like this can really show how many rabbit trails you can sometimes wander down when rolling your own given how flexible telecom setup can get at times and how you want to solve the problem. However, you should always know what the technical limitations are first and simply K.I.S.S. the problem away.

For network coverage, I wouldn't particularly recommend T-Mobile or Sprint coverage in Oregon unless you spend 95% or more of your time in Bend or the areas between Eugene and Portland and never wander off the interstates. Basically, if you spend most of your time in the smaller communities, it won't be worth it. If you stick close to those three major areas, however, and aren't afraid of losing signal on occasion, T-Mo starts to look more appealing....

As for what network Tracfone uses, it depends. They've offered phones for all four major networks. I couldn't really be sure which one is giving you the biggest time of it currently without knowing the phone model number and the first six digits of the SIM card if it has one. It's possible you're just in a bunker with one or two carriers. Most of the Tracfone handsets sold the past few years are usually T-Mobile primary, which does most all of their calls on the 1900MHz bands now, which has poorer building penetration than the 850MHz or lower bands used by most voice services on AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular. If that's genuinely the case and you have a T-Mo Tracfone handset, potentially chalk another one against T-Mo coverage for you even if you can use a carrier that offers WiFi calling and it would better explain why you currently have reception issues. However, don't discount tower placement and distance, either. This means that it's theoretically possible that you simply wouldn't have this reception problem in your home on another mobile network and with a handset that has a decent/better antenna.

If Boonie reception is important, definitely go with an AT&T MVNO and pay for what you need. If it doesn't matter, you can try to take advantage of the whole P'tel WiFi calling thing despite the disadvantages. Any AT&T or T-Mobile handset that supports WiFi calling (including many Nokia Lumia Windows phones such as the 635) should work fine with P'tel's WiFi calling service, and will also provide some of the best experiences as the UMA/IMS calling is baked into the OS now instead of bolted on.

However, if you don't want to go 100% mobile even with UMA/IMS fallback or want to use an AT&T MVNO such as Airvoice, Puretalk USA or H2O Wireless/EasyGo, there's plenty of stand alone VoIP providers in the guide, many of which can do outbound calling only and allow you to set caller ID to an existing number. VOIP.ms paired with a $35 Obihai ATA or a SIPphone app will give you cheap PAYGO home phone/WiFi calling option with a monthly base cost of around $2/month + calls if you want e911 service and an inbound number, it'll give you all the features you could ever want and more, and it's not difficult to set up if you just read the instructions. They also have rudimentary SMS support for certain phone numbers, but not for any ported in. If you just want to use VoIP for outbound calling or don't want e911 or the additional bells and whistles, Localphone is a cheaper option.

If setup still intimidates you and you want a more pre-configured VoIP solution that's more traditionally home phone-y, there's either VOIPo or Phone Power. They'll cost you around $7.70-8.33 (respectively) a month when you prepay, but you'll also get 5000 minutes a month to use. Right now, Phone Power is the better deal even if it costs an extra 63/month as you'll own the ATA (instead of needing to return it if you cancel/switch), can pay only a year at a time, and have access to all the other nifty features that the Vonage chumps brag about at a third of the price along with all the other truly useful VoIP features you could want. That said, they don't have SMS support like VOIPo does. Unfortunately, that doesn't entirely address the whole SMS-bunker hole issue and integrated service with a single number, either.

Of course, most of the whole SMS thing can be easily made moot no matter home reception if you do embrace getting a smartphone and convince the people who text you to switch to something like XMS or WhatsApp (I dislike recommending the last for a multitude of reasons, but it's owned by Facebook and people love getting their lives strip-mined by Zuckerberg for some reason). Then you're only dependent upon a data connection and you can keep doing the cell phone home phone thing. If that's not an option....

That basically leaves either paying $10/month to Line2 (which supports Windows Phone) or using Google Voice for your main number and needing an Android handset (only for clean Google Voice integration), for better or worse. Still better than Republic, just as easy to set up, and just as reliable for a fraction of the price, especially when either option is coupled with Truphone.

All this said, I suspect your best answer will be found after determining what network your current handset is using. I suspect that if you get someone with a decent AT&T handset (read no iPhones or Samsung handsets) into your new place, they'll probably be fine - but I could be wrong. If that's the case though, you can pretty well roll however you want from that point. If not, it only gets more complex depending on how you want to approach it. Honestly, the easiest is to just use a messaging app and a phone that supports it instead of trying to hybridize, and it only gets more complicated depending on how you want to tackle the problem from there.

To recap, K.I.S.S. You'll notice that the following distilled solutions go from simplest to most complex. Start with seeing if you're using T-Mobile currently and how AT&T coverage works at your new place, then try a Windows smartphone with a messenger app if your family will do it combined with an AT&T MVNO. If that doesn't work, then consider switching to P'tel and UMA/IMS WiFi support on the same handset if you're mostly urban. Lastly if that doesn't work, there's either Line2 or Google Voice maybe combined with Truphone SIM if you don't do a lot of mobile talk time. VoIP service with or without SMS support can be peppered in anywhere else you like along the way, but probably isn't the easiest option overall unless you just want to bring back a home phone.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2015, 10:24:20 PM by I.P. Daley »

MuchoMula

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #9 on: December 17, 2015, 10:25:34 PM »
Just pitching in re: the Facetime conundrum: while switching phone providers, I kept my old iPhone and basically just hooked it up to WiFi as an iPod. My parents have iPhones, my sister on the other side of the planet has an iPhone, and this way we can still have my kid chat with her grandparents and her cousin on Facetime. AND I was able to keep the learn-to-read apps I got for my kid (which have like $40 in add-ons thanks to some fortuitous gift cards). Everyone's happy!

Wow, I didn't realize this would work without service on the iPhone, thanks for the heads up! I'm confused though, how do others call you if you don't have a number with service? Does iMessage work without service too?

Daley

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #10 on: December 17, 2015, 10:34:22 PM »
Wow, I didn't realize this would work without service on the iPhone, thanks for the heads up! I'm confused though, how do others call you if you don't have a number with service? Does iMessage work without service too?

Same way it works on an iPad and a Mac desktop/laptop. Facetime uses Apple account IDs to connect with one another, not phone numbers. Non-SMS based iMessages will only work with other Apple devices the same way as it's basically yet another data messenger app, but given how deep iMessage integrates into basic SMS/MMS on iPhones, leaving it associated with a phone number no longer tied to an iPhone is just asking for a world of pain.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2015, 10:45:58 PM by I.P. Daley »

MuchoMula

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #11 on: December 17, 2015, 10:43:53 PM »
First, people are rarely ever stuck with Verizon. Check your AT&T coverage maps.

I should clarify that we certainly don't live in the middle of nowhere. We're in Oceanside, CA, close to Camp Pendleton. We're supposedly in "good" coverage areas for all the main carriers, but unfortunately reality is different than the maps. Perhaps some of the issue is due to our iPhones 4s, if as you mentioned they have notoriously bad antennas. I wonder if switching to an Android would open up more options for carriers.

Quote
Fourth, you'll be able to save some money switching, but the real savings aren't going to come until you kick that data habit of yours in the junk. It's easy to save on mobile data, even if you use a navigation crutch like GPS. It just takes planning, prioritizing and using your phone's on-board storage for as much data as possible.

I'm definitely up to the challenge of limiting my data usage. BUT I still need a smartphone for my business.

Quote
Fifth, since people seem to think I'm some irrational fool to suggest against smartphones and curb data usage anymore anyway and as such typically ignore my advice, if AT&T coverage works for you in your area, just go to Consumer Cellular as they're on the Apple blessed MVNO list. If you can actually keep your collective usage at or under those numbers you quoted, you shouldn't need to spend more than $45/month plus tax.

This sounds like a good starting point for weaning.

Thank you for the thoughtful advice!

Daley

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #12 on: December 17, 2015, 10:54:10 PM »
We're in Oceanside, CA, close to Camp Pendleton. We're supposedly in "good" coverage areas for all the main carriers, but unfortunately reality is different than the maps. Perhaps some of the issue is due to our iPhones 4s, if as you mentioned they have notoriously bad antennas. I wonder if switching to an Android would open up more options for carriers.

Unfortunately, the 4s has a terrible antenna, and it gets worse depending on how you hold the phone and where you stick your hand. Sadly, the most comfortable and natural hand position is also the worst one to use unless it's encased in a rubber surround. That said, GSM reception overall seemed to fair better on the 4S than CDMA, though it'd probably be equal between AT&T and Verizon on this specific handset.

Regarding network coverage, check croud-sourced maps with Root Metrics, OpenSignal, Sensorly, DeadCellZones.com, and CellReception.com for overall reported coverage in your area. All maps and statistics lie, but you can make a good guess between them and the official coverage maps when combined with cell tower placement.

sonjak

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2015, 08:32:53 AM »
Thank you so much, IP!  I will re-read this again tonight after work (and post my phone details). 

Would love to keep it as simple as possible.  One reason I avoid having a smartphone is data mining, security risks, etc.  No interest in any of that so another reason to not use the latter options.

Thanks again!

pompera_firpa

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #14 on: December 18, 2015, 10:50:04 AM »
Just pitching in re: the Facetime conundrum: while switching phone providers, I kept my old iPhone and basically just hooked it up to WiFi as an iPod. My parents have iPhones, my sister on the other side of the planet has an iPhone, and this way we can still have my kid chat with her grandparents and her cousin on Facetime. AND I was able to keep the learn-to-read apps I got for my kid (which have like $40 in add-ons thanks to some fortuitous gift cards). Everyone's happy!

Wow, I didn't realize this would work without service on the iPhone, thanks for the heads up! I'm confused though, how do others call you if you don't have a number with service? Does iMessage work without service too?

To clarify: I got a new Android phone, and the iPhone would no longer work as a phone on our new service so I ported the number to the new service. Everything that works on an iPod-- including Facetime-- will still work, just not the phone parts.

I'd check around and see if you know anyone else nearby who has a different carrier and/or phone. 

sonjak

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #15 on: December 18, 2015, 10:37:22 PM »
Thank you so much, IP!  I will re-read this again tonight after work (and post my phone details). 

Would love to keep it as simple as possible.  One reason I avoid having a smartphone is data mining, security risks, etc.  No interest in any of that so another reason to not use the latter options.

Thanks again!

IP - here's my phone info:  SIM first 6 digits: 890126  I looked on the Tracfone website and they seem to have quit selling my phone (at least in my area).  Model #: SGH - S390G (GP)

I live in the Portland area and spend a fair chunk of my time there but I have family in the boonies and having service there (or on the way there), to the beach, mountains, etc. would be nice.  Not absolutely required since they have a land line, but nice.

Thank you for helping me problem solve!

Student loan stomper

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #16 on: December 19, 2015, 08:00:01 AM »
I have the same issue with coverage.  Which is why we have Verizon.  But we have 2 lines with unlimited talk text and 10 + 10 Gb data we pay $137 a month. $30 of that is because we misunderstood about their EDG plan... Anyway, I know here that is still a ridiculous amount to pay for phone, but I want to encourage you to look at switching plans with in Verizon even if you are not quite ready to switch carriers.  I am sure you can find a better plan than what you have and save at least $80 a month. Or keep your plan and save more.   Also, check with them to see if your employer is on the eligibility list for 25% off.  Government and school districts are for sure (at least in TX) and some other companies have deals with them too. 

I also second the suggestion for using the old iPhones for FaceTime and messenger, I had an iPod touch for three years before I got a samrt phone and still use it for those features to talk/text to relatives across the globe. 

Good luck!

Daley

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Re: Cell phone advice in bad Sprint coverage area
« Reply #17 on: December 22, 2015, 10:54:46 AM »
IP - here's my phone info:  SIM first 6 digits: 890126  I looked on the Tracfone website and they seem to have quit selling my phone (at least in my area).  Model #: SGH - S390G (GP)

I live in the Portland area and spend a fair chunk of my time there but I have family in the boonies and having service there (or on the way there), to the beach, mountains, etc. would be nice.  Not absolutely required since they have a land line, but nice.

Thank you for helping me problem solve!

Apologies for the delayed response.

890126 is a T-Mobile-based SIM card from Tracfone, which means despite having roaming agreements with AT&T, so long as the handset can latch onto a T-Mobile signal, it will choose that weaker connection over a stronger roaming tower. Since it is a Tracfone device, the base firmware is heavily modified and it's unfortunately carrier locked to Tracfone, so you're buying another handset if/when you leave.

The thing to remember with T-Mobile is that their primary voice service bands historically have been 1700/1900MHz, whereas AT&T, Verizon and US Cellular in addition to having 1900MHz voice bands, primarily use 850MHz with Sprint using 800/1900MHz in most markets. This matters because the higher the frequency, the less effective the building penetration and the more prolific the signal bounce. 800-850MHz will kind-of go through walls whereas 1700-1900MHz will mostly come through windows and bounce around inside the building. This is partially why T-Mobile USA has supported GAN (UMA/IMS style WiFi calling) since 2007, as building penetration has always been a bit of a weak spot of their network. You had to have a phone that supported it, and not all phones (or WiFi hotspots) supported it well, but it did work and it's been around for nearly a decade with T-Mobile. Now since Google Fi launched, T-Mo appears to slowly be rolling out UMA/IMS to their MVNOs with P'tel being the second to officially support it, and the first to support it using far more handsets than a couple of Google Android flagship phones.

So, if anyone is on T-Mobile and moves into a "bunker" with poor reception, don't think the house is a black hole for all mobile service. All the other carriers will probably work just fine, contingent upon tower distance. However, don't necessarily give up on going T-Mobile either, as with the right handset and right T-Mo MVNO, you can still fall back to WiFi calling relatively painlessly for ultra cheap. No need switching to Republic Wireless just to get the only two attractive features it offers - price and WiFi calling.

As for your current situation specifically, T-Mobile coverage isn't great out in Oregon off the beaten path. However, as pointed out earlier, Tracfone roams on AT&T, which is why you probably didn't know you had T-Mobile as your primary carrier as you still get reception in the sticks. This points to an AT&T MVNO likely being your best and most well rounded choice for your situation despite the lack of WiFi calling support, as it'll likely work better in your current home than a T-Mobile provider does. Of course, confirm this first before investing too much money... but it seems like a safe bet.

Hope this helps both yourself and others!