• Carriers

    by Published on 05-27-2015 07:15 AM
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    I came across an interesting read by Canadian tech journalist Peter Nowak—he made my first (and thus far only) list of mobile heroes back in 2013. This week he's posted almost 3,000 words on his experience switching to WIND Mobile from a Big Three carrier.

    The timing of his piece is interesting, given the approaching June 3rd deadline that will effectively end three-year wireless contracts in Canada; both the Big Three and their subsidiaries are offering "deals" not seen in this country for quite some time. I put "deals" in quotation marks because, for anyone willing to jump through a few hoops to get Koodo's $55/5GB SK/MB plan, they aren't really deals at all.

    Given Peter's fantastic coverage of the Fair for Canada debacle—when the Big Three showed their true colours in the face of some real (if ultimately only rumoured) competition—I was expecting to see some politics behind in his switch to WIND. Instead, it seems like it's all about the money, and what you get for it. ...
    by Published on 05-20-2015 04:44 PM
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    It seems that a Telus launch of something similar to Rogers Roam Like Home might be imminent. That or at least a much better US roaming offer, something to compete with Rogers.

    In mid-April Telus filed trademarks for the terms "Easy Roam" / "Voyagez Connecté" as well as "Roam Ready" / "Prêt pour l'itinérance"

    For a brief period last week on the Telus Mobility roaming and travel webpage there was a clickable heading (as seen in the attached screen capture) called US Easy Roam, which linked to a "page not found" when clicked. ...
    by Published on 05-15-2015 07:20 AM
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    ... Apparently not a prepaid plan at all.

    This is an oddly-specific thing to shop for, I know. But in case someone reading this is in the market for something similar, I've already done the research for you. A buddy's daughter is getting her first-ever smartphone for her 13th birthday, a hand-me-down from yours truly. So yesterday her dad and I took to the lower-level carrier kiosks of Toronto's Eaton Centre in search of a suitable provider and plan.

    The kid's requirements are as follows: no data (WiFi only), and as much calling and texting as we can get, for as little per month as possible. If we were purchasing a phone and a plan this would be a no-brainer—we'd pick up an unlocked Moto G or Moto E at Staples and immediately proceed to WIND Mobile, to activate it on their $25 Talk and Text Plan. The vast majority of this new teenager's communication with her friends will likely be via SMS, WhatsApp or whatever it is kids use these days; voice calls will mostly come from fretful parents wondering where she is.

    But alas, there's a complication: the phone that she's getting is the made-for-Rogers first-gen LTE Moto G, which I took home from a Moto event this time last year. It's unlocked (for some reason) but unfortunately doesn't support AWS. Yes, it's overkill for a teenager who isn't going to use LTE but hey, it's also a free phone. ...
    by Published on 05-14-2015 07:35 AM
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    And I couldn't be more proud. Or more grateful for Koodo's $55 SK/MB plan.

    Ordinarily she wouldn't go anywhere near the generous (for these days) 5 GB ceiling of the plan we're both on, but a perfect storm of two elements—a sudden obsession with a YouTube channel and a finicky WiFi radio on her OnePlus One—made for an exception.

    The final tally for the damage was 704.52 MB (our new billing cycle starts today); for this she'll be dinged a mere $10 on our next bill—a lot less than the Big Three's current overage rates, I might add. More importantly, that 5 GB data bucket kept her overage low in the first place.

    It got me thinking more about streaming video on smartphones. It seems to me there's a real disconnect between all the wondrous services available and the cold, hard cost of mobile data. Our home broadband connection has a monthly data bucket of 300 GB; streaming many hours of Netflix is no problem for us. But YouTube, along with the likes of these new streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat, can easily gobble up much more data than what's available in a typical smartphone plan. ...
    by Published on 05-07-2015 07:33 AM
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    The very first post that I wrote for the front page of Howard Forums was about Ting, a Toronto-based Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that offers wholesale wireless service from Sprint to its customers in the USA, but was (and is) unable to do anything similar for its home base in Canada.

    MVNOs seem to be very popular with American forum members. There are Canadian MVNOs, too—PC Mobile, Petro Canada Mobility and SpeakOut Wireless are the notable examples I can think of off the top of my head. I myself have only had first-hand experience with SpeakOut; in my opinion it's best suited for emergencies or occasional use.

    And the MVNO situation in this country isn't going to get any better, even after the CRTC's announcement this week that it will regulate domestic roaming rates—this according to Dr. Michael Geist, whose recent post on this subject merits a closer look. ...
    by Published on 05-05-2015 07:10 AM
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    According to iPhone in Canada, select Rogers and Fido customers are being targeted with a free data offer to keep them from jumping ship to another carrier. This initiative is a direct result of the Wireless Code.

    For anyone reading this on the front page, some Rogers and Fido subscribers have received text messages with an offer of 1GB/month free, for a maximum of 12 months. The Rogers text looks like this:

    Rogers info: Fantastic News! We've added 1GB/mo. of extra data on your wireless [xxx-xxx-xxxx] at no extra cost. Thank you for being our loyal customer. Enjoy this gift effective [start of billing cycle?] valid only on your current plan until your next device upgrade for a maximum of 12 months. (non-transferrable)
    And the Fido one like this:

    Hi, it’s Fido: Thanks for being with us! Here’s an extra 1GB of data per month just for you at no extra cost for [xxx-xxx-xxxx]. It’ll start on [end of billing cycle?], so enjoy it as long as you have your current plan or until you upgrade your phone, for up to 12 months. Reach us at [Fido bit.ly link for contacts page].
    ...
    by Published on 04-22-2015 07:10 AM
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    Last night The Wall Street Journal sent tech blogs into a frenzy as it reported that Google's "Nova" project, an endeavour that would add "MVNO" to the company's extensive résumé, was on the cusp of being launched—possibly as early as today.

    Most of WSJ's content sits behind a paywall, but for some reason this particular bombshell does not. Copy/paste, anyone? ...
    by Published on 03-27-2015 07:25 AM
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    If you live in Canada and aren't happy with either your mobile service or what you're paying for it, my advice is this: Get yourself on Koodo's $55/5GB SK/MB plan as per ijcy's instructions before it's too late.

    The likes of Mobile Syrup would have you believe that the coming changes to Koodo (and also Fido) amount to a re-branding for millennials, but forum members know better—the real news here is that loyalty programs and perks are going away.

    If reports (from multiple sources) turn out to be true, then subscribers to the Fido network will soon see their Fido Dollars disappear. The 4% pre-tax credit on a customer's monthly bill could be used towards a new device or applied as a discount to an add-on. It was a good differentiator for what was otherwise essentially wireless service from Rogers.

    The changes coming to Koodo are two-fold. First, the Koodo Tab, a surprisingly reasonable alternative to the traditional (and egregious) penalties of early contract cancellation, will soon be off the table. Even worse, the 10% BYOD discount will likewise be no more. As someone who refuses, on principle, to lock themselves in to any one carrier via a subsidy, that 10% makes Koodo's $55 plan an even better $49.50/month. To get something similar from parent company TELUS would cost at least twice as much. ...
    by Published on 02-27-2015 08:11 AM
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    Yesterday the FCC voted 3-2 in favour of Title II-based net neutrality rules, a decision which has implications for mobile users, members accessing these forums via their home broadband connection... Internet users in general, really, and far beyond the confines of the USA. I've been pouring through the news on this since the vote came down yesterday, and thought I'd share some of the more interesting bits here.

    What's Title II Again?

    Title II is about the idea of common carriage, first applied to telephone networks in the FCC's Communications Act of 1934, and overhauled with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The idea is pretty simple: a network provider must treat everything on their network equally. The best non-Internet example that I can think of is the explosion of long distance providers here in Canada during the 1990s. And the Internet? Well, you've probably seen this fake ISP ad before.

    Verizon's Cheeky Response

    As expected, Internet providers in the United States weren't exactly thrilled with the news. Verizon went so far as to post their official response in Morse code... because common carriage is such an antiquated notion, amirite? Anyone? ...
    by Published on 02-26-2015 07:10 AM
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    Android users seething over Apple's sudden success with Apple Pay might get some good news this spring: If the tip received by Ars Technica turns out to be true, an upgraded tap-and-pay solution called Android Pay will be announced at this year's Google I/O developer conference.

    The big innovation that Android Pay will bring to the current Google Wallet is an API enabling the user to access Wallet from within any app that supports it. For example, if you were redeeming a coupon from the 7-Eleven app you could pay for the entire purchase with Google Wallet, without leaving the 7-Eleven app.

    Android Pay has been partly made possible by Google's recent acquisition of SoftCard, a failed mobile payment system created by a partnership of US carriers. And no doubt some of it has to do with the looming spectre of Apple Pay, even though some Android users—at least in the USA—have been able to tap and pay with Google Wallet for years. An added bonus of the SoftCard deal is that Wallet/Android Pay may see a wider release on carrier-branded phones. ...
    by Published on 02-17-2015 07:25 AM
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    Now that I live in Winnipeg (not really) it's time to give some major props to forums member and fellow Manitoban (winky face) Ben Klass. I'm waaayyy behind the curve on this, but better late than never, right?

    Back in November of 2013 I posted about Ben's 26-page complaint to the CRTC, making a fairly compelling argument that Bell's mobile TV service was in violation of Canada's Telecommunications Act. To wit:

    Bell charges you $5 a month to watch 5GB worth of their own content. If you want to watch 5GB worth of Netflix on the Bell network, on the other hand, they charge you $40. That’s a markup of 800%.
    In other words, this is very much a net neutrality issue, similar to T-Mobile USA's Music Freedom but actually worse—unlike T-Mobile, Bell has been giving its mobile network undue preference to its own content. ...
    by Published on 02-16-2015 08:23 AM
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    Some savvy Canadian folk have found refuge from the exorbitant cost of LTE data in this country by hacking our second-tier carrier Koodo, as per these instructions from forums member ijcy. With almost 2,500 replies it's got to be one of the all-time most popular threads here, and with good reason: Those bringing their own device to Koodo can enjoy a comfortable data bucket of 5 GB for the entirely reasonable price of $49.50 CAD/month—where a similar data bucket could easily cost more than double that on Bell, Rogers or TELUS proper. There's also WIND Mobile, but WIND Mobile doesn't (yet) have LTE.

    As the title of this post implies, I am officially going on record and disclosing that I myself have two lines on this plan. So I was as worried as the rest of you when I got that Valentine's Day email: "Welcome to Koodo Prepaid..."

    In my case it appeared that I'd been bumped from the 5 GB SK/MB postpaid plan to a prepaid one:

    Your $55 Base Plan Includes:
    » Unlimited Messaging(Text and Picture)
    » Call Display & Voicemail
    » Call Waiting & Conference Calling
    ... With no mention of data anywhere. Other Koodo plan hackers got similar emails; thankfully, when we all checked our online accounts, everything was as it was supposed to be. Later that day, Koodo sent their affected subscribers an apology:

    Sorry! We sent you an email in error.

    Earlier today we sent you an email about our Koodo Prepaid service in error. This occurred when our email system had a 'glitch' causing it to send a prepaid email to existing customers.

    We apologize for the mistake and regret any confusion it may have caused. Nothing has changed on your account and your privacy has in no way been compromised. We'll be further investigating how this happened so we can ensure it does not happen again.
    Here's the thing, though: I don't think that email was an error at all. ...
    by Published on 01-22-2015 07:42 AM
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    It's a headline that every telecom operator in the world would be terrified to wake up to:

    "Google Plans To Offer Wireless Services"

    Sadly (for us) there's no need for them to cower in fear, at least not yet. This isn't about Project Loon, an armada of Google-powered balloons deployed in your city to blanket it with free WiFi. It isn't even as ambitious as Google Fiber, Mountain View's dalliance as an ISP. According to paid site The Information (via DSL Reports), it's decidedly more unglamorous than that:

    Google is preparing to sell mobile phone plans directly to customers and manage their calls and mobile data over a cellular network, according to three people with knowledge of the plans. The new service is expected to run on Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks, two people familiar with the product say. Google is expected to reach deals to buy wholesale access to those carriers’ mobile voice and data networks, making it a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO...
    Hmm... From what I understand the U.S. MVNO market is already pretty well-served by the likes of Cricket and Ting. But hey, more competition can only be a good thing, right? ...
    by Published on 01-19-2015 08:20 AM
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    While I was on vacation WIRED ran a piece which I bookmarked to post about when I got home. The TL;DR can be found in the url for the post: "phones are tablets." Hey, didn't I write about this back in September of 2013? Yay me!

    Anyway, two calendar years later, the point still stands. If data from your carrier is too expensive you may be surprised to find a much cheaper alternative in the form of a data-only tablet plan. For the missing pieces of the puzzle—voice and SMS—the likes of Skype, Vonage, Viber, Fongo, etc. have got your back. My VoIP provider, VoIP.ms, has had full SMS functionality since July of 2014.

    And talk about savings... the example given by WIRED is a $30, 3GB/month iPad plan from T-Mobile USA, versus a $60/month iPhone plan with voice. Here in Canada you can still get 5GB on a tablet for $40/month from Rogers. The closest comparable rate I found for a smartphone is if you bring your own and pay them more than double for less data—$90/month for 4GB.

    Thing is, this is very clearly a kludge. People still make voice calls, apparently, and your VoIP stand-in may or may not end up sounding as good as what your carrier has on offer for your phone. And while your SIM-enabled tablet may or may not support SMS out of the box, MMS is most likely a no-go. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong on this. ...
    by Published on 01-14-2015 09:45 AM
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    Long before OnePlus was frustrating would-be customers with their infamous invite system, Chinese OEM Xiaomi was pioneering online-only logistics, using flash sales spread through social media to keep demand for their products high while managing a relatively low inventory of hardware.

    But did you know that they actually have a brick-and-mortar store? I don't mean the fake shops that are popping up in mainland China, but a legit retail presence in partnership with Hong Kong carrier CSL. It was announced by no less than Hugo Barra on Google+ last August, and I managed to find it when I was in town a few weeks ago! ...
    by Published on 01-13-2015 08:00 AM
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    Just in case anyone reading this is planning a trip to Hong Kong or Taipei in the near future, here's everything I know about prepaid data SIMs there.



    I've written about options in Hong Kong before—less than a year ago, in fact. But it's worth reiterating that the most convenient of them by far is the Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM. No activation codes required, just pop it in, reboot and enjoy. Access to PCCW hotspots is of dubious value, as you have to remember the password supplied with your SIM and enter it every time you're within range of a hotspot (otherwise known as a PCCW phone booth). But the unlimited local calling can be very handy, at least for someone whose girlfriend has family in town.

    As for "4G data", I can only surmise that the North American variant of the Nexus 5 doesn't support the necessary bands for that.

    The best resource I've come across for Hong Kong data SIMs is this page on a site called Hong Kong Shuttle. Their recommendation is the Power Prepaid SIM from One2Free. I'm not sure I agree with that; you only get a 1GB data bucket, and when we used it last year our speeds didn't seem any better than with PCCW.

    Another benefit of the official tourist SIM is that they can currently be activated as late as March, 2016. I actually brought home another pair for our next trip through Hong Kong—it's good to plan ahead! ...
    by Published on 12-23-2014 08:49 AM
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    That was the year that was... in mobile.

    Usually bloggers post these things some time between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, when the Boxing Day sales have come and gone and there's literally no tech news to write about. But yours truly will be spending Christmas Day somewhere near the International Date Line en route to Hong Kong, where I'll be vacationing with the missus until mid-January. In other words, I'm jumping on the year-end retrospective bandwagon a bit early.

    I've gone through everything I've posted over the course of 2014 and am presenting here what I think are the year's most important stories. If there's anything you think I missed by all means let me know! ...
    by Published on 12-15-2014 07:45 AM
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    This pretty much sums up my weekend of l33t Android h4xx0ring...

    Howard was kind enough to lend me his locked-to-Bell Z3 Compact—by odd coincidence, at a Sony briefing for the company's Christmas 2014 mobile product portfolio. The team there was all about showing off how you could play a PS4 game on your phone while on the move, then bring it home and Miracast it to your big-screen TV. But if you were looking to take control of your Android experience—denying egregious app permissions, removing ads and such—then this is definitely not the phone for you. ...
    by Published on 12-11-2014 06:58 AM
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    If you're an Android user on either T-Mobile or Verizon I've got some potentially bad news for you: your subsidized device may be afflicted with the latest delivery system for carrier bloatware. Android Police ran a story last week about a system application called DT_Ignite, found on the T-Mobile version of Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 and the Verizon LG G3.

    I myself try to steer clear of carrier-subsidized hardware, so my hands-on experience with bloatware has been limited to devices on-loan from Howard—most famously the Samsung Galaxy S4. On that device (at least the Canadian version) the carrier apps were preloaded onto the ROM. DT Ignite is different in that it's a single app that updates itself and apks under its control without the user's knowledge (or permission). T-Mobile Note 4 owners have uninstalled carrier apps only to have them reappear after a reboot! ...
    by Published on 12-08-2014 08:31 AM
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    Phil Nickinson, Android Central Podcast #211: "I don't even know what 'Nexus' is."

    Ryan Whitwam, Android Police Podcast #136: "Fastboot-oem-unlock, that's what 'Nexus' has always been for me."

    So it's a good thing that the Nexus 6 still has an unlockable bootloader, because in just about every other aspect it's not looking very much like a Nexus at all. I've written previously about its high price and the disastrously-bad AT&T version; now it seems like another historic strength of the Nexus line is being taken off the table. Two posts last week—one from Phandroid and another from Android Authority—report that Shamu (aka the Moto Nexus/Nexus 6) may receive software updates from your carrier rather than Google directly.

    Can we call this thing a dud yet? ...
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