My first cell phone was on MCI Worldcom back in 1999 on an analog network. I had the ability to make phone calls in an emergency, and basically used it just for that. My first incoming minute was free, and I’d get 100 minutes for the weekend. It was plenty. Texting/SMS was non-existent. I had a sweet Audiovox “straight” phone, lovingly dubbed “F11” as the entire user interface was a series of short-cuts and function keys.
It’s probably because at the time, I didn’t know any better, and maybe analog networks just had better building penetration, but I never thought or saw “No Service.” It was just not a thing to even worry about. The old MCI network was basically what became Verizon and it was the only time I was on a CDMA network.
Shortly after that, when texting was actually becoming a thing, albeit only within the same network, had switched over to AT&T and a Nokia phone because who didn’t have that 33xx series phone? It was built like a tank, the battery lasted days, and it had Snake.
This was when AT&T still operated on their more reliable and older TDMA network. Again, very rarely did I complain about not having service, or having any issues. I’m certain it’s because the usage of these devices was so different. It really was just in case there was an issue or an emergency. I didn’t talk to my friends on the cell phone, nor did I text anyone. Again, all incoming texts were free, and I think I had 200 minutes a month, with some benefit in the evening or the weekend.
As phones progressed a bit and cell phone usage popularity increased, I remember making the switch to T-Mobile, shortly after Deutsche Telecom acquired Voicestream, which also used to be Omnipoint even before that. This ushered in a whole new approach to phone usage. I remember having 600 minutes a month with unlimited weekends, and I believe I had something like 500 text messages for a small fee on top of that. This is when $39.99/month became the sweet spot for cell carriers.
This is also when I started to notice all carriers were not created equal. T-Mobile was significantly worse in the coverage department. Living and working on Long Island, service was pretty good as long as you were outside. T-Mobile was on GSM and had the concept of SIM cards so switching phones became easier as well - just swap SIMs. One thing T-Mobile had as an advantage was just the quality of voice. While GSM wasn’t as prevalent, whilst using it, phone calls sounded tenfold better. At this point I had been using a Samsung R225. It had a really cool and different blue LCD instead of the typical vomit-green found everywhere else.
Whenever I’d have to travel somewhere out of the home area, it’d always be a gamble to see if we’d have service or not. Usually highways were okay, and larger cities, but the moment you went to a lesser populated area, you might get lucky being outdoors, but in a house or building? Good luck. At this point, I was also completely infatuated with the industry and was following trends, new releases, phone networks, phone releases, etc. I was absolutely hooked into the world of mobile.
T-Mobile was so competitive in terms of cell plans, and they had the best phones available. They had to make up for the lack of coverage somehow. I upgraded to my first flip phone - the phone I probably loved more than any other phone until my first iPhone. The Motorola v300.
It had a camera. It was a flip phone. It had a beautiful LCD screen. It had a front display on the outside of the clamshell. The v300 was easily hackable and you could customize ringtones, and the outside display. I remember adjusting some hexadecimal codes to even make the speaker louder. Oh yeah - it had a speakerphone! This phone had it all. T-Mobile also released unlimited texting for $10/month at this point. What a game changer. Using T9 and this phone, countless texts, countless usage. Service may have been a bit shoddy here and there but it was functional enough.
I kept T-Mobile for a couple of more years until I made the jump back to AT&T, and this point, AT&T was merging with Cingular but was going to take their name instead? That never made sense to me, but whatever. This was also during the push for AT&T/Cingular customers to switch over to their GSM network. Their TDMA network was excellent. Their GSM network? Not so much. It was a bit better than T-Mobile but had its own issues.
Switching to AT&T, I felt more confident in having coverage and they’ve obviously spent a lot of money over the last 15 years improving their coverage. Verizon has always and still claims to have the best coverage but I couldn’t give up GSM phones, SIM cards, and that better voice quality.
In 2006 I remember wanting to make the jump into a smartphone. Obviously that term in 2006 was quite a bit different compared to where we are today. I bought a Nokia 6682 off of eBay. It had a shutter/cover for the rear camera, which comparatively at the time was very good. The 6682 ran Symbian OS and it had great features. I do miss the hey-day of Nokia and Symbian.
Let’s fast forward to now. I had a Windows Mobile phone in between the Nokia and the iPhone. It was the Motorola Q9h - a 3G (wow!) smartphone with a physical keyboard. The Q9h was a “World Phone” and came with a slim battery and an extended battery. The screen was large and nice, and the OS supported threaded SMS. That was basically all it was good for. “Apps” were super limited and the built-in GPS never really worked.
Making the jump to the iPhone was obviously a game-changer, and it was only available on AT&T at the time. Cingular was also re-branding back to AT&T or more appropriately at&t. That marketing team must’ve milked a lot of money back then.
iPhone 7 Plus
That has been the progression for the past decade. I’ve stuck with AT&T. Initially because they offered the original ‘unlimited’ data plan, but also because Verizon didn’t offer the iPhone until the iPhone 4, and months after the initial release of the device. I thought about making the switch, but never did. Maybe I should’ve in retrospect as Verizon was definitely the stronger network, and still technically remains as such, or so they advertise.
In 2018, while my iPhone XS can do things all these other devices could only dream of, AT&T claims > 99% US coverage, and my phone will display LTE or 4G and I’ll have 2-3 bars or more of service, but the network is so saturated, that it’s often unusable. A data connection simply won’t be made. I don’t understand how this is such a common issue, especially on Long Island still.
I decided last year to give Verizon a shot. It had to be better, right? Everyone in Manhattan uses Verizon. Of course it’s got to be better. Well, I barely get 1X or 3G service at my home with Verizon. I’m sorry, but I’m not going backwards. I was very disappointed by the lack of service at home with Verizon.
I tried T-Mobile as well again in parallel to having my AT&T plan. The same issues still persist. If I go outside of a heavily populated area, T-Mobile starts to fail. It just doesn’t make sense. Why after over 25+ years of cell phone saturation throughout the country, can all 4 major networks not have coverage everywhere? Is it really that difficult?
I would gladly pay more than I do if I knew my service would work practically everywhere, and when I wanted my phone to use a data connection, it would actually respond accordingly. T-Mobile is working on a 600MHz LTE band that is supposed to have better and longer coverage, and the iPhone XS supports this new band. Perhaps it’ll be time to experiment this again in 2019 at some time as T-Mobile rolls this out.
We’re also approaching 5G LTE service, although it’s mostly marketing. I suppose we’re in a better spot today than we ever have been before when it comes to mobile technology, as seen everywhere, but getting the “No Service” sign or seeing a connection that just can’t be used, is still so frustrating.
Perhaps in another 4-5 years, cell service will be even better, with faster data speeds, and these networks won’t remain as saturated. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯