Bathroom Reading Material

My Quest for Decent Cell Service

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I recently spent a couple of weeks doing hardcore research into the various cell service providers in the USA. Ultimately, I decided on Sprint and the HTC Evo 4g. I’m satisfied. Here is the story. I live in an extremely small town in Alabama called Eldridge. There is no DSL here, and there is no Wi-Fi. If you want even remotely fast internet here, your options are satellite and mobile internet. For a very long time, I’ve lived with dialup internet. Yes, there are still places on this planet where dialup is the best option at any given point of time. I pray to whatever God may exist that this changes and changes soon. Nobody should have to live with it. The worst part is that I am a programmer. A programmer on dialup? Seriously? Imagine me having to tell people “I can’t watch that video because it’ll take three days to load.”. Explaining it is the worst part. You eventually get sick of people going “wut? how?” and eventually stop bothering to mention it unless you don’t have a choice. Thus, I’m not sure many people actually know that I’ve been on a dialup connection. Even when I wasn’t on a dialup connection, I was on a mobile connection that was almost on par with the dialup connection, making it quite redundant. Anyways, let’s talk about internet. Satellite is an okay option. The problem is that the major providers (Wildblue and HughesNet) cost a small fortune in one way or another. There is no optimal place to put a satellite dish on my roof, thus standard installation wouldn’t be an option. Pole installations can be in the range of $300-$600 dollars, and that just isn’t something I can live with. Beyond that, satellite is limited in that the latency is horrible. On top of all that, the major providers place caps on your head that limit your usage of your high speed. I’m a firm believer in “what the fuck is the point of having speed if I can’t even use it?”. This applies. Mobile internet is a great option. With these modern phones, you don’t even really need a special modem. Android phones are really great about providing ways for you to tether. And it isn’t really all that pricey from any of the carriers. I pay for cell service anyway, so it isn’t a really huge deal. The problem is that carriers do not appreciate it when you rape their networks and suck up their bandwidth. Thus, a lot of them impose caps. Verizon is supposedly uncapped, but try googling “verizon cap”. One person will tell you there are no caps, another will tell you something else. Apparently they change their ToS like an ice cube changes state when thrown into the sun. I’m not into that. Verizon also has an add-on plan for tethering Android phones via wifi. $20 a month with a 2GB cap. Goodbye. T-Mobile, for a long time, allowed tethering galore. They pretended it didn’t happen, and silently allowed. Recently, they decided to jump on the opportunity to snatch some more cash and started imposing a $15 tethering and wi-fi sharing plan on users. I don’t believe there is a hard cap, but they have some awful scary wording in their ToS about excessive usage. Besides that, T-Mobile has notoriously horrible service and my area is certainly no exception. They have internet here, but it is a measly 1kB better than the dialup. Fail. AT&T is… well.. AT&T. I hear nothing but horror stories about AT&T. In any case, they also have low caps. Sprint is great. It’s said that sprint has horrible customer service, but I haven’t really experienced this. I ended up deciding on Sprint. I went to their store and the staff was excellent. They got us all set up in around 4 hours and I was on my way. I had some hiccups because my phone number prefix (the three digits after the area code) was Birmingham, AL, which isn’t local. I called customer support and talked to a somewhat incompetent woman that changed my area code instead of my prefix, and then I got cut off and my phone stopped working. My next call to support got it all fixed up. Most importantly, each person I talked to was American. They all spoke proper English. I’m not racist and I certainly understand that foreign people need jobs too, but if you’re doing support for American people and you can’t speak understandable English, you’re in the wrong line of work. Sprint’s coverage map says that I’m in a 3G area. At my home, I get around 15kBps with spikes to 16-20. I know that this isn’t real 3G speed, but it is *so* much better than dialup. With dialup, you’re pulling down 2-3kBps. Unreasonable! I’m obviously still not a speed demon, but I can stream Pandora radio and a large selection of grooveshark songs on the lower quality side. I’m very satisfied. This is better, and better is okay with me. Nonetheless, I can’t blame it for not getting perfect reception. I live on the dark side of fucking nowhere. Furthermore, Sprint does not, at this point in time, have any caps. At all. They offer a $30 wifi tethering add-on that allows you to turn your phone into a wifi hotspot. However, USB tethering is free in Android 2.2. While I mostly just use the USB tethering (the phone needs to be plugged in anyway because it’ll run out of battery life rather quickly while tethering), I went ahead and got the wifi hotspot plan anyway. I think that, for uncapped and excellent service like this, $30 bucks a month is totally reasonable. So, I’m canceling my old dialup service (that I actually haven’t used in a long time since I was tethering with my T-Mobile phone). Insofar, I’m pleased with Sprint all around and I think I’m going to stay awhile. Not that I have a choice, given the 2 year contract, but I do have around 20 days to take everything back and jump ship. I don’t see this happening though. I don’t see myself being any happier with Verizon and friends. I have okay service with Sprint, internet, and holy shit, I can even make phone calls! What I’ve learned from this is that all providers suck in one way or another. If you try to find the perfect cell phone provider, you’re in for a huge disappointment. Do what I did: find the provider that fulfills *your* needs. They’re always going to suck somehow. Find the one that sucks the least in the ways that matter to you. The same probably applies to internet service providers and other, similar things. As a side note, I was really surprised to see that Ubuntu 10.04 automatically detects and connects when you plug your phone into the computer’s USB port and switch on USB tethering. I nearly shit myself. Fantastic. For the record, the phone I have is an Evo.