I need advice on cell phone service providers

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread

I am contemplating getting a cell phone for the purpose of being reachable during camping and hiking trips. Most of these will be in remote areas, often in wilderness areas. I am not so silly as to think that anyone's cellular service would be operable at all times. But I would like to figure out which cell phone service providers have the best coverage in the remote places of my state.

I have heard that, generally, ATT Wireless has more towers out in the boondocks than others do. But how can I verify this?

It seems like cell phones are sold like snake oil, with the only advertised differences being trivial - so many prepaid "weekend" minutes versus so many "anytime" minutes. None of this is what I want to know. What is the best way to dig up this buried info? Would sales people for the carriers even know this sort of stuff, if I ask? Are there maps of cell coverage, shoeing tower locations?

Any help wouldbe highly appreciated. Thanks.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 07, 2002


My husband has AT&T and I have Sprint. We travel extensively and have found I have coverage in many more remote areas than he does. Except in Montana. : )

-- Pammy (pamela_sue57@hotmail.com), May 07, 2002.

Cell phones in the wilderness are a waste of weight. Buy an Iridium 9500 (or equivalent) for less than a $1000 and make your conversations brief.

-- Ken Decker (kcdecker@att.net), May 07, 2002.

Isn't Iridium (satellite relays) out of business?

-- (lars@indy.net), May 07, 2002.

Sprint rocks!

-- (cin@cin.cin), May 07, 2002.

ps..let me recommend you so that I can get a $30 credit ;o]

-- (cin@cin.cin), May 07, 2002.

Ken, you may find "under $1000" a comfortable bargain for your own needs, but considered from my point of view, it is excessive. Cell phones do cover travel corridors near highways. In a pinch, I could save my $1000 and drive from my campground in the direction of the nearest highway until I entered a service area.

But I am quite willing to consider any actual data or anecdotes you could share. Sadly, your posting lacked any evidence whatsoever to back up your opinion. I am afraid that merely adopting a forceful and positive tone won't make up for that lack.

Pammy, I find your experience with Sprint vs. ATT interesting. Do you have any travel experience in backcountry Oregon and Washington?

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 07, 2002.

Okay I'll elaborate on why I chose Sprint

The phones were more attractive to me, and I had a bigger choice (I got mine at BestBuy), plus they were the most reasonably priced.

When I joined I got a rebate on the phone plus free activation and a $30 credit. Because of this, I didn't have to pay a bill for about 2 months. I got a great deal on a plan, which covered a very extensive area. PLUS I got voice command and wireless web to try for free for 3 months. Both of which I subsequently cancelled after the 3 months for having no use for them.

There is great online account management ability. go to http://sprintpcs.com

The only minus is that off-peak time doesnt start till 9pm, but I have never gone over my peak usage limit so it really hasn't effected me.

If you do opt for Sprint, make sure you sign up when they are having their specials/rebates. It can save you some money. I think BestBuy has the specials going all the time.

Good luck!

-- (cin@cin.cin), May 07, 2002.

one more ps...the phone I chose has digital AND analog capability. So if it can't get a digital signal, it automatically switches to analog. You pay roaming charges, but still worth it in emergency.

-- (cin@cin.cin), May 07, 2002.

yahoo shop for mobile service

LN, Go here and then click on the change location and then input your city or zip code(it says Eugene, Or because I don't know your exact city) and then click on each plan and then on coverage map. That should give you an idea of who covers where.

-- (cin@cin.cin), May 07, 2002.


I have Sprint PCS, and like it a lot, but it does have some coverage problems here in 'Bama. It seems to be centered on the Interstates and major highways here. I think you're going to find that coverage varies from one state to the next.

I know that Voicestream is currently building a TON of new sites, because they've contacted us for rental space on some of our towers. :)

-- Stephen (smpoole7@bellsouth.net), May 07, 2002.


As per coverage area: My experience was with AT&T using a Nokia phone, the problem was they didn't have relay towers where they said they did, outside of San Diego, so I was screwed out of using the phone (as a modem) where I needed it the most.

I would make the stipulation with whatever company you choose that if the phone turns out not to work within your defined area and the area's they say they cover the contract is void. That little caveat and a boatload of hell raising saved me a small chunk o' cash.

They'll say anything to make the sale so... buyer beware.

-- capnfun (capnfun1@excite.com), May 07, 2002.

LN, not really in the back country. Been to the usual... Crater Lake, Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, etc.

Cin is right about Best Buy running excellent specials from time to time. Her plan is one of the newer ones... my nights start at 8 p.m. : P

-- Pammy (pamela_sue57@hotmail.com), May 07, 2002.

Sorry, Snippy, if I did not take the time to carefully justify my statement.

The areas where I hunt and fish (and occasionally eat the creatures you admire) cell service is nonexistent. In my experience, the best people to talk to about communications in the woods are loggers. Find out what com equipment your local independent loggers, logging truck drivers or forestors use. You may be more comfortable with the Marxists of the U.S. Forest Service, so ask your friends in the light green trucks. If one cell service works better than the others, the folks who work in the woods (rather than just recreate) will know.

If you hike or camp in an area where you can walk to a road, it's probably less expensive to simply flag down a passing vehicle. In many areas, being on a road won't help you with cell coverage. The signal problem is amplified in the mountainous terrain of the Pacific Northwest.

If you find the purchase price of a sat phone daunting, you can rent them for short trips in particularly rugged country. If you break a leg in some godforsaken place, I presume you'll be happier making a single (if somewhat expensive) sat phone call rather than looking sadly at the nonexistent signal bars on your cell phone.

If you frequent a particular area, you can identify where cell towers exist. In many states, including Oregon, all towers over 100 feet tall are reviewed by the Oregon Department of Aviation. Under the FOIA, the public records are available for inspection. A bit of work and you could make a rough guess as to which companies provide the best coverage... though your mileage may vary.

Ultimately, though, the best route is to ask around and pick a phone people think provides decent coverage. Of course, you could just stay home and watch the Discovery Channel.

-- Ken Decker (kcdecker@att.net), May 07, 2002.

Nipper, this is probably too much like stopping to ask for directions...but maybe you could call the park service for advice on which phone companies provide the best connection in those areas?

-- helen (or@take.em.to.lunch), May 07, 2002.

Timely, this thread. Thanks for the info you all provided and thanks for starting it LN. I am shortly (05/19) to begin a cross country (NJ to Seattle) roadtrip with the new laptop I just got yesterday, hoping to be able to connect across the USA while we are enroute. I too need a good connection, but don't know where to start! Do you start with looking for an ISP through the cities you are traveling through, or do you look for a good cell phone/ provider? Any info appreciated! I am so not techinically educated, as I am the first to admit! HELP! (if you can!).

-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), May 07, 2002.

What the hell are you doing in New Jersey. Smart girl like you.

-- Carlos (riffraff@cybertime.net), May 07, 2002.

Any service is not the best one in all areas of the country. Specifically regarding PNW, I have used both ATT and Sprint in that region. Neither of them have coverage in the wilderness areas I've tried them. In regards to the PNW rural areas, in my experience ATT kicks Sprints backside. I've been in several PNW rural areas where the people using Sprint service had to borrow my ATT phone.

-- (just an@anonymous.one), May 08, 2002.

Aunt Bee, if you're using a cell phone to connect to your laptop, make sure your plan includes long distance calling. That way you can just dial into your ISP at home. As Cin mentioned, Sprint will usually give you Wireless Web connection free for about 3 months. That means your minutes can go towards regular calls OR Internet minutes. I don't know what kind of laptop you have, but you will need a special cable to attach the cell phone. They are about $99 and have to be ordered in most cases. You better do it SOON! : )

-- Pammy (pamela_sue57@hotmail.com), May 08, 2002.

What??!! No one recommended ALLTEL?!?!?!

We may not be available where you're at though....

Supposed to have some pretty good deals flying about now.

-- Deano (deano@luvthebeach.com), May 08, 2002.

Now this is something I have experience in -- having made (or tried to make) cell phone calls from the Wind Rivers, Rainier, the BWCAW, etc. (just in the last year). The answer:

1. It does not matter who you have, unless you will be in a specific geographic area, know what area it services, and know who services it. Mostly, you will be in "roam" mode. Digital is great, but its "cells" are not large. Usually, if you are trying to pick up the "lucky bounce" from, say, a peak in the Wind Rivers, you're getting analog roam.

2. No one really builds cell phone towers in or near Wilderness. This is why they call it Wilderness. If you need to stay connected there, you need a Satellite phone. They are not cheap, but not as expensive as you might thing. Globalstar costs (last time I used one) $1.65/ minute. Cost of phone was about $350.

3. The park service and people like that mostly use radio phones in areas where standard cell is not available, which are not really an option for most of us.

-- E.H.Porter (just.wondering@about.it), May 10, 2002.

OMG Pammy, say it ain't so! A special cable? What is it called?? FYI, I got a Dell 8200 Inspiron. I looked at new cell phones today, but which one? Sprint has a new one with a 56k connectivity for only $150. Any advice appreciated!

-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), May 10, 2002.

Sprint will give you the phone number where accesories can be ordered. They will overnight it to you if you want to pay the extra shipping. There is a CD provided that will walk you through the installation process for your laptop. Be sure to take chargers for the phone AND laptop. : )

-- Pammy (pamela_sue57@hotmail.com), May 12, 2002.

Thanks Pammy~! I signed up for Verizon today along with a Motorola phone! (Yes, I know, I'm cuttin it close~!) They had the connectors and I was able to use the phone when I walked outta the store! Haven't yet tho! Seems like they had the best connectivity nationwide (although Yahoo sez differently) of all the providers I checked. They did have the best "minutes" value for my dollar, and no cost to downsize to a smaller plan the following month! Also, a 15 day money back guarantee, if you don't like what you bought! Best Buy provided little info or anything else in the way of service a couple of days ago! Thanks to all for your info!

-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), May 12, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ