Much ado about Wireless Carriers

Irrelevant Prologue: It’s been a while since my last post, and just want to reassure everyone that I am still planning to do another build of my poor man’s drobo NAS. So please stay tuned and follow me on Twitter to get updates.

Now let’s talk about the main topic – ISP/Carriers. I recently graduated from the University of Waterloo, and relocated to San Francisco, California for a job opportunity. I love this city, the people and the cultural dynamics. However, my 3 year contract with Canadian wireless carrier Fido still have 2 more years left to go. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be very happy if I could stay with Fido because of the deal they gave me for my iPhone 4. They just don’t do business here in the US. Therefore, I started researching about carriers that serve the Bay Area.

American vs. Canadian Carriers/ISP
Carriers are ISPs these days because they provide an Internet uplink for your mobile device. Unlike Rogers/Fido, Bell, and Telus in Canada, some of these carriers don’t provide residential wired services, either cable or DSL. For example, Verizon and T-Mobile are solely wireless carriers. Other than the difference in market coverage, the technologies these companies use across the border are completely compatible. It is either GSM or CDMA with equivalent 4G class technologies for speed boost. This means that an unlocked phone purchased from either country can work across the border. Just remember that if you bought a phone from a local carrier, it is probably locked to their network, in which case you can only roam and are unable to switch to another carrier.

International Roaming
There are a lot of people buying the new iPhone 4S because it can support both CDMA and GSM bands, which means you have more options to roam aboard if your phone is unlocked. Carriers like O2, Vodafone, Virgin and Orange have some great prepaid deals for travelers, and they have begun to ship GSM cards in microGSM form factor.

Prices and Quality
People always told me that American carriers are cheaper and provide better services. Although the latter might be true due to higher turnover of equipment, I cannot quite agree on price and the overall advantage. The prices these days are similar across the border. There is very little difference comparing the specifications of the plans, especially since most American carriers killed their unlimited data plans there is really no advantage. While Canadians were never offered an unlimited plan, the metred plans can sometimes be cheaper if you haggle with retention.

In terms of quality of service, I must say Canadian companies have a slight advantage in that they do not need to support as many users in any given area due to the low population density in the country. Less people are using the network usually translates to faster and more reliable service. Customer support is hit or miss with any company in the telecommunication industry. If you reached an unhelpful representative, just call again.

My Setup
So after much research and debating, I wanted to get an Android phone for the time being and switch to an iPhone 5 when it comes out next year. However, due to the lack of credit in the US and my unwillingness to put up a $400 deposit I went for a cheap phone – Palm Pixi Plus. HP has discontinued all Palm devices, and these unlocked brand new, current generation phones were selling for less than $40! Even though they were actually Verizon units, they came unlocked and I immediately got a prepaid account with one of Verizon’s resellers – PagePlus. They have a $30/month plan for 1200 text and SMS with 100mb of data included. It’s not a great deal, but it will get me through another year before the new iPhone 5 comes out. So far the phone has proven to be worth the money. I also bought the Touchstone charger for it, and I leave it on the induction charger when I’m at home or work.

In conclusion, I think carriers have gone through a much needed transition since the release of data hungry devices like the iPhone. We have already seen moderate price drops, and as competition heats up it’s only a matter of time before things get even more affordable. However, phones and services are not cheap. Make sure you do your research when you move, and make sure you commit to the right phone!Please post comments and feedback below, I’d happy to answer any questions I can.