mobile phone in another city
April 22, 2005 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving this summer. I'd like to get a new mobile phone and service plan based in my new city a few months before I move so people, and potential employers, can call me via a number that's local to them. Never having done this before, I have many questions.

1. Is this even possible? Will the mobile companies let me have a phone whose home region is based somewhere I don't have a permanent address yet?

2. If not having an address is a problem, will getting a PO box in the new city help?

3. Who's the "least evil" provider these days?

4. Any other pitfalls I should watch out for buying a phone online?

5. New city is Portland, OR, if that matters

I tried going into a local store and asking some of these questions, and got conflicting answers and puzzled looks. If anyone here could lend me a hand I'd greatly appreciate it.
posted by alan to Technology (14 answers total)
I can't help you with 3-5, but I believe you just have to have an address; doesn't matter where. What do they care, as long as you're paying your bill each month?
posted by suchatreat at 12:22 PM on April 22, 2005

Some thoughts (some slightly off-topic) from a Portlander.
1. When you get a number, try the hardest for a "503" area code. Three years later and people still get confused about the new 971 areacode overlay.
2. I have used SprintPCS, Verizon, Nextel, and Qwest mobile in Portland and the vicinty. Hands down Sprint is the best in terms of reception and quality. And i have never had an uissue with their customer service, unlike Verizon and Qwest.
3. Think about using a VOIP number and having it forward to whatever cell number you are using now. I do this with Vonage, but unfortunately, they only have 971 nubers left.
4. Phones matter in Portland. We have terrible reception issues due to lots and lots of hills. We are actually a test market for communications devices because if they work here, they work pretty much anywhere. I had to get my SIM card for my cell phone from LA upgraded to just because it wasn't up to snuff. The Verizon rep let me in on the secret that the SIM cards they use for Portland are 64k (the best they have) to handle the difficulties.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 12:42 PM on April 22, 2005

It sounds to me like you may want to try getting a prepaid phone, which would solve your billing address issue. (You can always switch to a regular account/bill after your move.) I believe most cellphone providers will switch a (prepaid) phone's area code to any new area code for free -- call and ask first.

As far as prepaid, T-Mobile might be what you are looking for, since they don't tack on additional fees like some of the other providers. Their coverage map may be an issue, especially with prepaid. Which leads me to:

You should check with Howard Forums for any cellphone questions/discussion.
posted by jca at 1:00 PM on April 22, 2005

1. Yes, you can do this. At least I've been able to do this with Sprint PCS. When you're activating the phone and setting up a new phone number, just ask for a phone number with the area code you want.

3. I've had Sprint PCS, Cingular, and T-Mobile, and in my opinion T-Mobile is the least evil of the 3.
posted by gyc at 1:05 PM on April 22, 2005

A huge warning, from a lesson we learned oh so painfully. My wife did this, getting a cell phone in NH from a Cingular sales kiosk. We live in Seattle. The rep explained everything to her, stating all she had to do was take the phone to any Cingular location and have them switch the number (and service) to a local Seattle area code/number.

Not only did he lie, but he bound her to a contract with this NH number for an entire year. When she got back to Seattle, she was stunned to learn that there was no service available in Seattle for the phone she had - a completely different network out here. She called, visited, etc. multiple times, but the long and short of it was that her refusal to pay ended up (somehow) negating her end of the bargain, and her service was terminated. She was then presented with a $350 bill for the remainder of her contract. On top of that she was billed another $350 for the phone itself, since she had not returned it in time.

This happened two years ago, and we've never been able to get any resolution from Cingular about it, and yes, we're out approx. $1000 from the whole experience.

The moral, sweet people, is that dealers have one motive: to sell you a contract. They will lie and swear falsehoods as truth if it means a commission at the end of the day.

1. I don't advise it, based on our experience.
2. I would not believe anything anyone tells you about compatibility and transfer of service/location/contracts. Cell phone contracts are designed to completely screw you if you so much as think of changing any teensy term.

Good luck with finding work.
posted by ValveAnnex at 1:08 PM on April 22, 2005

As for #1, I had the phone number on my existing service changed before they had my new address. So as far as I can see, in their eyes, I was in Boston with a Hartford number. Likewise, my fiancee who's on a family plan with me, still has her Boston number, even though we're known to them as Hartford residents.

The trick, of course, is that I was already a Sprint customer, kept my same service and just told them I needed to change my number to a Hartford one. I believe I even did it in one of their walk-in stores in Boston.

So, if you do have a few months, it might be possible to get your phone and service, keep the local number for a month, then tell them to change it. Or it might not.
posted by Moondoggie at 1:14 PM on April 22, 2005

I am a Portland/503/Verizon customer, and I have been quite happy with my reception (had this number & service since 2001?) I have also heard that T-Mobile's reception is quite good.

Of course, part of my rationale for Verizon was also the "you can talk to any other verizon wireless customer for free" feature, as my wife and most of my friends are also Verizon customers. But I wouldn't stick with it if they sucked.

Whivhever you settle on initially, make use of their trial period (Verizon's is 15 days). Go everywhere you might ever go. Make sure you get service in your new living quarters.

Also, I have observed that Verizon's recent batch of phones is AWFUL. After an unfortunate mishap with my old phone, i ended up trialing a phone for 15 days, hating it, and buying a clone of my old phone off of ebay.

In terms of "evilness," Consumer Reports did a survey recently of complaints by carrier. At&T/Cingular sucked big-time, and you can see for yourself the rest of the results.

Sorry if I drifted off-topic a bit...
posted by misterbrandt at 1:36 PM on April 22, 2005

I bought a Sprint PCS cell phone for my mother who lives in another state without any hassle at all. Just told them the area code I wanted the number in, bought the phone, picked a plan, and away I went. All at my local Sprint store. Billing address is mine, not local to the new phone.

Furthermore, it's been my experience that Sprint has the best coverage (at least in major metro areas), although the phones are a bit old-tech.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:48 PM on April 22, 2005

AT&T/Cingular's service in 503 BLOWS, not just the sales drones, but the actual dial-tone, dropped call, "service". I cannot stress this enough... avoid them at all costs. I've yet to meet anyone who hasn't hated them (it's really too bad that they have the best deal on phones...).

I have T-mobile and am satisifed, friends have Verizon and Sprint are happy. Again, avoid Cingular at all costs. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Oh, and I second angling for the 503 number, 971 is getting more and more adoption, but I still have to do a triple take on it. Also, everything is 10 digit dialing here, and 503 is automatic for most people, retraining the brain to start dialing with 971 is hard.
posted by togdon at 1:55 PM on April 22, 2005

You can walk into a TMobile store and see if they'll sell you a 503 number on a prepaid kit. I did something like that and my total cost including the phone was about 60$. If not, check Howard Forums. My memory of what I read on Howard Forums is that you can also buy prepaid kits off of ebay and have them set to any area code you would like.

If VOIP is an option, I know companies like Vonage will let you add multiple numbers in different area codes to a single line for a small charge. That could be cool if you're going to stay in touch with anyone in your current city after your move.
posted by joelr at 3:29 PM on April 22, 2005

I've had no problem switching a VirginMobile prepaid's area code multiple times. They're nauseatingly teen oriented, but once you get past that the customer service is genuinely a pleasure to deal with unlike some other carriers I could mention *cough* Yes, I'm looking at you, AT&T and SBC. Virgin piggybacks on Sprint's network, so it sounds like that would also get you optimal Portland coverage--at least long enough to shop around for a good contract. You can get their cheapest phone new for around $60-70, with $10-20 of startup credits. So for roughly $50, you've got a no-contract local test platform, and a number in the right area code. With phone number portability, you should be able to get that's phone's number transferred to your permanent cell once you pick a long-term service.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:03 PM on April 22, 2005

Oh, in response to the second part of question #1: those area codes for my cell phone have had no relation to my physical address. Virgin doesn't care. P.O. box not needed.

I might as well also note their lack of roaming fees and other surcharges. Their flat rate is gawdawful high if you're doing a lot of calling over a sustained period, but makes an economical alternative during the move itself, when calls from any contract phone would be hit with all those out-of-area fees.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:19 PM on April 22, 2005

If you're going for prepaid, run as far as you can from Cingular/ATT Wireless. I know from experience the idiocy and futility of trying to get anything resolved if you have a problem, and I've had friends on contracts who are deeply unsatisfied with their service. I have a T-Mobile contract, and the service and reception are pretty good. The network's been a bit wonky about dropped calls lately though. I also hear from other people that Sprint has the best coverage as well.
posted by calistasm at 8:24 PM on April 22, 2005

Thanks all, I think I'll be going VOIP at first just to get a Portland number, and then worry about the cell phone when I get into town and can properly test things out.

Thanks for the advice and horror stories ;)
posted by alan at 6:56 AM on April 24, 2005

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