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T-Mobile's Value Plans and Network Refarming for webOS Diehards
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Old 01/02/2013, 03:36 PM   #1 (permalink)
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I thought I'd share some tips based on my recent experience parting with Sprint while keeping webOS on my family's phones.

I recently decided to dump Sprint after having problems with my FrankenPre2 that seemed like network issues. Obviously Sprint wasn't going to help troubleshoot issues with my FrankenPre2. After evaluating my options, I decided that a GSM network was the way to go (notice that Webos Ports are not working on a CDMA Galaxy Nexus and Google's latest handset, the Nexus 4 is also GSM-only; the future of Open webOS points to GSM).

After doing A LOT of research to get the lay of the land, I decided to go with T-Mobile's Value Plans which offer discounts to customers who bring their own devices. With Pre3 handsets selling on eBay for $185 this seemed a good decision for the following reasons:

The reason for my move to T-Mobile in particular is their low prices with the Value Plan under a family plan coupled with their network refarming. They are rearranging their operating frequencies to make them compatible with AT&T's network layout (they call this refarming). This means that you can take an unlocked device from AT&T capable of HSPA+ (such as the Pre3 or Veer) and use it on T-Mobile to get their "4G" speeds (anywhere from 3 - 4 Mbps to 30+ Mbps depending on various factors). This is /much/ faster than the speeds I was getting on Sprint and for $40 less per month than Sprint's Unlimited Data SERO plan for 3 people. With those savings, I'll make back the money spent on the ETF on one of my Sprint lines and the cost of the new handsets in under a year. After that I get to keep the extra savings every month.

The caveat to this switch is that T-Mobile's network refarming is a town-by-town operation. They imply that they'll be finished with this by the end of 2013 for their US customers[1]. So if you switch to T-Mobile before your area has been reconfigured you'll be stuck on 2.5G speeds until they get to your neck of the woods. If you spend a lot of time at home or in a office with WiFi, you might be able to make due with T-Mobile's EDGE (2.5G) speeds until the refarming happens for you. Check out this map to see if your area's been refarmed[2]

For people interested in saving more money, you can make the Value Plan cheaper by following this procedure [3] to get 10% off the Value Plan prices. Your employer, union, or credit union may offer a bigger discount, so you may want to look into that to see how to get the largest discount.

I hope these tips are helpful to someone - figuring out all of the details is time consuming and if I save anyone else the headache, I'll be happy to give back to this great community!

-Martin

[1] Latest News | T-Mobile | T-Mobile USA Announces Reinvigorated Challenger Strategy
[2] Sightings of T-Mobile 3G/4G/HSPA+ coverage on 1900MHz (PCS/UMTS band II)
[3] Get 10% off of your T-Mobile bill for free
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Old 01/02/2013, 04:05 PM   #2 (permalink)
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In Detroit, T-Mobile's EDGE speeds on my Pre2 were approaching 500 bytes per second at best, with ping times in the thousands of milliseconds.
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Old 01/02/2013, 09:35 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Here's another list, this time from T-Mobile directly, of metropolitan areas that have been refarmed[1]. If you live in one of these areas you can avoid the dreaded EDGE connection for sure! Though that's still better than what I'm getting on Sprint right now: 0 Mbps and ping response times of infinity milliseconds

[1] T-Mobile Closes the Year by Enhancing Coverage in 14 New Metro Areas | Issues & Insights Blog
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Old 01/04/2013, 01:35 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Got 3G for the first time in Sacramento, California today (in East Sacramento). Hope they bring in a few miles west soon...
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Old 01/04/2013, 02:15 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I was hoping by now I could get 3G from work to home by now, but my ride is too rural. The worst is at home, I'm stuck inbetween 2 towns which has 3G coverage, so I'm just under a mile away from 3G. But, the coverage is expanding quite quickly.
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Old 01/04/2013, 08:53 PM   #6 (permalink)
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After digging through some of those links today I saw that KC was announced around Nov. So, (after doing some research here) I dug out my AT&T Pre+ and swapped the radio for my unlocked GSM radio and T-mobile SIM and fired it up. Oh and added a few dollars to my account (I only use it for testing and as a spare/emergency phone) and switched to the $3/day plan so I could use 3G. At first I only got Edge data, but after I came upstairs from the basement I noticed the 3G light was on. I ran a few speed tests and got pretty inconsistent results - anywhere from 400kbps to 1600kbps. I know the Pre2 doesn't get "4G", but it is definitely faster than Edge.

I'm in KC North. The referenced articles did not mention this part of town, so I wanted to check for myself and report here.

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Old 01/16/2013, 06:42 PM   #7 (permalink)
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The main problem with T-Mobile is simply that in terms of land mass coverage, they are the worst of the big 4 carriers. In my experience the coverage quality in terms of square miles covered looks like this...

1) Verizon - Heck they have LTE in tiny podunk towns everywhere - Pretty amazing network coverage.
2) AT&T - Try Strait Talk unlimited pre pay $45 plan if ya need the AT&T network @ a decent price.
3) Sprint - Adios Sprint, your network has really gone downhill badly in so many areas, yikes.
4) T-Mobile - A great choice if ya got signal where ya need it, unfortunately 4 me no signal anywhere I really need it, bummer.

YMMV of course. If you live & work in a T-Mobile covered area, it's worth a shot to try it out 4 sure.
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Old 01/17/2013, 09:48 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Well, T-Mo does have good roaming coverage agreements, which helps to offset that. But, from a friend in VZW, I'd lower AT&T down a few notches as although they do have extensive coverage, they don't do much to maintain signal quality (never experienced Sprint but VZW, followed by T-Mo, w/ AT&T on bottom is how AT&T performs in midtown Manhattan). For a major carrier to not provide acceptable service there, is a little pathetic.
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Old 01/18/2013, 12:17 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Interesting & true bassman! I don't understand what AT&T is doing with their network???

We have been Sprint customers for 15 years straight & I have tried all the carriers even small MVNO's & regional carriers like Cricket on my second line. I have traveled the USA extensively for many years & we are heavy users, extensive tethering & what not... Sprint has been a godsend for us in terms of keeping costs down, but it has been a love / hate relationship for the past 7 or so years. Softbank should help Sprint with the $ they need to finish their Network expansion & upgrade. Last I heard Sprint still does not own their own towers, they sold them to Erickson several years ago, & lease them back. Dan Hessey has done what he could to lead Sprint out of the mess they were in after the terrible purchase of Nextel, which almost ruined Sprint. As long as Dan Hessey remains in power, & with Softbanks $ support & marketing expertise they should have no trouble righting the ship. It's complicated to illuminate all the network issues that Sprint has... They have the Sprint 3G CDMA network, the Nextel network, the WiMax network mess joint venture debacle, & the newer LTE network which they are expanding. It's a dysfunctional mess to be certain. I have faith that Sprint will right their ship & that by the end of 2018 they will be thriving. Sorry about my rambling diatribe...

Back to GSM, it will be interesting to see what happens with the Metro PCS (a CDMA carrier) purchase of T-Mobile. I'm not sure if they have announced what their exact plan are in terms of the next 5 years, but big mergers like this are always messy. I was active in lobbying the Federal Government to squash the AT&T purchase of T-Mobile, which would have been a true disaster for consumers. I assume they will keep the T-Mobile name, phase out 3G CDMA, expand LTE everywhere, etc...

AT&T seems to be the good ol'e boys club company. The company seems to be set up to maximize profits every quarter. They seem to focus more on the Wall Street side of things, certainly not the Main Street side of things. They are expanding their LTE markets, but are they improving the rest of their network which is so old & antiquated in many rural areas & apparently in Manhattan also??? I'm looking forward to using Strait Talk GSM BYOP & being able to swap sims & phones as I please. I see a future of unlocked GSM phones that are heavily modded & tweaked with no network affiliation. I'm done with CDMA.
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Old 01/21/2013, 08:13 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by LibertyAndJustice4All View Post
Interesting & true bassman! I don't understand what AT&T is doing with their network???

We have been Sprint customers for 15 years straight & I have tried all the carriers even small MVNO's & regional carriers like Cricket on my second line. I have traveled the USA extensively for many years & we are heavy users, extensive tethering & what not... Sprint has been a godsend for us in terms of keeping costs down, but it has been a love / hate relationship for the past 7 or so years. Softbank should help Sprint with the $ they need to finish their Network expansion & upgrade. Last I heard Sprint still does not own their own towers, they sold them to Erickson several years ago, & lease them back. Dan Hessey has done what he could to lead Sprint out of the mess they were in after the terrible purchase of Nextel, which almost ruined Sprint. As long as Dan Hessey remains in power, & with Softbanks $ support & marketing expertise they should have no trouble righting the ship. It's complicated to illuminate all the network issues that Sprint has... They have the Sprint 3G CDMA network, the Nextel network, the WiMax network mess joint venture debacle, & the newer LTE network which they are expanding. It's a dysfunctional mess to be certain. I have faith that Sprint will right their ship & that by the end of 2018 they will be thriving. Sorry about my rambling diatribe...

Back to GSM, it will be interesting to see what happens with the Metro PCS (a CDMA carrier) purchase of T-Mobile. I'm not sure if they have announced what their exact plan are in terms of the next 5 years, but big mergers like this are always messy. I was active in lobbying the Federal Government to squash the AT&T purchase of T-Mobile, which would have been a true disaster for consumers. I assume they will keep the T-Mobile name, phase out 3G CDMA, expand LTE everywhere, etc...

AT&T seems to be the good ol'e boys club company. The company seems to be set up to maximize profits every quarter. They seem to focus more on the Wall Street side of things, certainly not the Main Street side of things. They are expanding their LTE markets, but are they improving the rest of their network which is so old & antiquated in many rural areas & apparently in Manhattan also??? I'm looking forward to using Strait Talk GSM BYOP & being able to swap sims & phones as I please. I see a future of unlocked GSM phones that are heavily modded & tweaked with no network affiliation. I'm done with CDMA.
In Manhattan, it's not so much the oldness of it, but rather ensuring there's no signal interference. The issue at Grand Central Terminal was due to an office putting in a repeater, which caused issues outside said office. T-Mo must not have been affected by the frequency used, but AT&T and VZW was. My friend solved the VZW issue, contacted AT&T to let them know what caused the issue, and months later, my work T-Mo phone was still the only phone that had reception whereas my AT&T Pixi required a few blocks walk. But yes, they are concerned with customer numbers, especially new customers, whereas VZW is concerned with customer retention (given how VZW spends in continuous network improvements vs. just add-ons/upgrades).
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Old 01/21/2013, 01:57 PM   #11 (permalink)
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i sold all my Pre3 gear specifically because my experience with T-Mo's faux-G was so horrendous in the ATL metro area. I rarely had 4G service, so I was primarily on EDGE, which is way slower than Sprint's 3G. Plus, they're coverage in really rural areas was non-existent.

I went back to a FrankenPre2 so i could stay with Sprint's truly unlimited pkg, and I'm ok with 3G. I wish the Pre2 had just a little more power and screen real estate, but that's the sacrifice i had to make to stay with webOS and have no limits on my data usage.

so my point is, don't just jump into that T-Mo boat without knowing what you're getting into. When there's no faux-G, it's EDGE only. (no 3G "middle ground" on a 1900mhz phone) the switching back n' forth VACUUMS batteries, and it's just plain frustrating. You MAY be better off with StraightTalk if you're ok with a 2gig data cap and the threatening verbage of their contract (as in: we'll cut you off for any reason we want, whether you pay for a year in advance or not, etc)
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Old 03/09/2013, 12:44 PM   #12 (permalink)
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So a few months later, I thought I'd share my experiences with the Pre3 on T-Mobile.

MMS service is spotty. For some reason we don't always get MMS pictures from people on other carriers. Also related is that vCards sent via MMS show us as text and look like garbage (although I can cut and paste the info info Contacts, it is annoying). I've tried to remedy this to no avail. We're living with it for now.

The 3G coverage in NYC is pretty solid. I'm on Edge mostly when I'm indoors, so what I've ready about building penetration being poor is fairly accurate. WiFi is helpful in these situations.

Overall speeds are a big improvement over Sprint's 3G/1X network. Running speed tests over the past few months have yielded an average of 1Mbps when 3G is available. I tended to see about 500-600 kbps with 1Mbps possible but extremely rare. Sprint claims to be addressing this with their network upgrades; who knows how much of that is marketing lies?

T-Mobile's Edge coverage feels faster to me. I never tested Sprint's 1X network, but I remember it being really really painful to use. I'd say that subjectively, Edge is more pleasant to use in the limited number of places I've used it.

Forced Roaming: I had grown accustomed to using the Roam Only patch while on Sprint to put the phone onto Verizon's network when needed. I assumed that after I meta-doctored my Pre3 with the "vanilla" script, I'd be able to do the same to fore the phone onto AT&T's network. I found out that it doesn't work that way. In NYC when I choose the AT&T network, the phone goes into SOS Only mode. No data or phone calls. I don't know the reason for this, but I assume that T-Mo and AT&T don't have a roaming agreement that covers NYC. I haven't traveled after I "vanilla'd" the phone, so I haven't been able to test elsewhere.

I have used the phone where there was only AT&T service and the phone roamed on its own. I got H+ coverage, but since it was rural Vermont, that amounted to speeds of about 52kbs (or the speed of a modem in 1994). My friends on AT&T had LTE coverage, but they were yelling at their phones to load web pages so on balance, I'll take the lower monthly bill.

Over-all I'm happy with the T-Mobile service. Phone calls sound great, I haven't had any dropped calls, and the $41.00 bill per person (3 people on a family plan, with 2 unlimited data, and 1 call heavy plan - plus a 15% employer discount) is saving us $30 per month ($360 per year). And when this hardware bites the dust (or we get tired of the "black screen" freezes that happen every other week or so) we'll be ready for some GSM Open webOS action!

I'm still curious to know if I'm ever going to get an H+ icon while on T-Mobile. This phone should be capable of getting T-Mo's 42Mbps H+ coverage, but I've yet to see it. For now, the 3G speeds are plenty fast, and I end a 14 or 15 hour day with 10 - 20 % battery left. Something that never happened with a FrankenPre2 on Sprint.

As a last note, I've read on tmonews.com that T-Mo is going to drastically simplify their plans soon (if they haven't already) which will effectively increase the monthly price by removing options that allow you to tailor your bill to your usage. If you've been on the fence about switching, you might want to crunch the numbers for yourself now before the changes go into effect.

Ok, hope this is helpful information!
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Old 03/14/2013, 09:03 AM   #13 (permalink)
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The Pre 3 isnt capable of H+ (42mps). I believe it tops out at the AT&T H+ of 21 Mbs.

You can see this on the specs for the phone itself.

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Old 04/01/2013, 01:36 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Ok, some quick updates:

I got 14 Mbps outside of my house yesterday with the "3G" icon lit. Pretty big increase over Sprint's 3G and not bad for $40 per month! I'm guessing I'm never going to see the H+ icon on T-Mobile, but I'm clearly getting HSPA+ speeds.

I was able to "force" roaming while traveling outside of NY (where T-Mobile and AT&T have roaming agreements in place). That was handy to get off of T-Mobile's Edge network.

Its pretty clear that the "refarming" is only benefitting metropolitan areas. As soon as I drive out of the NYC limits, its 100% Edge. I'm optimistic that T-Mobile will keep converting all of their towers, but the fact that Apple is making a special iPhone with AWS bands is not a good sign. Hopefully its just a band-aid to get them through this transition and not an indication that they've changed their minds about attracting AT&T customers and their existing handsets.

vCards via MMS are still not working. I'm giving up on that - there's always vCard over email.
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