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?


23 responses to “Mobile Data Conundrum”

  1. Mark Denovich Avatar

    Cingular is dumb with data? I thought AT&T had the corner on that market. For the longest time, the only data option has been the stupid mMode stuff, which is $10/mo for just a few megs. I had been hoping that the Cingular merger would help things not make them worse.

    I’m a T-Mobile user too… (with a Treo600 phone.) It’s slow, but it works (if I get a signal.)

    I tried to see what the new Cingular plans looked like last week. The Cingular site said my Zip code wasn’t in their service area. AT&T’s website after I entered my Zip code redirected me to Cingular’s site where I ran into the same roadblock again. Totally retarded. My wife has had AT&T for years (I did too before I wanted a decent data plan)… I know we are in their coverage area.

    I’d be tempted to switch to Sprint if I could actually get a signal in my house. I guess due to topography, I’m in a signal shadow. If you walk about a house away in any direction you can pick up Sprint, but not in my house. *sigh*

    I’m amazed that companies with so much exposure to customers are so uniformly bad at dealing with them.

  2. Ryan Avatar

    I have a sprint and have no problems with them. With the included vision on my account I can connect to the internet with the data cable at 115.2 kb/sec anywhere there is a signal. In fact, the wife and I were driving on I-5 (in California), and I was surfing and chatting from the car for about a half hour without it dropping me.

    The sprint plans are slightly more expensive than everyone else it seems.

  3. Matt Croydon Avatar

    I’ve given sprint thousands of dollars over the years and I’m just not going back.

    I forgot to log off of IRC one day while driving up 1/101 in California and didn’t realize it for a couple hundred miles. I stayed online the whole time.

    Don’t get me wrong, Sprint when it worked was great, and their digital coverage was years ahead of other providers. Their customer support quite frankly sucked, I had more $300 phone bills than I’d care to share, and it took the threat of legal action for them to actually cancel my account (after I called and cancelled it of course).

    I don’t hate sprint, I just dislike them very much and will never ever go back.

  4. Mike Baas Avatar

    I second Matt’s experiences with Sprint. Once you leave Sprint, you never go back. My latest Sprint story (on top of at least 6 others) was renewing my wife’s new phone with a 2-year contract, sending in my rebate information and getting my rebate refused because I ‘did not renew my contract’ 8 weeks later. Nice one.

    Matt, I am suprised to hear your news. I thought T-Mobile had it all and was thinking about switching. I am glad to have heard your report before doing so. What you are doing is still a bleeding-edge idea from where I am sitting. Post again if you make any progress.

  5. Ed Avatar

    I’ve got Cingular and I’m on the MEdia Net works package for $19.99 which includes the following:

    1500 Text/IM messages
    200 Photo messages
    Unlimited GPRS/EDGE connectivity

    I’ve noticed that when you hit it sometimes comes up with a 404 error but I reloaded the page a couple of times and I seem to hit a server that has the page. I’m not sure if they’re changing plans around or some web servers in a cluster are just missing some files. In a nutshell this was huge for me because I got a 6620 and I spent 4-5 days in an area where dialup was all that was available and I connected my powerbook via bluetooth using EDGE and was getting around 70-90k/sec. If you have any more questions let me know.

  6. Dane Wayne Avatar
    Dane Wayne

    For work I send .bmp images via Winfax from my laptop using my cellphone as a modem to dial-up the fax machine I am sending the .bmp image to. I also use my laptop to access internet sites for hotels, rental cars and airline info. It all helps me be very, very productive in what I do. While getting it all set up with T-mobile took almost a whole day on hold till I navigated to the right T3 Tech, once I got there everything got dialed-in just right using a phone T-mobile doesn’t even sell (V3, I can’t get Tzones when it stands alone un-plugged from my L/T but I don’t care ’bout that). Tmobile showed me they WANT my business by making it all doable at HALF the cost of what Cingular charges for Data and Voice minutes. That’s if you can even find somebody at Cingular who even knows what data via wireless is!! Cingular is too big, too fat and too dumb. I’ll never give them my hard earned money.

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