Sprint

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Some encouraging words here about Verizon’s expected 4G data rates:

After testing in the Boston and Seattle areas, the provider estimates that a real connection on a populated network should average between 5Mbps to 12Mbps in download rates and between 2Mbps to 5Mbps for uploads. Actual, achievable peak speeds in these areas float between 40-50Mbps downstream and 20-25Mbps upstream.The speed is significantly less than the theoretical 100Mbps promised by Long Term Evolution (LTE), the chosen standard, but would still give Verizon one of the fastest cellular networks in North America.

No mention of metering or data caps, of course.

Remember, these are phone companies. They love to meter stuff. Its what they know. They can hardly imagine anything else. They are billing machines with networks attached.

In addition to the metering problems Brett Glass details here, there is the simple question of whether carriers can meter data at all. Data ain’t minutes. And metering discourages both usage and countless businesses other than the phone companies’ own. I have long believed that phone and cable companies will see far more business for themselves if they open up their networks to possibilities other than those optimized for the relocation of television from air to pipes.

Data capping is problematic too. How can the customer tell how close they are to a cap? And how much does fearing overage discourage legitimate uses? And what about the accounting? My own problems with Sprint on this topic don’t give me any confidence that the carriers know how gracefully to impose data usage caps.

There’s a lot of wool in current advertising on these topics too. During the Academy Awards last night, Comcast had a great ad for Xfinity, its new high-speed service, promoted entirely as an entertainment pump. By which I mean that it was an impressive piece of promotion. But there was no mention of upstream speeds (downstream teaser: 100Mb/s). Or other limitations. Or how they might favor NBC (should they buy it) over other content sources. (Which, of course, they will.)

Sprint‘s CEO was in an another ad, promoting the company’s “unlimited text, unlimited Web and unlimited calling…” Right. Says right here in a link-proof pop-up titled “Important 4G coverage and plan information”, that 4G is unlimited, but 3G (what most customers, including I, still have) is limited to “5GB/300MB off-network roaming per month.” They do list “select cities” where 4G is available. Here’s Raleigh. I didn’t find New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Boston on the list. I recall Amarillo. Can’t find it now, and the navigation irritates me too much to look.

Anyway, I worry that what we’ll get is phone and cable company sausage in Internet casing. And that, on the political side, the carriers will succeed in their campaign to clothe themselves as the “free market” fighting “government takeovers” while working the old regulatory capture game, to keep everybody else from playing.

So five, ten years from now, all the rest of the independent ISPs and WISPs will be gone. So will backbone players other than carriers and Google.  We’ll be gaga about our ability to watch pay-per-view on our fourth-generation iPads with 3-d glasses. And we won’t miss the countless new and improved businesses that never happened because they were essentially outlawed by regulators and their captors.

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[Later, on 1 October 2009... This matter has been resolved. The charge for going over has been dropped, the service restored and good will along with it. Thanks to both @sprintcares and the chat person at My Sprint.]

So I just got a “courtesy call” from Sprint, a company I’ve been talking up for a couple years because I’ve had nothing but positive experience with my Sprint EvDO data card.

Well, that’s over. The call was to inform me that I’d gone over the 5Gb monthly usage limit for my data card, to the tune of 10,241,704.22kb, for which I was to be charged $500, on top of my $59.99 (plus $1.24 tax) monthly charge.

I didn’t know about the 5Gb limit. (In fact, I believed Sprint had an unlimited data plan, which is one reason I used them.) Kent German in CNET explains why in Sprint to limit data usaga on Everything plans. He begins,

When is unlimited not unlimited? Apparently when it comes from Sprint. Though the carrier has been very active about touting its new “simply everything” plan, which includes unlimited mobile Internet and messaging, it plans to place a cap on monthly data usage next month. Sprint will limit its simply everything customers to 5GB of data usage per month, plus 300MB per month for off-network data roaming.

A Sprint representative told BetaNews that the cap is needed to ensure a great customer experience.

O ya. By “great” they must mean bill size. Kent continues,

“The use of voice and data roaming by a small minority of customers is generating a disproportionately large level of operating expense for the company,” the representative said. “This limit is well within the range of what a typical customer would normally use each month.”…

BetaNews said Sprint began notifying customers in monthly bills that were mailed this week. The change will go into effect 30 days after customers receive the note. Also, the carrier said it will call customers next month to make sure they’re aware of the changes.

Well, I don’t read my bills. They go to my bookkeeper, who pays them and tosses whatever BS comes along inside the envelopes. I also don’t have a Sprint phone, or phone number. Maybe that’s why I never got that call.

Why did I go over? Possibly because I had little or no reliable landline (cable) Internet connectivity at my house in Santa Barbara for weeks after I got back there in June. I wrote about that here, here, here, here and here. So I used my Sprint datacard a lot. In fact it was something of a life-saver.

Earth to Sprint: that “small minority of customers” is the future of your company. You should invest in them, and in your relationships with them.

The Sprint person on the “courtesy call” knocked $350 off the bill. That was because she was ready to “work” with me on the matter. I asked her how she arrived at that number. She said she couldn’t say.

I hope they work zero in to their future calculations. Because that’s what they’re getting from me as soon as I find a better deal elsewhere.

I’m not sure how to price the good will they’ve lost. In fact, I’m not sure that has a price.

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The idea was to take some down time in Santa Barbara and get work done in my own nice office, with my nice comfortable chair, surrounded by space and time, with soft sea breezes blowing through.

Instead it’s been tech crash city since I got here last Thursday. (Except for getting out to the Live Oak Festival. That rocked. Also, trees, dirt and great music tend not to crash.)

First a system upgrade hosed a beloved old mail program. So far I can’t get the archives to migrate anywhere. I can still get email addressed to my searls.com and Gmail accounts, but not to my Harvard.edu account. I can send from Gmail. But balls are being dropped and lost all over the place.

Next my Internet connection through Cox got flaky. Mostly it’s bad. Details in my last post. A Cox repair guy finally came today. And, as Russ predicted, tightened everything up, tested it out, and all was fine. Dig this: I didn’t know that service had improved to 18Mb/s downstream and close to 4Mb/s upstream. It was right up there when he left, along with two-digit ping times to everything.

That was then. Soon as he left, we were back to bad. We’re at 3-digit ping times and packet losses. One other discovery: my 8-port Netgear Firewall/Router/Hub/Switch (I forget the name, which cannot be remembered — it demonstrates the opposite of branding) has Issues too. It introduces latencies and packet losses of its own when it’s in the loop. It’s out right now, not that it makes any difference. I’m back using my Sprint data card.

When I called Cox to get them to come back and finish the job, they said they’d send a senior tech on Friday afternoon. That’s two days from now. Then, in the middle of a tech support call with Apple, a Cox robot made an automated survey call. I couldn’t talk and hung up on it.

If you want to reach me, text or call. Or use a Twitter DM. Meanwhile, I’m going to take a shower and go for a long walk. Or vice versa.

Hope everybody’s enjoying Reboot. I really miss being there.

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When we went looking for an apartment here a couple years ago, we had two primary considerations in addition to the usual ones: walking distance from a Red Line subway stop, and fiber-based Internet access. The latter is easy to spot if you know what to look for, starting with too many wires on the poles. After that you look for large loops among the wires. That means the wiring contains glass, which breaks if the loops are too small. The apartment we chose has other charms, but for me the best one is a choice between three high speed Internet services: Comcast, Verizon FiOS and RCN. Although Comcast comes via coaxial cable, it’s a HFC (hybrid fiber-coax) system, and competes fairly well against fiber all the way to the home. That’s what Verizon FiOS and RCN provide.

fiber

We chose Verizon FiOS, which gives us 20Mb symmetrical service for about $60/month. The 25 feet between the Optical Network Terminal box and my router is ironically provided by old Comcast cable TV co-ax. (Hey, if Comcast wants my business, they can beat Verizon’s offering.)

My point is that we live where we do because there is competition among Internet service providers. While I think competition could be a lot better than it is, each of those three companies still offer far more than what you’ll find pretty much everywhere in the U.S. where there is little or no competition at all.

The playing field in the skies above sidewalks is not pretty. Poles draped with six kinds of wiring (in our case electrical, phone, cable, cable, fiber, fiber — I just counted) are not attractive. At the point the poles become ugly beyond endurance, I expect that the homeowners will pay to bury the services. By the grace of local regulators, all they’ll bury will be electrical service and bundles of conduit, mostly for fiber. And they won’t bury them deep, because fiber isn’t bothered by proximity to electrical currents. In the old days (which is still today in most fiber-less places), minimum separations are required between electrical, cable and phone wiring — the latter two being copper. In Santa Barbara (our perma-home), service trenching has to be the depth of a grave to maintain those separations. There’s no fiber yet offered in Santa Barbara. At our house there the only carrier to provide “high” speed is the cable company, and it’s a fraction of what we get over fiber here near Boston.

All this comes to mind after reading D.C. Court Upholds Ban on MDU Contracts: FCC prevents new exclusive contracts and nullifies existing ones, by John Eggerton in Broadcasting & Cable.  It begins, “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Monday upheld an FCC decision banning exclusive contracts between cable companies and the owners of apartments and other multiple-dwelling units (MDU).”

The rest of the piece is framed by the long-standing antipathy between cable and telephone companies (cable lost this one), each as providers of cable TV. For example,

Not surprisingly, Verizon praised the decision. It also saw it as a win for larger issues of access to programming:

“This ruling is a big win for millions of consumers living in apartments and condominiums who want nothing more than to enjoy the full benefits of video competition,” said Michael Glover, Verizon senior VP, deputy general counsel, in a statement. “In upholding the ban on new and existing exclusive access deals, the Court’s decision also confirms the FCC’s authority to address other barriers to more meaningful competitive choice and video competition, such as the cable companies’ refusal to provide competitors with access to regional sports programming.”

Which makes sense at a time in history when TV viewing still comprises a larger wad of demand than Internet use. This will change as more and more production, distribution and consumption moves to the Internet, and as demand increases for more Internet access by more different kinds of devices — especially mobile ones.

Already a growing percentage of my own Internet use, especially on the road, uses cellular connectivity rather than wi-fi (thanks to high charges for crappy connectivity at most hotels). Sprint is my mobile Internet provider. They have my business because they do a better job of getting me what I want: an “air card” that works on Linux and Mac laptops, and not just on Windows ones). Verizon wanted to charge me for my air card (Sprint’s was free with the deal, which was also cheaper), and AT&T’s gear messed up my laptops and didn’t work very well anyway.

In both cases — home and road — there is competition.

While I can think of many reforms I’d like to see around Internet connectivity (among citizens, regulators and regulatees), anything that fosters competition in the meantime is a Good Thing.

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