GSM Newbie Questions
August 28, 2006 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to acquire the object of my gadget lust. I'm new to the GSM world, and am looking for opinions about whether I should take this phone to T-Mobile or Cingular for service. (Other GSM newbie questions inside.)

I've been a Sprint user for years, but I'm tired of poor build quality on Treos, and I'm ready for something new. I'm convinced the E70 is the phone for me, but there's no North American version yet. So I'm taking the plunge and getting the European model which doesn't include 850MHz coverage.

I've done the math, and it looks like my monthly costs for a modest voice plan, a modest text messaging plan, and unlimited data would be similar, so that's not an issue. What I'm really looking for is this:

* Do both networks offer good coverage in major metropolitan areas with 1900MHz-only phones?

* Are both data plans equivalent, or are there pitfalls I won't learn about from their marketing materials?

* Assuming I also pick up a cheap 850MHz compatible phone for use when I'm out of 1900MHz coverage, is there any problem on either network swapping SIM cards?

Bonus question: Anyone have good or bad expeirences with MobileBee?

posted by j-dawg to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This thread says that Cingular's network in Illinois is mostly 850MHz, and Wikipedia says that "T-Mobile exclusively uses the GSM 1900 MHz frequency to build out its native network."

Keywords used: 1900mhz cingular, 1900mhz t-mobile
posted by trevyn at 11:03 AM on August 28, 2006

Assuming I also pick up a cheap 850MHz compatible phone for use when I'm out of 1900MHz coverage, is there any problem on either network swapping SIM cards?

It's meant to be tied to the IMEI, but I've never had problems swapping Cingular SIMs between phones after the original registration. It's also damned hard to get a SIM without a phone attached from any provider on a monthly plan, so if you can cope with the 2-year service agreement, get one of the free 850/1900 phones on offer, register that phone, then swap away.
posted by holgate at 11:13 AM on August 28, 2006

1) No, both networks do not offer good coverage with 1900MHz only. You definitely want quadband (or at least an 850 capable phone, since many times they prefer 850 for propagation reasons).

2) Data plans are mostly equivalent in terms of service, T-Mobile has been doing data a little bit longer than Cingular has. Both data networks are improving substantially over the next several months.

3) No, there is no problem swapping SIM cards.
posted by arimathea at 11:18 AM on August 28, 2006

You should use T-Mobile's personal coverage check (on their website) to determine if 850 is really necessary in your area. Since T-Mobile was built on 1900 and only uses 850 in conjunction with roaming contracts, T-Mobile would better utilize the Nokia E70 (compared with Cingular). Cingular is a combination of 1900 and 850 (850 was purchased when they got AT&T Wireless a few years ago). HOWEVER, Cingular's coverage is more comprehensive than T-Mobile's, so once again, I stress that you should check their coverage maps.

Swapping SIM cards is fine, but make sure that your 850/1900 phone is unlocked. If you stick a T-Mobile SIM into a locked Cingular phone (you purchased on eBay because it was a great deal), the phone won't work. Unlocking is often free or inexpensive, but something you do need to think about.

Random anecdote: when living in Pittsburgh, I used a phone that was 800/1800/1900 (meaning no 850) for 2 years and never knew that I didn't have nor did I need 850. Again, I never checked the coverage maps back then (I don't even think they were available) but for the past few months I was under a false assumption: that I needed 850 on my phone. Turns out it really just depends upon where you are.

Another random comment: way to pick an awesome phone. I think you'll be very happy (if the coverage is good).
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:45 AM on August 28, 2006

I've been using triband phones from Europe for years on T-mobile without a problem. I've yet to run into a place where I found myself missing the 850mhz band. But I tend to stay in major metros and not out in cornfields or anything.

If you buy an unlocked phone you should be able to use any darn SIM card you want in it. This comes in hand when traveling internationally so you can get a prepaid SIM for the country you're in and make cheaper in-country calls.

Since you're going to have to sign up for Cingular or T-Mobile on a contract for two years for monthly (not prepaid) service, you might as well get one of their "free" phones to use as a spare or to keep around for when you might need 850mhz.

Right before I bought my last phone [the Sony Ericsson K800i which has kewl 3G features I'll never be able to use in the US] I looked into the 850mhz's future on T-mobile. I can't find the article now, but I remember it saying any build-out t-mobile planned on 850Mhz was going to be in rural areas where they don't have a presence now [places I would only be by mistake]

I haven't used mobilebee, but have had luck with random people on eBay, but last time decided to be a little safer and use MobilePlanet [formerly Expansys US] now.

The data/internet setup will be manual compared to a phone purchased from TMo/Cingular directly. There are tons of resources online for finding the settings at least for TMO. My phone can do everything a TMO phone can do and more since none of the features -- like RSS reader and email -- are disabled by the phone company for their phones. The unlocked phones are full featured.
posted by birdherder at 12:50 PM on August 28, 2006

Response by poster: Very helpful info... thanks everyone!
posted by j-dawg at 2:13 PM on August 28, 2006

FWIW, I always check out HowardForums to get cell phone information. There's a rumor there that the E70-2, with GSM 850 support, will be released in the US soon.
posted by nixxon at 2:41 PM on August 28, 2006

Response by poster: I've read that... the only problem is that the US version will not include WiFi, and may be crippled in various other ways as well.
posted by j-dawg at 3:00 PM on August 28, 2006

Hey, I'm posting from an E61, using Cingular's MEdia Net service. I just swapped in the SIM from my old phone and it works great.

I have unlimited data for about 20 bucks a month. I think there's a secret T-Mobile plan that gives you unlimited but proxied data for less than that. Speeds seem comparable on both EDGE networks, except I think Cingular's EDGE network is larger.

Personally I wouldn't buy a phone that was missing an American band- looking at coverage maps, there always seems like there's a lot missing. But buying an E-series phone made for the US might suck too. The E62, the Cingular version of my phone, is missing WiFi and some other good stuff.
posted by thethirdman at 3:10 PM on August 28, 2006

Check out the Nokia 9300. Nokia's build quality is legendary, and it's a 850/900/1900 GSM phone. You can get a $20 unlimited data + 200 text messages plan, called mediamax, I think, from cingular right now.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:04 PM on August 28, 2006

Your spendy new phone will probably love you better if you clone the SIM instead of physically swapping the SIM back and forth between two phones(if that's necessary). Just make sure that you never have both phones on at the same time.

posted by Orb2069 at 7:24 PM on August 28, 2006

Response by poster: Well, I can't offer any comments about the phone yet and whether or not that was a good decision, but I can wholeheartedly report that MeFites should steer clear of Whether they are genuinely dishonest, or just remarkably incompetent, I cannot say. But I'm pretty sure I'll never give them another shot.
posted by j-dawg at 9:05 AM on September 5, 2006

Response by poster: Okay, one more update for searching posterity. I ended up buying the E70 on eBay, and signing up with T-Mobile.

By a weirdly lucky fluke, I bought it from the first guy with eBay selling legit North American models drop shipped from Nokia themselves. Contrary to pre-release reports, it does include WiFi, although it drops WCDMA. It is hands down the best phone I've ever owned. And while its PDA chops aren't quite up to Palm standards, I'm pretty happy with S60 overall as a platform.

Similarly, I've been blown away by the quality of T-Mobile compared with my experiences with Sprint. Admittedly, I haven't had anything challenging come up, but coverage and call quality have been great, while data speeds are adequate.

Even though I ended up with the 850MHz compatible phone, this was an enormously useful thread. Thanks!
posted by j-dawg at 9:32 AM on September 14, 2006

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