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Project Fi

Posted: November 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: android, AT&T, Companies, Google, Tech Help | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

project-fi-logo

I found out about Project Fi early on, when a few of the blogs began talking about it.  At the time I was skeptical not about Google’s ability to pull the project off, but more about whether people would be able to accept routing their voice calls and SMS through Google’s data centers.  A couple of weeks ago, I did a ton of reading on Fi and decided based on what I had read to go ahead and sign up for the beta. It took a couple of weeks to get my invite, and even then it took me a few days to think through what it would mean to be a Fi customer.

My thought process went through three distinct gating concerns.  The first was whether I felt that my calls, SMS, and network traffic would be safe being piped via VPN from anonymous access points through Google’s data centers and to their ultimate destination.  If I could get through the first gate, I felt that it was time to think through the second.

The next gating concern for me was if there was enough value over T-Mobile for me to make the jump.  I was already frustrated with T-Mobile’s default opt-in “binge on” promotion, so I felt it was a good time to move.  My experience with T-Mobile for the past two years has been nothing but good, and I’m going to keep the rest of my family lines with them, but I use very little data so I figured that I could save a good amount of money by using Project Fi, and I haven’t been wrong.

fi-on-phone

The final gating factor was whether Google’s customer service would be adequate for my needs.  On this I had some of my largest concerns.  Google isn’t known for their legendary service and while I don’t typically need a lot of help, with wireless service, you never know.  On this front, I haven’t had to use their service yet, so the jury is still out.  Their self-help has been excellent so I decided to give it a shot.

I was able to get over the first hurdle, surprisingly easily.  I do not believe it is in Google’s interest to do anything untoward with their users’ data as it would destroy their business, so I’m actually not that worried about Google doing anything nefarious with my calls or texts ( if they can even access them ).  As far as turning my data over to the government, that wasn’t really a worry as T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon will all turn over the same data on demand, so that was a push even if Google cooperates.  Finally, VPN technology has been around for quite a while, and it is well regarded as secure.  So going through a VPN to Google’s data center is much safer as far as I’m concerned than going through some coffee shop network, or Comcast back end.  In addition, the quality of service over Wi-Fi would probably exceed most of the spotty coverage I’ve had in some areas with T-Mobile so … gate opened…

Projectfi-account-home

After looking through my records for the past few months, I found that I typically use far less than 3 GB of data per month since I am typically in solid Wi-Fi coverage.  I was a little worried about how many hotspots there were around me in general and how well the Nexus 5x would traverse the networks, but this, so far, hasn’t been an issue, there are a number of affiliated Wi-Fi hotspots around the bay area, even more in San Francisco, so where I roam there are a number of options that will not cost my precious gigabytes.

I chose the 2 GB of data, bringing me to a total of $40 a month plus tax.  So far I have used .19 gigabytes and I’m about forty percent of the way through my plan period, so I’ll be getting a refund at the end.  This brings up one of the better things about Fi, which is that they will refund you for any data that you did not use.  They also will charge no overage for months in which you surpass your estimated limit.  That means that if I need to tether for work one month, I won’t be stuck paying extra during all of the other months.  On my line alone, after buying a Nexus 5x and selling my Galaxy S6 Edge, I was out about $45 up front, and I will save about $60 / month on my line alone.  So it is definitely a value for me, however YMMV as for some heavy mobile data users, Fi will end up costing you more.

Overall, I have been extremely happy with Fi and would heartily recommend it.  It has been stable and with great quality.  Using the Nexus 5x has been pretty good, the phone is laggy occasionally, however I think that is owing more to lacking a few optimizations than any inherent limitation in the hardware.  Other phones with the same specs running Android 5.x are smoother so I believe that things will get better on that front.  The Nexus 5x has had outstanding battery life for me on M and on Fi.  Granted I’m always in a good service area, and I am not a “heavy” user.  I tend to get around 48 hours of battery life from it.


Why I Am Not Switching to Verizon ( And You Shouldnt Either )

Posted: January 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Verizon | Tags: , , | No Comments »

There have been a few times recently that AT&T’s
network has saved my bacon, recently, once in San Diego, a couple
of times in Denver, and a few times in San Francisco. AT&T is
definitely faster on downloads than Verizon, and often faster than
the hotel broadband. Not only that, but Verizon actually costs more
than AT&T, which is ridiculous. Android phones that are wildly
more complicated to use are not a useful proxy for how much
bandwidth the average iPhone user consumes. I think I’ll stick with
the carrier who has experience dealing with the iPhone’s load.

The other thing that bugs me a bit about the whole AT&T sucks thing, is that it is so market dependent. Typically which carrier “sucks” in a given market is whether or not, and how much sub 1 GHz frequency they have in the given market. Since Verizon has a bunch of 700 MHz spectrum here in the bay area, they typically have better signal indoors, etc… Leading people to believe that Verizon is the second coming. It is a similar situation in many markets, but not all so your milage may vary.

As far as voice is concerned, Verizon may have a bit of an edge, but with data, the jury is still out. Technically Verizon should perform marginally better on voice traffic in large markets due to the efficiency of CDMA, but since both carriers are moving to LTE, this is a largely insignificant difference. The real difference maker will be latency, and the size of the backhaul. AT&T has spent the past 3 years or so constantly upgrading it’s back hauls in all of their markets, I haven’t heard anything about Verizon upgrades.

Verizon might do a bit better in their packet latency, but I’d wager that it isn’t enough of a difference to really make anyone switch. AT&T’s latency isn’t that bad for a mobile provider, and it has actually been getting better here in the Bay Area.

I think that everyone who leaves AT&T for Verizon will be complaining the same way they were when they were on AT&T. The smartphone market caught all of them with their pants down, let alone tethering. The rumor is that Verizon will offer an unlimited data plan, firstly, this is unlikely, secondly, if they do I’m sure there will be some ridiculous throttling they will do which will make power users wish they could pay for full speed.

At the end of the day, I’m glad that Verizon is going to finally get the iPhone it will keep AT&T honest. I hope that T-Mobile gets it too so we can have some decent competition. All phone companies are the same, they all want to get the most for the smallest amount of capital invested. Verizon will probably try to louse up the iPhone with their “apps” and end up screwing up the experience in some way. Starting off by reducing the time users have to return their phones is s great way to reduce confidence in their ability to deliver the service level that they claim.


Why I Disagree With Gruber : AT&T’s Price Changes Suck

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: android, Companies, iPhone | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

First, let me get the link to Gruber out of the way : good and bad regarding at&t data plans.  I read his post, I disagreed with AT&T’s price changes, and after reading it, I still disagree with the changes.  They are all bad.  First AT&T announces that they are upping their cancellation fee to $375 from $175, which was bad, but understandable given the percentage of their customers buying the iPhone.  Then they announce this garbage.  My biggest issue with it isn’t that they are charging for it, it is the way they did it.  They took a device that we all love for its simplicity and tied it to a maze of complicated data + text + voice plans.

Remember, when the first iPhone launched, there was just the iPhone plan, and the only choices that customers had to make was how much extra to pay for SMS, which sucked but at least it was understandable.  Now, trying to explain to regular people what will happen if they buy the iPhone HD is nearly impossible.  When I told my wife about it, not technical, she said, “but wait, it was supposed to be unlimited.”  It doesn’t matter if the cap is high, as soon as people know there is a cap, they will change their behavior.  They will start to think, maybe I should wait to look up this site until I get into Wi-Fi, or maybe I shouldn’t watch this YouTube video, or how many kilobytes per second is the streaming on this h.264 video, all way too complicated.

Going from bad to worse, we were on the verge of a new age for the internet with plentiful, high speed data everywhere.  We were going to start seeing a new class of always connected applications, able to provide real-time data.  Consumers are likely to start self-restricting their mobile data use unless they are on the few and far-between Wi-Fi hot spots.

There is a class of argument along the lines that AT&T was drowning with the amount of data its consumers were using and that no carrier could keep up with providing quality service for the prices they were charging. I can buy that, but the solution is simple, instead of complicating everything, increasing ETFs, and other stuff that is hard to understand for most people, just raise the price of the iPhone plan to $99.99 and give unlimited everything.

Contrast this to T-Mobile, who recently re-iterated that their unlimited was really unlimited.  One could argue that they have fewer customers and can afford to have more aggressive pricing.  That is true, however to the end user, unlimited is unlimited.  Unlimited is better than limited.  It is simple to understand.  I am very glad that I bought a Wi-Fi only iPad, or I’d feel like a sucker who got baited and switched after Steve Jobs got on stage and announced a “breakthrough” data plan for the iPad.  A 2 GB capped plan is not breakthrough, it is hobbled.  The iPad is designed to watch video, stream audio and in general consume the hell out of bandwidth intensive content.

Basically I’m glad I terminated my AT&T contract when I did.  My iPhone 3GS makes an awesome iPod, my iPad can take its place, I will be able to use my Nexus One for tethering when Froyo comes out if T-Mobile does what I expect and make it free.  AT&T’s crap makes the next generation iPhone look less attractive, since after all, the shine wears off on any new technical gadget, no matter how wonderful, but you are stuck with the crap contract.  T-Mobile also one-ups AT&T by offering attractive no-contract rates if you want to just buy your phone outright.  When the Nexus Two, or the dual-core Snapdragon HTC Scorpion or whatever comes out, I can just save up the money, buy the phone, slap in my SIM card and away I go, I don’t have to wait for 2 years.

The cell phone industry ought to be ashamed of itself for what it is doing.  Even with crappier cell service, which is getting better, T-Mobile is a far better carrier than AT&T.  At least they don’t bait-and-switch their customers and partners with half-truths and complicated one-off deals.  If this doesn’t make people look around for an alternative carrier to AT&T I don’t know what will.  You can get overpriced, horrible service, not be able to make calls, not be able to use the data you are paying for, not be able to get out of your contract for a fortune, and still have to pay large amounts each month for garbage service.  What happened to the model where the business didn’t take their customers for granted, where they actually did things to be better than their competition?  Why are we stuck in the US with carriers who just want to squeeze their customers for every penny while providing as little service as possible.  I don’t understand what is good about AT&T’s price changes, and I hope they don’t set a precedent for other carriers.  If so we may find ourselves, in this country, at the far back of the line as far as wireless connectivity goes.


AT&T MicroCell

Posted: February 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: iPhone | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Frequently, in my house, at work, and in my car here on the west coast, I drop calls. It’s so bad that I can’t use my phone for voice or data over the cellular network. I find myself wondering why I have an iPhone when it doesn’t work anywhere I go.

Now I am reading about these AT&T MicroCell devices. At first I thought it was going to be cool, and that I might get a bit of revenue out of it. Now it looks like I am supposed to pay for this. It isn’t clear how much from the post, but really, charging me more money to make what I am already paying for work is criminal.

When I was recently on the East Coast, I had awesome coverage, but in the Bay Area it just doesn’t work. I attribute it to the unavailability of 850 MHz spectrum out here for AT&T, and I understand that that this is a clever way to get around it, but they really should be paying me for using my broadband to bolster their signal, it should also be open to any AT&T 3G subscriber in the area who is close enough to benefit.

I want one, but not if it is closed and not if I don’t get paid for it. If AT&T can’t get their act together, then I can easily use an iPod touch, and get a different smartphone on a carrier that actually gives me some bars.