Day: December 29, 2004

  • Mobile Data Conundrum

    I’m between a rock and a hard place.

    T-Mobile is my mobile service provider. I love them to death. Their customer support can’t be beat, the people in the retail stores are actually plesant, they actually honor the warranty on phones, and they just generally rule.

    But man, their data plans are killing me.

    Here’s a bit of history for you. I’ve had T-Mobile service for almost two years now (eff Sprint) and love them. When I activated the service on my 3650 through Amazon I added their $9.99/mo T-Zones Pro plan. That got me unlimited on-phone data (plain old http port 80, WAP/WAP 2.0, IRC, etc) and even allowed me to surf via a bluetooth connection on my laptop even though I wasn’t supposed to be able to. For awhile I upgraded to the $19.99/mo unlimited GPRS plan because I was traveling and wanted full access to everything via GPRS over Bluetooth. After a few months I went back to the $9.99 plan because I just wasn’t using GPRS often enough (think T-Mobile hotspots).

    All was fine and well for a long time. I used email (outgoing) all the time, hopped on IRC via WirelessIRC when I was out and about, and was generally happy. Somewhere along the line I picked up a used taco for $60 at Gamestop and swapped my main T-Mobile SIM back and forth, using Opera on the taco and WirelessIRC, Services, and mail on the 3650.

    Then things came to a grinding halt. All of a sudden I couldn’t use WirelssIRC any more. That’s a big bummer, as WirelssIRC is probably my personal Series 60 killer app. It’s frugal on data usage, communication is instant, and I can talk to my online mobitopian family anytime anywhere.

    It turns out that I should have been paying $19.99 for access to anything other than web and email ports the whole time, on phone and off. T-Mobile realized this some time back in November/December and silently started blocking ports.

    This brings me to my conundrum. What’s a geek supposed to do in a situation like this? Did I mention how painfully slow a GPRS connection is in a Wi-Fi, EDGE, and 3G world? It’s pretty pathetic actually. It’s like when I was still using my 1200bps modem when all the cool kids had 9600’s. GPRS is slow, but it’s been very useful over the years. Until I couldn’t do something basic like hop on IRC from the phone for any less than $19.99 a month I was quite happy with it.

    I just can’t justify $20 a month for a slow connection that I’m just going to use to connect to IRC a few times a month. That’s just absurd. So I started looking at my options.

    My only real option (being a GSM guy that likes his phones to work places other than the US) was to look at the giant behemoth that is ATT+Cingular. Before being snatched, AT&T Wireless seemed like the wireless carrier with the best strategy for mobile data. EDGE is rolled out nationwide and true 3G service is available in several metropolitan areas. Before the merger, going with AT&T would be a no-brainer.

    The thing that scares the crap out of me is that Cingular appears to be so stupid when it comes to mobile data. Russ has been urging me to go out right now and pick up an EDGE or UMTS phone at an AT&T Wireless store (you know, the ones with the Cingular banners over the AT&T logo) before they go away. Why’s that you ask? Because Cingular is stupid about mobile data. Russ has an unlimited EDGE data plan tacked on to his AT&T Wireless account for $24.95 a month. Now we’re talking. EDGE is significantly faster and would be quite usable via a Bluetooth teather. If I were on an EDGE plan I could skip the hunt for a starbucks and just connect my laptop to the internet anywhere anytime. I’ve done so via vanilla GPRS and it’s just not a happy thing.

    Why am I not running out right now and picking up an AT&T phone right now? Well, because Cingular is stupid about data. The other reason that I am cautious about switching to etiher carrier right now is that they’re in the process of merging their billing systems, accounting systems, support, and infrastructure. I’d like to avoid that potential mess if I can.

    Why is Cingular so stupid about data? Take a look at their web site and look at their data plans. $30 for 10 megs, unlimited for $80? No thank you. I’d much prefer unlimited EDGE for $25, thank you. I looked at addons for their voice plans and didn’t see anything intelligent there either. Actually, I saw more stupidity. A 2MB GPRS addon called “MEdia Net” for $9.99 a month. Wow, that’s lame.

    That brings me back to my conundrum. I’ve got several options, but they all seem to suck in one way or another.

    Option 1 is to stay with T-Mobile even though they’re not going to get serious about 3G until at least 2007 and they’ve made absolutely no mention of EDGE. They’re also going to be way behind the pack of ATT/Cingular, Verizon, and Sprint/Nextel. I don’t know how long I can stick with option 1 even though I love T-Mobile.

    Option 2 would be to wait for the ATT/Cingular merger to settle down a bit and switch to Cingular once the billing kinks get worked out and all that. The problem with option 2 is that Cingular is dumb about data, and I honestly don’t think that any of their data plans come even close to fitting me or my budget.

    Option 3 is to run to my local AT&T Wireless store, pick up a Nokia 6620, and get on an unlimited EDGE plan while it’s still available. The thing that worries me most about option 3 is that I’m setting myself up to get screwed. At least there’s a lot of potential for me to get screwed. What happens if my only option in 6 months is to go on one of Cingular’s stupid data plans? What if Cingular screws up the momentum on EDGE and 3G that AT&T has been building up for years? There are a lot of questions that have not yet been answered.

    I’ve been thinking about my options for some time now and just haven’t been able to come up with a good answer. What should I do? What would you do?