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Consumer Issues

Want to create more accurate coverage maps? Check out Sensorly

One complaint I frequently see from prepaid users is the inaccuracy of coverage maps. The reason: they are typically generalized estimations of coverage areas. Throughout all coverage areas there are points with stronger and weaker signal. You won’t find that on a carrier’s coverage map information, though. Sensorly is aiming to provide more accurate coverage information by going straight to the source: you, the user. With enough people on board, they might be able to make the question of coverage a much easier one to answer.

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MetroPCS, Virgin Mobile top J.D. Power and Associates customer care study

Here’s the rub: if you read through the user reviews for our featured prepaid cell phone providers, you might come away thinking that every cell phone company provides horrible customer service. There are some nasty and elaborate tales throughout there. But don’t think that those negative reviews represent the overall state of customer service. People who feel wronged are far more likely to leave reviews than those who have received good service. Believe it or not, there are some providers who are pretty good at customer service. According to the latest J.D. Power and Associates study of the wireless industry, MetroPCS and Virgin Mobile rank among the best.

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What to Look for in a Cell Phone Plan in 2013

Cell phones have pretty much become our lifelines for communication. Not only do we use them to communicate via voice calling—today’s smart phones are really more like mini computers—providing phone, SMS texting, video and photo capture capabilities, and even internet surfing and GPS capabilities.

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Will the House of Representatives take action against ZTE and Huawei?

A few months ago we saw a report that suggested the U.S. government was taking a close look at Chinese manufacturers ZTE and Huawei. Yesterday morning the U.S. House of Representatives issued a report suggesting that telecom operators not do business with the two companies, citing a number of issues — including a security threat. While the report focuses on routers and other network equipment, the cellular divisions will clearly be affected. So will this report amount to any sanctions against the companies?

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How to eCycle Cell Phones

If you recently purchased a new cell phone, you may be wondering what you should do with your old one. Instead of simply throwing it away or allowing it to clutter up your home, put it towards a good cause – recycle it!

Nearly 14 million Americans recycled their old cell phones in 2007. Today, donating your old cell phones and cell phone accessories, such as cell phone chargers, cell phone batteries, and PDAs, is easier than ever.

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How important is battery life to you?

Do you get a full day’s use out of your prepaid Android smartphone? If you don’t have the benefit of being near an outlet for hours on end, it might be tough to use your phone to the fullest all day. Motorola recently hit on this reality in an advertisement for the Droid RAZR MAXX, which boasts a stronger battery than any current 4G LTE smartphone.

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Would registering prepaid phone help deter crime?

In America, prepaid phones are notorious for their freewheeling nature. There are no contracts or credit checks, so customers can pick up one at a retail outlet, activate it, and use it for years with relative anonymity. This makes it convenient for users who might not have credit, but also makes it easy for criminals to abuse the privilege. We’ve seen proposals for how to curb this, but none of them seem close to reality. In Mexico, however, it’s a different story. Last year their government passed a law requiring prepaid phone users to register their accounts. This was a reaction to reports of prepaid phones aiding criminals. Will the U.S. follow?

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Complaints to the BBB on the rise

If you look through the user reviews in our pay as you go cell phone pages, you’ll see that many people have had such poor experiences that they’ve taken their case to the Better Business Bureau. It’s tough to gauge a trend from those reviews, of course, because the overwhelming majority of people write them to vent about bad experiences. But it does appear that complaints to the BBB are up from last year. While the banking sector saw the largest increase, the wireless industry also saw more customers submit complaints, up 2.1 percent from 2008. Thankfully, the cell phone industry does solve their complaints, at least to the satisfaction of the BBB, at a 97.4 percent rate. I still think that submitting a complaint to the FCC can be more effective in many cases.

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What to do with your old prepaid phones

Though I don’t have any hard statistics on the subject, I’m willing to bet that prepaid users change phones far more often than postpaid users. Most prepaid carriers carry a line of cheap phones, and since there is no contract the customer is free to change phones more frequently than the two-year period afforded by postpaid carriers. Additionally, because the phones are typically old and outdated, they might not last as long as newer phones. The problem with frequently changing phones is the disposal process. We know we’re not supposed to toss them in the trash, but the question remains of the best way to rid yourself of that old phone. Here are a couple of options.

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States moving to charge 911 fees for prepaid users

At the start of this year, Louisiana began imposing a new tax on prepaid card purchases to cover 911 fees. This has been a topic of debate among state legislatures for the past few years. As the number of prepaid cell phone users grows, they more concerned they are with collecting proper 911 fees. Louisiana’s implementation has its flaws — for one, it doesn’t cover online purchases. These logistical issues aren’t stopping lawmakers in other states from trying to impose them as well. Recently, we heard of two more states, one of which ruled on the issue late last week.

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Buy virtual goods with your STi prepaid top-up card

We’re seeing more and more e-commerce these days, which many consider a universal good. But what about for people who can’t get a credit card? Despite its growing popularity in the general population, prepaid wireless is still the only alternative for people with poor credit. How can they buy goods online, then, without a credit card? Zeus Research might have the answer. They’re going to use STi Mobile prepaid cards to power these purchases. Customers can find STi prepaid refill cards at over 200,000 U.S. retail oulets, and they can purchase them with cash. If implemented at the right sites — ones that don’t offer cards of their own — it could be a big advancement for e-commerce.

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Prepaid users receive more calls than they make

When it comes to studies and surveys, I’m always a bit skeptical about the accuracy. People lie, even when they don’t know it. And then there’s the ever-present sampling issue. This particular survey, however, took data straight from cell phone calls, so it would appear a bit more reliable. The claim: postpaid users are more likely to call you back than prepaid users. We know that postpaid, in general, use their phones more heavily. True to that, they call an average of 5.41 people to a prepaid user’s 3.41, and make 10 times as many calls. But the claim about postpaid users being more likely to call back is a new one.

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MetroPCS accused of violating New York consumer protection laws

We don’t normally hear about class action lawsuits against wireless carriers. That’s because they stick mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts. This says that you cannot bring a class action suit against the carrier, but must instead agree to arbitration over disputes. Sometimes a class sneaks through, but it’s not common. MetroPCS now faces on in New York over their unlimited international calling plan. The suit accuses them of using “bait and switch/deceptive trade practices.”

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Louisiana adds fee to prepaid wireless purchases

If prepaid wireless users benefit from 911 services, shouldn’t they pay into them? Legislators in many states have debated the issue, and most think that something must be done. Louisiana is the first state to act on the prepaid 911 issue. Starting January first, retailers will collect a 911 fee at the point of sale. This money will then go to local districts as additional 911 revenue.

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AT&T customers not satisfied with service

A few times every year we get a Consumer Reports or JD Power and Associates survey regarding consumer satisfaction with the wireless industry. The Consumer Reports one just came out, and ranked AT&T as the worst among carriers. In general, it found that only 54 percent were “completely or very satisfied” with their cell service. Two thirds of respondents had a major complaint about their carrier. This seems like par for the course in the wireless industry.

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How far should Congress go in stopping prepaid phone traffickers?

One prevalent issue among prepaid cellular providers is of traffickers. We’ve discussed this at length on Prepaid Reviews, but for a two-sentence re-hash: Many prepaid providers subsidize boxed handsets, like the ones you’d find at Wal-Mart, so more customers can buy the phones. The companies hope to make the money back when the customer purchases minutes, but that plan is thwarted by traffickers who purchase subsidized handsets in bulk, unlock them, and then sell them at a market rate. Prepaid companies lose big, and so they’ve helped propose the Wireless Prepaid Access Enforcement Act of 2009. There’s a lot to it, and Jennifer Granick of Electronic Frontier Foundation has the analysis.

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Refill your prepaid account before the expiration date

User caki on Howard Forums posts a reminder that we could all use. His AT&T MediaNet features expired on the 20th of September. So on that morning he went to refill, only to find everything wiped out. AT&T customer service gave him a “one time” restore, but was reminded that users must refill before the listed date. So when you see the expiration date on your prepaid wireless account, make sure to top up at least a day before that. Otherwise, your account might get wiped.

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What to do if a prepaid carrier owes you money

If you look through the user reviews on our pay as you go cell phone providers, you might notice a theme of discontent. The reviews are usually well balanced between positive and negative in general, but there is a specific type of negative comment I’ve seen a lot of lately. Some people claim that a prepaid carrier owes them money for one reason or another — minutes balance not transferring is the No. 1 complaint, specifically. If you think you’ve ben wronged by a prepaid carrier and that they owe you money, you can send your dispute to the FCC. It’s a much better and responsive process than the Better Business Bureau.

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Consumer Reports says prepaid has better deals

T-Mobile currently has a promotion running, Mobile Makeover, which alleges to find you the best deal on a mobile service plan, based on your needs, regardless of carrier. It’s supposed to be them playing the good guys, turning away customers if they can find better deals elsewhere, rather than trying to make the sale at all costs. For the service they partner with BillShrink.com, a site which compares cellular plans across carriers. The only problem is that BillShrink only compares major carriers. Consumer Reports tackles the issue, noting that oftentimes prepaid carriers have cheaper plans than their postpaid counterparts.

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Don’t expect (legal) telemarketing calls on your cell phone

The National Do Not Call Registry has saved many a headache for regular Joes. Opened in 2003, it allows consumers to enter their number on a registry which will preclude it from telemarketing autodialers. People can register their cell phones, but under federal regulation they need not: “FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers.” There have been rumors lately which suggest a reversal of this policy, much to the chagrin of almost everyone outside the telemarketing industry. Thankfully, the rumor appears to be bunk. The FCC has put it to rest, assuring citizens that the law will not allow autodialers to call their cell phones. This leaves only the rogues to deal with.

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Could a surtax be headed for your prepaid calling card?

One question which has plagued prepaid wireless recently is of what to do with 911. Not just the service — though we’ve heard a few instances where 911 didn’t work from a prepaid phone — but of how to pay the tax. Postpaid cellular users pay a monthly 911 fee to cover operational costs. So why don’t prepaid users? Because there’s no easy way to implement it. There is no monthly bill, so there’s no chance to add on the charge. Still, a solution might be on the way. Jeff Robertson of the 911 Industry Alliance says that point of sale charges may be the way to go. Of course, he’s facing significant opposition.

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Will VoIP spell the end of prepaid?

We’ve been hearing a lot about the growth of prepaid wireless lately. Whether it’s T-Mobile adding more prepaid customers than postpaid or MetroPCS adding hordes of subscribers, it seems to be at the forefront of the cellular conversation. How long will it stay there? Some think it’s here to stay — that customers will in the long run prefer not to have a contract. Others, though, think emerging technologies, like mobile Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), will marginalize prepaid service.

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Study: $3 per minute average for cell phone users

When a survey makes a radical claim, it’s best to take it with a grain of salt. Case in point: after we found a survey which claimed that 17 percent of cell users switched from postpaid to prepaid, said survey’s methodologies were subsequently questioned. So when a new survey says that cell phone users are paying an average of $3 per minute, I’m quite skeptical. It means that a lot of people aren’t using close to all the voice minutes on their plan.

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Ohio story shows why e911 is important

For years the FCC has been trying to get cellular carriers to become e911 compliant. With a larger and larger percentage of emergency calls coming from cell phones, it’s important that the call get routed to the proper 911 center, and that the first responders can locate the phone using cell towers. We saw an example of this in Ohio last week, after a Miamisburg man’s house and business caught fire. He called 911, which routed him to the local police department, which wasn’t open and which had a recording prompting people to call 911 for emergencies. Clearly, this is not the best way to operate an emergency service. Had the man’s phone been 911 compliant, help would have gotten to him before his “home was fully engulfed and a near total loss.”

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Are people really switching to prepaid?

A recent survey, which we discussed Monday, found that many Americans are switching to prepaid services from their postpaid deals. Specifically, they found that 17 percent of contract cell phone users have switched to prepaid within the past six month. That seems like a pretty significant number, so it came as a surprise to see this headline come up in an alert: No Huge Shift to Prepaid Wireless Foresen due to the Recession. Hm. What could he mean by that, in the face of the data presented?

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Americans cutting cell costs, plan to reduce further

Once it became clear that America was in the throes of recession, public opinion began to shift regarding prepaid wireless. Once the black sheep of calling options, usually reserved for the very young or the credit challenged, people are now viewing it as a way to cut back on cell phone costs. Since many companies offer unlimited calling for far less than contract carriers and others offer pay-per-minute plans, consumers can find value in these prepaid options. According to a survey by the New Millennium Research Council, the shift is already beginning. They found that 19 percent of consumers with a cell phone have cut service in the last six month. This includes switching from their contract to prepaid.

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Local Louisiana parishes might impose prepaid 911 fee

One topic we’ve seen a lot of in the past year or so has been the issue of 911 fees for prepaid cell users. In fact, just last week we discussed how e911 services aren’t totally effective yet. This week we open with a story about 911 fees, which aren’t assessed to prepaid users, but which there is a growing cry to impose. The Thibodaux Daily Comet has a story about how a few local parishes are looking to add a new fee for every purchase of a new prepaid wireless refill card.

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Prepaid phones not yet totally 911-reliable

A big issue these days is for phones to be e911 compatible. The FCC has mandated that all carriers be in 100 percent compliance by September 11, 2011, invoking a national tragedy to make their point. It does make sense in a symbolic way, though, as the idea behind full compliance is that all cell phones can be tracked and found by first responders. It still looks like about 25 percent of phones still aren’t compliant. There’s still over two years until the date, though, so presumably it will be done by then.

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Missouri legislator proposes prepaid phone database

Yes, legislators are at it again, trying to come up with registries for those who purchase prepaid cell phones. This time it’s in Missouri, where Rep. Ed Wildberger wants to see anyone who buys six or more prepaid phones placed into a registry to be used by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. We’ve seen similar proposals by other states, though none have been able to make it work on a practical level. It appears, though, that this bill is the best of the crop.

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Group calls for nationwide ban on cell phones while driving

A number of states currently have laws requiring a hands-free device while driving. These states believe that accidents can be reduced by minimizing distraction. A hands-free device allows the driver to keep both hands on the wheel (though from experience most people drive with one hand anyway). Now the USA National Safety Council wants a nationwide ban on cell phones while driving. This probably won’t be met with much support, but there is plenty of evidence for such a measure.

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Should we market cell phones to kids?

Expanding on the discussion we’ve had here regarding kids and cell phones, I was wondering if there should be some kind of restriction on advertising cell phones to kids — kind of like the restrictions on advertising alcohol and cigarettes. The idea comes from this article, which mentions the French government’s efforts to ban the advertising of cell phones to kids. Knowing what most of us know about the United States, such a law probably would never find its way out of committee in Congress. However, the question is, should it?

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Polarizing the wireless industry

Happy New Year everyone. Hopefully next week will bring us some news in the world of prepaid wireless. For now, we’re going to continue discussing issues related to the industry. Today we’ll look at the issue of smartphone vs. prepaid. They’re on two different ends of the spectrum. Prepaid is considered a low-cost alternative to contract cell phone service, while smartphones not only require a contract (for the most part), but a data plan which can add $30 to your monthly bill. So if the economy is headed downward still, will the reaction by consumers be to slow the smartphone trend in favor of the cheaper prepaid option?

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Non-cancer health risks of cell phone usage

Nope. Still nothing going on the prepaid side of things. So let’s end the year with one of those boogeyman posts. Caught this one on Engadget Mobile. The scientists at the European Research Institute for Electronic Components have studied multiple effects of radiation on red blood cells. This comes from low-level radiation, meaning that your cell phone probably gives off this level. So what do you have to be scared about this time? Your hemoglobin can leak, leading to kidney damage and heart disease. Scurry.

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You’re being gouged for text messaging

As if you needed to read that title to know that your wireless carrier is making boatloads off SMS charges. Apparently, though, some people think that the rise in text messaging costs over the past two years has been “business as usual.” The demand has increased, so that means higher prices right? Not so fast. Randall Stross of the New York Times walks us through text messaging, focusing on the insane profits wireless companies reap from the poor consumer.

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More and more homes ditching landlines

In these tough economic times — see, you can start any article off with that line nowadays — families are looking to cut costs wherever they can. We’ve mentioned, on multiple occasions, how prepaid wireless can help a family reduce their spending on communications costs. Another measure they can take is to use cell phones only and ditch the now-redundant landline. It seems many are taking that step. According to an AP report, landline only households have grown to 18 percent. This is in addition to the 13 percent of households which have landlines, but place and receive the majority of their calls via cell phones.

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Driving on phone more dangerous than talking to passengers

Do you talk on the phone while you drive? We’ve touched on this topic plenty of times on Prepaid Reviews, always coming down on the side of safety. Hey, I’m a former handset-to-the-ear-while-driving guy, and I only stopped after a near-accident. I got lucky. Many do not. Some have argued that it’s no different than talking to a passenger. A recent survey, though, claims that driving while on a phone is more dangerous than talking to a passenger.

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When cutting spending, most consumers don’t change cell habits

Prepaid and the economy. It’s a meme you’ll hear around these parts in the coming year for sure. Think about it. With rough economic times forecasted for our immediate future, why commit to a two-year cell phone contract, where you’ll likely pay for more than you use? With prepaid, you don’t commit and only pay for minutes you actually end up using. A recent survey, though, suggests that people aren’t that willing to change their spending habits when it comes to mobile phones. While 86 percent of respondents said they’d eat out less, just 32 percent said they’d spend less on mobile phone service. It seems like a missed opportunity.

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Prepay to grow faster than postpay in 2009?

Just this past Friday, we discussed how the best way to start saving on your cell phone bill is to go prepaid. This is something we’ve been talking about for a while, given the state of the economy. The prepaid movement seems to be coming around, with T-Mobile adding more prepaid than postpaid subscribers in the third quarter. Now we get word that Boost Mobile predicts that prepaid grow more than postpaid in 2009. Now wouldn’t that be something?

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TRAC outlines ways to save on your cell bill, starting with prepaid

The story dominating the Internet for the next year, at least, will be the state of the U.S. economy. Things look gloomy now, and people are looking for ways to save money. We’ve talked earlier this year about prepaid and the American economy, and I even wrote an article for Discuss Wireless on the issue. the Telecommunications Research & Action Center (TRAC) has issued a list of ways to cut on your phone bill. We’ll look at the five items. Unsurprisingly, it starts with prepaid.

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Consumers cutting back on cell phone use

With the economy in a state of uncertainty, many individuals and families are cutting back on costs. As we’ve talked about previously, one place where they can save monthly is on the cell phone bill. Of course, since cell phones have become ingrained in our daily lives, it’s tough to cut them out completely. Yes, this is to say that prepaid can be a solution. A recent survey shows that 76 percent of cell phone users are planning to immediately cut back. If you’re among them, you can find a deal from one of our featured pay as you go phone providers.

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Cox to launch wireless network in 2009

So we’re actually going to get some new competition as a result of the 700 MHz spectrum auction. Cox, a cable company with 6.2 million subscribers, will take its spectrum and build out a wireless network. They expect to be up and running in the second half of 2009, so about a year from now. Yet, that sounds a little fishy, doesn’t it? After all, doesn’t Cox need to go through the painstaking process of building out a network? Sure they do. But they have an interim plan.

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Public Interest Spectrum Trust protests Verizon Alltel merger

One of the major worries of the pending Verizon-Alltel merger is that it will further sap competition in the wireless space. This is understandable, considering you’re taking the nations’ No. 2 carrier and combining it with the No. 5 carrier to create the No. 1 carrier. After official approval, Verizon will have over 80 million subscribers, surpassing AT&T, the current national leader. The Public Interest Spectrum Trust wants the FCC to think long and hard before it gives wireless carriers even more power, says the Washington Post.

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U.K. government reportedly considering registration of prepaid cell phones

Over the summer, we learned that Massachusetts is considering a system whereby prepaid cell users would have to register their phones. The idea is to place the burden on the retail store to keep records, which has been the main objection to the proposed legislation. That, and the fact that not everyone has access to the required ID. In any case, it appears that the British government is working on a similar plan. Could this set a precedent that seeps into the U.S.?

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Consumers using blogs, reviews to determine cell phone purchases

Our intent with Prepaid Reviews is simple. We want to have as much information as possible, arranged in a meaningful way, which can help you make a decision about purchasing prepaid cell phones and services. According to a recent survey, published at Cellular News, it’s working. Over 60 percent of Americans who buy mobile phones use “online product reviews and user comments” to help determine their decision. About half of that number cited blogs as a strong influencer. This is not so much a praise of such sites, really, as it is a praise of consumers who make sure they have all the relevant information at hand before making a purchase. In theory, it leads to smarter buying decisions.

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Leap Wireless, MetroPCS enter roaming agreement

Hey, did you know that Metro PCS and Leap Wireless were tangled up in litigation? I’m not surprised, but I didn’t know. This morning, via MarketWatch, we get word that the cases have been settled. That’s not all, though. The companies have gone from fisticuffs to pals, as they entered into a national roaming agreement which will benefit subscribers of both carriers. As if that wasn’t enough, they also exchanged a bit of spectrum.

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Why prepaid minutes come with an expiration date

When you look through our prepaid cell phone reviews, you’ll notice a section titled “Earliest Minute Expiration.” Yes, when you buy prepaid minutes, they’re not yours forever. Some might be outraged at this, arguing that this is just another way the cell carriers squeeze every last penny out of you. However, like most prepaid consumer issues, the carriers have a perfectly good explanation. We turn to Christina Tynan-Wood of InfoWorld, who spoke to Virgin Mobile about the issue.

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The never-ending question: kids and cell phones

At no point in the foreseeable future do I see this question going away. When should a kid get a cell phone? Clearly, there’s not a single, concrete answer. It just pains me, you know, to see a 10-year-old with a cell phone in hand. I dunno, I guess it has to do with youthful innocence or something. Anyway, Terri Gruca of WCCO in Minnesota caught up with Tim Wolfe, a Verizon Wireless rep, to ask him about when kids should have cell phones.

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Spectrum Bridge sets up spectrum market

As you might know at this point, competition isn’t exactly open in the wireless communications industry. Spectrum is scarce; you can’t just go out and make a big investment in spectrum and build out a new network. There’s only so much available. The government auctioned off a good chunk of spectrum earlier this year, in what is expected by many to be the last such spectrum auction for some time. So how can a company acquire spectrum under these conditions? Via InformationWeek, we hear of a company called Spectrum Bridge. They’re a secondary market which sets up buyers and sellers of spectrum.

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Finding the best phone from each prepaid carrier

Can you get a quality, feature-rich phone on prepaid? How about for a good price? It used to be that you either had to settle for a five-year-old phone, a refurbished model, or pay out the wazoo for a prepaid cell phone. Last week, though, we saw a deal on AT&T Go Phone: the Sony Ericsson Z750 for $39.99. With a $25 airtime card included, the net cost to the consumer is $14.99. A quick glance at the features — music player, 2 megapixel camera, Bluetooth — shows that this is a stupendous value for the dollar. Today, we’ll take a look at some of our pay as you go cell phone providers to see the best deals they offer on phones.

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Customer service wait times getting worse

Last week, J.D. Power and Associates released a semi-annual survey on the state of customer service in the wireless industry. While Verizon took home top honors, that’s not the main point of this. What caught my attention, and what surely was of note to those who leave comments on our reviews, is that wait time for customer service is up to 4.4 minutes on average. Yikes. That’s up 34 percent from last year, when the average was 3.3 minutes on hold. This cannot be good for the wireless industry’s spotty, to be kind, reputation regarding how they treat their customers.

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