Thursday, November 25, 2004

Network Coverage, who is best?

Wow, this is a tough topic, but one of the most crutial when purchasing a new cell phone, or deciding to switch service.
I want to start by saying that each persons needs for coverage area are different, and one plan that is perfect for someone else, may not be the right plan for you. A salesman who travels all over the country is going to have different needs than the person who wants to use their cell phone to make long distance calls from inside their house.
I happen to be lucky, and live in a condo that has AT&T Wireless, Cingular, T-Mobile, and Sprint PCS sites all within a 1/2 mile of my house (actually, all but Sprint are less than 1/4 mile from my place), giving me excellent coverage inside my condo. That works well for me, since I use my cell phone to make a majority of my long distance calls.
Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless both claim they have the best networks. Lets discuss.
Both networks were built by purchasing other carriers networks, and adding them to their own. You probably won't notice the difference, but your phone will. Sprint PCS, T-Mobile, and Nextel all basically have their own networks, and are continuing to build them. This is why they do not have the extensive coverage area the big two have (It is easier to buy a network that is already built, and reconfigure it to work with your network, than to build from scratch).
Verizon (in the New England area) used to be Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile, and had the most confusing pricing maps ever created. For New England, they had upwards of 5 separate billing areas, that charged different rates based on where you were. This was because some of these networks were owned by other carriers(you had to know if you were on A-side or B-side, etc.). Now, they have purchased these other carriers, and offer the Americas Plan, which charges the same no matter where you are. They have been around the longest (as the cellular arm of the ILEC, incumbent local exchange carrier, otherwise known as the local phone company), and therefore have the most extensive network. They also use CDMA, which is very resilient to adding more users. Most of the licenses they own are 800mhz, which also gives them more range than the higher frequency 1900mhz, used my the newer PCS companies.
I have also noticed that Verizon is the only provider to have diesel generator backup for every site they own. They are the only carrier I have seen to do this. Most others rely on battery backup, but that will only last 12-24 hours, maximum.
Cingular also has an extensive network, made better by the recent acquisition of AT&T Wireless. Cingular was previously Cellular One in New England, and was also one of the two original cellular carriers in this area (along with BAM). They run a majority of their sites at 800mhz (except for the former AT&T sites, which are 1900mhz), which also gives good range. They have the area very well covered, and still build sites to fill in dead spots, and expand the network.
Sprint has less towers, but has been very aggressive at building sites. I would hazard a guess and say that if you live in a populated area, you will have coverage. They have the most accurate system maps, and unless you are traveling often to more remote areas, you should have good coverage. Their system is exclusively CDMA and 1900mhz, so you will have roaming capabilities to Verizon if your phone supports the frequencies.
T-Mobile has also been very aggressive at building sites in New England, and in my opinion, has made huge strides in filling in dead spots and coverage holes. In my travels, I find T-Mobile sites everywhere I find the other carriers, and they (like Sprint PCS) will have many smaller sites to fill in network holes (such as flagpole and steeple mounted sites). Both Sprint and T-Mobile have been expanding there coverage in Central Mass, as well as on the Cape and other outlying regions.
Nextel is working hard to expand their coverage, especially since Sprint and Verizon have recently rolled out PTT service. Nextel has expanded their coverage to areas where business people can use their service, on and off duty. They have been aggressive on the Cape and Islands, in Maine and New Hampshire, as well as in the Western Part of Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, since they are the only user if the 'iden' network from Motorola, you cannot roam to any other carrier. You are basicly stuck on Nextel, without the ability to roam to anyone else. As they build the network out further, it will be less of an issue, but now it can be a limitation.
I will keep tabs on the effect of the AT&T / Cingular merger, and keep you up to date.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

More or Fewer Cell Towers in our Future??

In the future, I think the amount of wireless towers around us will increase dramatically. As wireless technologies evolve, more towers will be needed to provide the many services we will see introduced over the next few years. I really wish I had spent the money a 10 or 12 years ago and purchased a piece of property with a cell tower on it. Companies like Towerstream and other wireless data providers will need to push their services to more and more customers, and the need for towers will more than double. Satellites are currently too expensive, require too much power to transmit to (for mobile phones, the transmitters in them would need much more than the 0.3 watts that some wireless phones transmit), so they will remain impractical for mobile communications. Plus, satellites have a tendency of transmitting their signal to the entire footprint covered by the satellite. Not a very effective use of spectrum.
You will see more consolidation, with companies like American Tower buying up more smaller companies. Just my opinion.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Former AT&T Wireless Site Leases

I'm curious. What will happen to the leases for AT&T (or Cingular) Wireless sites where there is a close overlap between the two? For instance, near my house, there is a Cingular Wireless site mounted on a old, unused smokestack, and across the street is a similar site that is a AT&T Wireless Site. I am sure once the merger is complete, they will want to eliminate one of the two sites, and perhaps deploy the equipment to another area to build a new site. Does anyone have any insight into this? I was thinking that these leases must be a major expense, and that the ability to eliminate redundant sites would be a huge savings for the new company. It would also give them expanded coverage when the sites are re-deployed. Just a thought.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Verizon vs. 'the new' Cingular

Cingular is now letting former AT&T Wireless customers move to one of the Cingular plans without incurring any 'early termination' penalty! I believe you just pay the standard $36 activation fee.
I think we will see some big network improvements in the near future.

Cingular and Verizon will both be locked in a head to head battle over customers over the next few months. Who ends up the winner depends on who gives the best customer service, and if Cingular can merge the two networks quickly and seamlessly. If Cingular can 'redeploy' its network assets to improve and expand coverage, they will hang on to customers, and will be able to capitalize on the addition of the AT&T Customers to its base. If they can't deliver, customers will move as their contracts expire!

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Welcome to my blog. I plan to share info and news for the cell towers and carriers in the New England Area. Check out my main page,