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Old 02-22-2017, 10:48 AM   #1
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Unhappy Cell Phone "Unlimited Limitations!"

From Active captain:


>>> Unlimited Limitations >>>

Last week there were major new mobile plans introduced from the two
largest US carriers: Verizon and AT&T. If one word could be used to
describe these new plans it would be, "Unlimited." If we were to
describe these new plans in a single phrase it would be, "Not so much."

A true cellular plan capable of unlimited data use would be excellent
for boaters who leave home for days to years at a time. The new 4G/LTE
networks provide high speed and reliability, certainly all along the US
east coast waterways from Maine to the Keys, around the Gulf, and up the
major rivers to the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, none of these new plans
are really unlimited in ways that make sense for boaters' use.

It's easy to get pulled into the advertisements. So mid-week, we entered
a Verizon store to talk to the manager about the new plans. We made it
very clear how we wanted to use the unlimited data plans. We'd put the
plan on a low cost / free Android phone and treat it like a hotspot on
the boat. Our laptops, tablets, phones and TV's would all connect to it
to get on the internet. And with the unlimited data plans, we explained
how we'd be streaming Netflix, and downloading large updates, apps, and
charts. Cellular allows all of these capabilities while moving so all of
this would even be possible while underway.

Mr Verizon Manager agreed that the new plan would give us all of that.
There was one small limitation - once you reached 22 GB per month, your
traffic would be set at a lower priority. If the tower you were using
became busy, your traffic might slow down. Once the tower was clear, or
during off times, we'd experience the full LTE data speeds we were used
to.

It all sounded too good to be true. And of course, it was. You see, Mr
Verizon Manager didn't know himself about another unlimited limitation
that kicks in when you've used only 10 GB of data via tethering.
Tethering is when you're using the phone as a hotspot, our exact and
clearly described intent. Once 10 GB is reached, all additional traffic
over tethering for the remainder of the month is lowered to 3G speeds
which eliminates the joy of Netflix and large downloads.

This isn't to pick on Verizon. The new AT&T unlimited plans have the
same limitations. Many store salespeople and managers just don't
understand their own plans.

For some families, these plans will save some money as long as they're
not expecting a lot of tethering use. But for many of us, these new
plans are worse and more expensive than what we already have today.

Sprint and T-Mobile have similar unlimited plans with these same types
of limitations. Be very careful switching to those carriers as a boater
in the US because there are a lot of complaints about connectivity along
the waterways with them.

One more reminder about Bahamas cellular use...

Last year we wrote about MrSIMCard.com. It's a way to obtain a SIM for
another country by FedEx/mail. It comes with a pre-paid data and voice
plan and gives you full cellular access on their network before touching
land. We used it last year in the Bahamas and had an excellent
experience.

We're about to jump over to the Bahamas again in a couple of weeks. So,
we went to MrSIMCard.com and were excited to see that they are still
offering an ActiveCaptain discount.

We received our BTC SIM 2 days later. There's a small charge but the
ability to have the SIM before you leave is well worth it.
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Old 02-22-2017, 12:44 PM   #2
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Hi Alaskan Sea-Duction,

Thanks for the info from Active Captain. Once again, although I believe Active Captain does have some value for east-coasters, the info presented therein is only tangentially useful to those of us that boat in the PNW.

Three points: Yup, the "unlimited data" plans from the major carriers ain't. As pointed out in the Active Captain missive, it's REAL easy to use even 10GB of data from a USB tethered device while accessing the internet for graphics-intensive downloads. As many of the weather services (including NOAA) are by default graphics intensive, fighting past the graphics to obtain a simple text download of a weather forecast can use up lots of data real fast. Ditto for looking up a simple address and/or telephone number from the WWW. And, as noted, the download speed then goes in the dumper, and you're left trying to figure out what happened to your connection. I believe things like live streaming of video data (via Netflix, for instance) is simply a non-starter over a tethered device using cellular service.

Secondly, this situation goes even further in the dumper when you venture internationally, at least here in the PNW. While there are international plans available for data while in Canada, and there is SOME connectivity north of the border, it is available only within a very short radius from major cities along the coastal British Columbia waterways of the Inside Passage. While there is some merit to WiFi and/or cellular amplification aboard, in general, use of wireless "stuff" while boating north of the Canadian border is problematic.

And lastly, the "MrSIMcard.com" website (if you dig deeply enough) does offer a SIM card for use with Rogers in Canada. While I haven't used it yet, and it isn't the simplest international SIM card to understand and/or use, it is maybe a path forward. Time will tell.

Regards,

Pete
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Old 02-22-2017, 01:13 PM   #3
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AS-D,

Have you explored the Project Fi option from Google? I'm considering it for my next switch (including new phone, which is required) because of the international data and because of the feature that seeks the best connection, be it wi-fi or cellular.

Any thoughts?
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Old 02-22-2017, 01:42 PM   #4
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Another thing that happens with economic plans, you start getting voice mails from people calling, all while in cell tower range. When it gets busy at cell towers, I believe priorities are assigned by plan or carrier.
Companies without their own cell towers buy time from those that do. Verzion, etc., isn't going to give time to outsiders over their own customers at busy times.
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Old 02-22-2017, 01:52 PM   #5
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T-Mobile does offer "unlimited" LTE hotspot usage, but you have to pay $25/month extra for ONE Plus International. Hotspot use is prioritized behind using phones/tablets, and once you get over 28gb in a billing cycle T-Mobile says they'll de-prioritize that line during periods of congestion.

I pay $20 per month to add a tablet SIM to my existing T-Mobile account, then $25 per month to add ONE Plus International to the tablet line. I put the SIM in a Peplink MAX BR1 Mini and it works great...no problems streaming movies, music, software updates, etc. So far this billing cycle I've used over 70gb and haven't noticed any slowdown.

Works great in Canada, too. Roams on Bell, Telus, Rogers, maybe more without paying any extra. When cruising up to, say, the Broughtons, I have coverage the vast majority of the time when underway, less so at anchor. It's rare to go more than 24 hours without getting a signal, but I tend to move every day.

AT&T is still the best in SE Alaska...Verizon and T-Mobile have very little coverage. So I add an AT&T SIM card to the second SIM slot in the Peplink and the router automatically shifts to AT&T when T-Mobile isn't available.
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Old 02-22-2017, 01:58 PM   #6
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Oh, T-Mobile coverage for boaters in the PNW is really good. I haven't explored the South Sound with T-Mobile yet, but from the San Juans south to Des Moines the only place (now I haven't been in every anchorage) that I didn't get a good LTE signal was Port Madison.
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Old 02-22-2017, 02:17 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by T4Liberty View Post
AS-D,

Have you explored the Project Fi option from Google? I'm considering it for my next switch (including new phone, which is required) because of the international data and because of the feature that seeks the best connection, be it wi-fi or cellular.

Any thoughts?
We spend a lot of time in Canada (B.C.) and last year we found Verizon was out best bet for coverage and plan cost.
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Old 02-22-2017, 02:20 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Retriever View Post
AT&T is still the best in SE Alaska...Verizon and T-Mobile have very little coverage. So I add an AT&T SIM card to the second SIM slot in the Peplink and the router automatically shifts to AT&T when T-Mobile isn't available.
Last summer while in Wrangell and Petersburg, At&T would only allow use to call and text with no data/internet. Then only at 3G.....We have Verizon.
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Old 02-22-2017, 02:45 PM   #9
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Quote:
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Last summer while in Wrangell and Petersburg, At&T would only allow use to call and text with no data/internet. Then only at 3G.....We have Verizon.
Interesting...

I had almost the same experience in Wrangell and Petersburg, except Verizon was super slow and AT&T worked well. Pretty much the only places where Verizon worked adequately for data were Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Haines, and Skagway.

AT&T worked in a bunch more spots, like Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake, Angoon, and more that I'm forgetting. With a booster I could get decent throughput on AT&T in big sections of Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait and almost nothing on Verizon.
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Old 02-22-2017, 04:50 PM   #10
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I am using the Verizon Jet Pack with the new unlimited data for our internet service. Just got the unlimited data last week. Do you guys think I will experience the same slow down problem with that ? I just plan on using it to check emails, maybe some weather forecasts, and send the weekly update to our blog.
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Old 02-22-2017, 04:58 PM   #11
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I am using the Verizon Jet Pack with the new unlimited data for our internet service. Just got the unlimited data last week. Do you guys think I will experience the same slow down problem with that ? I just plan on using it to check emails, maybe some weather forecasts, and send the weekly update to our blog.
Be cautious of "silent date plan thieves." Automatic updates, cloud backups, etc. I can look at each device that logs into my network and see how much data it's using. It's not uncommon for a guest to connect their phone and go through several GBs of data as it backs up photos or downloads app updates. The phone or computer doesn't know that it's connected to a bandwidth-limited Wi-Fi network.

One of the cool things with the Peplink router I use (and I'm sure other routers) is you can block certain types of traffic. For example, I can set up my guest network (or primary, but I don't want limits on my own connection) to block automatic updates, cloud backups, etc.

The jury is still out on how aggressively Verizon will throttle users when they go above 22gb per line per billing cycle.
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Old 02-22-2017, 05:27 PM   #12
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Project Fi

I have been using Project Fi for over a year now and I highly recommend it. It is an ideal solution for Americans in British Columbia.

Domestically, at least on Nexus phones, it switches transparently between t-mobile, sprint and wifi (for calling) On your data device and plain vanilla phones, it will stick to t-mobile. In B.C. it roams to Rogers and Telus. Unlike T-mobile, you get LTE data when roaming. Data, anywhere in the world(!), is 10 bucks a GB. You pay exactly for the data you use each month.

Another nice thing is that data-only sims are _free_. That means you can put a sim in a tablet or a 3G or LTE access point and only pay for the data you use, not for the line. (T-mobile charges you 15 dollars a month for each extra data sim).

If you are a heavy consumer of data (think Netflix), it will be more expensive in the U.S. than the "unlimited" plans offered by domestic carriers, but for checking your mail and such, it is just ideal.

Plus, I have found their customer service to be just excellent. Fill out a form on their phone app and you will get a return call within minutes from a knowledgeable technician.
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Old 02-22-2017, 06:35 PM   #13
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Fact of life:
1) "Unlimited data" on cell phones is always attached at the "10 gb" cap. Always. Read the fine print.
2) Even with the new 5G "unlimited data" is gonna be an illusion
3) We are heavy internet users by month we use around 300 gb total.. totally impossible rely just on LTE data.
Few years ago a "last mile LTE company" tried to incorporate the unlimited data for plans. We use it for 6 month and were happy.. but company start with the infamous cap so we cut it.
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Old 02-22-2017, 08:06 PM   #14
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I agree with Retriever's comments on ATT in SE Alaska. I have 4G in both Wrangell and Petersburg. ATT even had a new site about 1/3 of the way up Wrangell Narrows on the west side. It served both a portion of the Narrows and Duncan Canal as well as St John Bay and portions of Sumner St. Verizon only has their own facilities in Ketchikan and Juneau where they provide LTE. Elsewhere they roam in an old CDMA network maintained by General Communications Inc, who also operates a GSM network for their own customers. T-Mobile has some roaming agreements in that network but I don't think that includes much data.

The biggest impact on cell networks in SE Alaska is cruise ship, who suck up all the capacity where ever they are.

Tom
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Old 02-23-2017, 08:19 AM   #15
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One caveat we found with AT&T plans that cover Canada (from a US-based phone) is that there's some fine print which limits how long you can stay. Something like you have to use it from the US at least once in any 2-week (or some such) period, or you lose the CA coverage.

I went in to an AT&T store to ask. The salesman didn't know, but when I showed the fine print to him, he brought over a manager. She said that they will immediately cut off your service if you use it in CA for more than the limit.

That said, I'm not convinced the storefront staff really know the details on this stuff. Jeff confirmed as much in the e-mail the OP posted.

One final note: I ended up with a Bell Mobility plan (good coverage in the Maritimes) but I had to get a pay-as-you-go plan. As a US citizen, I couldn't get a regular monthly plan since I didn't have a local address. I suspect this is one of the problems a service like MrSIMCard would solve.
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Old 02-23-2017, 10:51 AM   #16
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One caveat we found with AT&T plans that cover Canada (from a US-based phone) is that there's some fine print which limits how long you can stay. Something like you have to use it from the US at least once in any 2-week (or some such) period, or you lose the CA coverage.

I went in to an AT&T store to ask. The salesman didn't know, but when I showed the fine print to him, he brought over a manager. She said that they will immediately cut off your service if you use it in CA for more than the limit.

That said, I'm not convinced the storefront staff really know the details on this stuff. Jeff confirmed as much in the e-mail the OP posted.

One final note: I ended up with a Bell Mobility plan (good coverage in the Maritimes) but I had to get a pay-as-you-go plan. As a US citizen, I couldn't get a regular monthly plan since I didn't have a local address. I suspect this is one of the problems a service like MrSIMCard would solve.
We left At&T because they don't really have a Canadian plan. Verizon does.
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Old 02-23-2017, 11:16 AM   #17
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Wifey B: Big dude goes to local cafe for all you can eat Friday fish special. He eats a large plate of fish, then an entire second one. He asks then for more and is told he had reached his limit. A bit perturbed, he says, "I thought this was all you could eat for $10." The waitress smiles and says, "Yes, it is, and that's all you can eat for $10."
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