Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Here We Go 'Round the Roaming Ring (or doesn't ring)

Old story, new twist. And it just keeps getting twistier: how to stay connected to the world when one travels, or one lives in a remote area? I'd appreciate it if you would weigh in with your opinions. A decision must be made.

--I am at The Farm where I come "hide" to write. We rent this place all year long, and I come and go.

--I've been a Verizon wireless cell phone user since they were Ameritech, which not even my spellcheck remembers. I stay with Verizon because their customer service rocks and I can always get and keep a connection, even when fellow travelers using other wireless companies cannot.

--I should have written that last item in past tense, as in, "used to could." The Verizon commercials showing all those kinda creepy stalking "network" folks currently sends me BALLISTIC! In my cannot-stay-connected state, I can only imagine that that severely nosy herd of people is standing on--and therefore compressing and ruining--whatever used to make my connection WORK!

--Lots of people, as in many, have told me, "Beware of Sprint!"

--The only options I have here for Internet are: dial-up (currently using HBCI); driving 6 miles to town to a free Wi-Fi zone; broadband card; satellite ($$$); or a private guy who charges spendy fees plus an expensive equipment buy-in, and who will not buy equipment back should we decide to stop renting here.

--Verizon said, "Pay us $30 extra/month and use your Blackberry Storm as a modem!" Interesting how well that worked at home in IL but not here, where my signal switches (hyperactively flips and flops) between EVDO and 1X and dropped and no service at all--same as with my voice usage.

--I am on Verizon "roaming" when here at The Farm (a-HAH!). Here, Verizon partners with Alltel, who earlier today told me to my face that they're currently using (as in switched over to) a Sprint tower (say what?) until Verizon takes them (Alltel) over within the next few months. Supposedly Verizon is "doing something." As of 9/1, this Alltel store will be a Verizon store (Alltel customers have been notified), but ... will the towers all hopefully be upgraded, or steadied, or redirected, or get over their menopause, or be on Ritalin by then?

--Over the past several months, I have put in three tickets with Verizon to have them figure out why I cannot stay connected via CELL PHONE here, to which they respond--and I am reading this directly from one of the three identical ticket responses they've sent me--"(Verizon) trouble ticket NRB etc. has come back as a marginal coverage area." When I say I cannot stay connected, I mean sometimes for hours at a time I have no service at all. Or one bar (never more than 2) and/or tons of dropped calls. Or supposedly 2 bars but my phone doesn't ring and 5 hours later I find out I have a message. Or, a good connection with no troubles.

--This "marginal coverage area" didn't used to be that, at least in terms of consistent service, so ... what happened? I assured Verizon that I did not move the house, so why did I used to (at least five years' worth) happily live without this misery? Alltel "roaming" issues? Sprint tower "roaming" troubles? A bad Verizon marriage with renegade roamers?

Since it is YOU I pay, Verizon, it is from you I expect intelligent answers. How did I recently and mysteriously become "marginalized" in a location you are soon taking over, which means I shall no longer be roaming? (Then, *228 will hopefully actually WORK, which your tech support has recommended to me several times, but which does not work in your ROAMING areas!) But does that mean that in the end, I will, or will not, still be marginalized?

--A couple weeks ago, Sprint offered a two-day deal: free broadband card, no activation fee, 30-day trial, pro-rated on a month-long fee ($60 per month). After which a 2-year contract locks in.

Can you say, desperate? Despite the warnings, why not try it?

--I spent nearly FOUR HOURS in the Sprint store while they worked to get my laptop operating with the software for their free high-speed broadband card. Which they never did figure out. So they gave me the upgraded card for free. (Do you SEE the good customer service in the free upgrade, and the irony in four hours for high-speed?) Nonetheless, the end result is that they prevailed (YAY!) and the USB card immediately finds and holds a "CDMA EVDO REV A" connection like nobody's business! It works best when I use the tether, as seen in the photo, rather than plugging it straight into the port. It has not operated at less than 40%, most often is 60%+ and sometimes 100% of that CDMA EVDO REV A. Compared to dial-up, it is greased lightening. I am ecstatic! So, I got that high-speed Internet connection going.

But what about my cell? And ...

-- Since my Sprint 30-day broadband card test period is winding down, I wonder:

  • once Verizon kicks in here, might they totally get their act together, and for $30/month rather than Sprint's $60, will my Blackberry Storm actually work well as a modem?
  • Or, might Verizon's presence change "something" about the towers that causes the Sprint card to not work as well, i.e. might the FCC ding Sprint or Verizon over those fair trade "issues?"
  • Verizon told me they don't have control over tower things (it's in the hands of the FCC, they say, so no promises), so assuredly, Sprint has no control either. But when will I know For Sure?

--Verizon is taking over Alltel here in "3rd quarter," (July?) but cannot (or won't?) guarantee anything will get better here due to that "marginalized" status, which Sprint did not use as an excuse since they've come in with new 3G service. However, Alltel store guys (soon to be Verizon employees) tell me the service will absolutely positively assuredly get better once they are Verizon.


  • Do I return the Sprint card in order to keep from locking in a 2-year contract, banking that Verizon does get their act together?
  • Do I keep the Sprint card anyway, and then have 2 options for calls: Verizon cell phone or Sprint broadband using Skype?
  • If I keep both, I could (and financially would have to) rid myself of the Qwest land line, Qwest, who has--YIKES!--partnered with Verizon Wireless! And obviously, no land line, no dial-up as back-up. If I don't need it, who cares? But I'm just sayin' ...
  • However, is it possible that the FCC could cause both Sprint and Verizon to let me down? I wouldn't think so, but then I never thought Verizon or their current roaming partner, which is either Alltel or Sprint or "marginal" inducing aliens, would annihilate my ability to stay connected either.

HELP! Opinions, please? I'd especially appreciate your opinion if you are one of those bazillion Verizon network guys supposedly following everybody around but me.

Readers, I'd appreciate if you'd use the COMMENTS section of this blog to weigh in rather than email me. That way, we can comment on each other's comments too. Hey, pretty soon, we, too, might create our OWN "network" of stalking people and therefore rule the world.


dboyes said...

(It's really annoying that you have to create some blog thing to comment on a posting. I don't want to have a blog, I just want to post a casual comment)

What you are encountering is probably either reflection from a hill or tower nearby, which is causing the receiver in the broadband card to oscillate between the two radios in the card.

If you know you CAN get signal at the location (which your note says), you can obtain a device called a cellular repeater. This device uses an external antenna that you position to point at the nearest cell tower (most have a meter that tells you signal strength, so you fiddle with it for a while like rabbit ears and point it that way), and it amplifies and retransmits the cell signal inside your house. Instant 5 bars, and it's company-neutral (unless you have some weird non-standard phone).

The repeaters are about $400 + installation, but you won't have to care about it ever again at that location.

Wrt to tethering vs the laptop card, the card will be faster over time (and I would say it's not a big deal to get rid of the landline). Tethering is limited by the speed of a USB connection, so it'll never be faster than 448Kbit/sec. The card runs well into the megabit range.

Sprint vs Verizon? Religious debate. The repeater I mentioned above pretty much eliminates the discussion.

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

dboyes, I'm sorry the posting process annoyed you. Hm. I don't know why you had to create a blog thing (not sure what you mean by that) to comment. You can even post under anonymous if you like since I leave that option open. There must have been a strange glitch ... I appreciate that you stayed the course to post, though. You sound like a very able and savvy technician. Thanks!

Thanks especially for your advice. I shall take that cellular repeater option under advisement. But the question that remains for me: why does the Sprint USB broadband card do an ace job here (maintains an EVDO signal), and not my own carrier--whether that be for phone service or tethered modem use?

Like I said in the post, Verizon is where my loyalties reside, so I'm hoping when they take over Alltel in this area, they come in and fix whatever issues they have--hopefully sans $400 from me. But Verizon is giving me no promises, just that "marginal" comment. Right now, they insist the area is the problem, when for the last six years, it has *not been a problem, so go figure.

Can a new tower in the area, no matter whose, create an issue for a specific carrier? If so, I'm assuming the bounce factor has to do with "brand" tower placement then, since I don't have that trouble with Sprint? My Sprint broadband card maintains a steady EVDO connection. It has briefly flipped to 1X only twice in two weeks, but NEVER when tethered and perched on top my screen (not even in a crazy wind storm yesterday!), and never do I lose the connection. Is that because of positioning, like the rabbit ear factor? But in the mean time, Verizon (Alltel roam) cannot keep ANY connection on anything. As you can imagine, trying to do business with more dropped calls than those that stay connected is not easy.

You are right: Sprint vs. Verizon is likely a religious debate. Nonetheless, it never hurts to occasionally take that debate out in the open, out to the peeps. I'm all for brand loyalty, but when my brand lets me down and the competition gives no excuses, just better service, it's time to engage in a discussion. You've informed me of an option I didn't know was out there, so the debate is already worth it. I hope I don't have to use that option, but nonetheless, it's there.