Friday, March 30, 2007

WMATA and Verizon/ GSM and CDMA

Living in the DC area and close to a metro stop for both work and home has made me the default spouse to take the metro while my wife takes the car. Whilst riding the metro isn't usually a bad thing (except for the fact they blast the A/C so hard that my eyes dry out to the point of popping out of my sockets), I do get taunted by the fact that I don't have cellphone coverage down in the depths of the DC Metro tunnels. This is because I'm not "IN" the Verizon network.

This is due to my hatred for CDMA networks. I realized this years ago when Sprint had just started getting their feet wet in the wireless game and had rolled out a GSM system that they initially called "Sprint Spectrum." I loved it, even though it was something like 30 bucks for 15 minutes of airtime. However, the first incoming minute was free so I would constantly tell people to all me back after 50 seconds. And if my phone ever broke, or a nicer one came out, I didn't have to call up Sprint to get their permission to switch phones. All I had to do was pop out the SIM card from my old phone and pop it into the new one.

Then suddenly they dropped the whole GSM deal and decided to relaunch as "Sprint PCS" using a CDMA network. Which sucked. My calls were constantly being dropped, the phones were of shoddy quality, and to top it off, I had LESS control over the functions of my phone and I couldn't switch phones easily. I could see the writing on the wall, Sprint was slowly moving towards limiting what I could and could not do with my phone. I couldn't even load my own shrill ringtones onto their phones, I had to live with the default ones they gave me.

This was around the time I realized that the GSM system that I had originally come to love was still being operated! In fact, it turns out that Sprint was just leasing airtime off of Omnipoint's GSM system that was subsquently purchased by Voicestream (which was rebranded to T-mobile). With the GSM phones, I could swap out my SIM card and use a different phone each day of the week, rather being locked into one phone for the life of my contract. I also could sync my contacts, load my own ringtones, and eventually have access to the internet without having my bluetooth crippled.

Sprint and Verizon had jumped on the CDMA bandwagon by this time, and selling crippled phones that wouldn't let you transfer ringtones, sync your contacts, and if they caught you trying to tether your laptop or PDA to your phone, they'd charge you insane fees.

But now I'm riding the metro, and guess what? The only system that's underground is CDMA. So Verizon users can talk freely on the metro, and so can Sprint PCS users roaming on Verizon's network. Around 2002, there were rumblings that either AT&T or Cingular, or even T-mobile would be able to hook up a similar GSM system by 2006. Meanwhile, what was blazingly fast GPRS/EDGE speeds on my GSM system of 56k were being eclipsed by Verizon and Sprint's "broadband quality" EVDO connections.

Its now 2007 and getting online anywhere I have a cell signal at 100kbs isn't as impressive anymore and when I can't have access to it when I'm riding the metro, I'm wondering if I should switch. But then I look at the data access prices. Verizon wants 60(!) bucks to have "unlimited" data. I hear its not unlimited because if you go over 5 gigs of bandwidth in a month, they'll cut you off at their discretion. This is also before any voice minutes get added. I'm paying 63 bucks right now for 600 minutes, unlimited nights and weekends, unlimited data from my phone OR tethering via a laptop, internet tablet, PDA, etc. and I got 300 text messages coupled with 100 picture messages.

Your phone might be only as good as the network, but its not worth twice to have fast cell coverage on my commute in and out of work everyday. And having dial-up speeds seems a little more tolerable knowing I'm not paying out the nose for it. I guess I'll take that time popping my eyes back into my sockets dodging the A/C vents.

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