Thursday, November 20, 2008

Before You Buy That Cool New Cellphone

With the Verizon Storm release tomorrow, there are a host of reviews hitting the web today.

I pumped the phone here as well.  Having had the chance to 'play' with one, initial impressions were just well, very cool.  (Contrary to some of the more in-depth reviews, my only complaint was the lack of a qwerty keyboard which is bound to drive a few previous Blackberry users crazy...).

This article isn't about the Storm.

It's about something that's been going on for years and still seems to be one of the best kept secrets in America.  Even the people at Verizon or AT&T stores don't know what I'm talking about when I bring it up.

Thinking about a cellphone as a gift?  Read on.

Unlike most of the rest of the world which started off on GSM cell frequencies, there are NUMEROUS frequency bands in use in the US by all of the major cellphone carriers.  You would think this is 'a good thing'.  The problem is that not all cellphones can access those frequencies.

Personally, because I live and travel in rural areas, I have used dual-mode, tri-mode and even quad-mode phones .... to try and get 'solid' coverage.

It's not always enough.

If I'm counting right (including roaming on other carriers), Verizon is now up to at least 6 bands (probably more).

A quick look through their current phone offerings this morning shows everything from single band EV-DO phone, to dual band CDMA, and many, many others.

The latest tip off to this mess is that the EDGE coverage (and 3G) where I spend most of my time is great.  It a complete dead area for the still more prevalent CDMA phones!  The cell tower roll out money is being spent on high-speed.  That may be great for techies and others that like video and web browsing (and, of course, Friendfeed :), but it's not so hot for someone looking to use a basic cellphone to make a phonecall?

Verizon should do a better job listing the exact frequencies their phone offerings work on.  'Digital Only' doesn't cut it.

The 30-day test drive.  Use it or lose it. .... and bookmark it.  You may need it.

ALL of the major carriers have a 30-day test drive. It's not 'something nice' that was put out there.  It came as a result of this hodge podge cellphone roll-out in the US, in the form of federal regulation.

If you can, try that new phone in every place you plan to be regularly within the first 30 days.  While major cities should be A-OK for most, you may get a surprise in the 'remote suburbs'.  The online coverage maps, although MUCH better than in years past, still aren't 100%.

Example?  The spot that I'm typing this right now shows 3G and CDMA for both Verizon and AT&T.
As they say in the commercial, "It's a dead zone"

.... unless, of course, I climb up on the roof ....

Things will improve over time.  It's become pretty obvious that Verizon and AT&T are out to squoosh Sprint / Nextel and T-Mobile.  This is one case where a couple of mergers 'could' actually help the consumer.

We'll see.