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Tech: Aux Cell Phone ICE in non-Service Area

Barbara Shaw 24 Jun 09 - 07:53 PM
JohnInKansas 25 Jun 09 - 01:38 AM
Barbara Shaw 25 Jun 09 - 07:57 AM
Barbara Shaw 26 Jun 09 - 10:48 AM
open mike 26 Jun 09 - 11:03 AM
Barbara Shaw 26 Jun 09 - 11:13 AM
JohnInKansas 26 Jun 09 - 01:11 PM
Rabbi-Sol 26 Jun 09 - 01:30 PM
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Subject: Tech: Aux Cell Phone ICE in non-Service Area
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 24 Jun 09 - 07:53 PM

Here's the problem: we went to a bluegrass festival in VT last weekend and our AT&T cell phones worked only sporadically. When we go to the Grey Fox festival in NY state, our cell phones do not work there either.

Those areas are fine if you have Verizon as your carrier, but other carriers seem to be blocked or extremely limited.

I was very unnerved all weekend being incommunicado, because of family responsibilities at home, but the issue became serious when we had a tire blowout on our camper on the ride home from VT. We sat by the side of the interstate for almost 3 hours waiting to get it fixed, because it took so long to summon help with our sporadic phone reception.

My plan is to get a cheap pay-as-you-go phone that works in the Verizon network for just such circumstances.

Tracphone seems to have a "service end date" which as far as I can tell only lasts for 60 days from the time of activation, and nothing on the package or website (that I can find) tells me whether it will work in Verizon territory. Other carriers seem to have "plans" which require you to sign up one way or another.

Anyone have any experience or advice for this particular problem?

P.S. And why the heck can't these carriers have reciprocal agreements?

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Subject: RE: Tech: Aux Cell Phone ICE in non-Service Area
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 25 Jun 09 - 01:38 AM

The "prepaid phones" are one of the cheaper ways to have a phone handy, but service is variable. Nearly all of them work pretty much the same.

You purchase a phone that includes a microchip that sets it to use one of the available services as it's "brand." Usually the phone as purchased has just about enough "time" in its account to let you register and get turned on. On the prepaid phones, the "purchase price" usually is a real bargain. (When the battery failed in my $14.95 Nokia, the replacement battery listed at $87. I tossed it and just bought a new $10 phone.)

You purchase "time cards" to add minutes of service and also to extend the service period. Most of the cards extend the service period by 60 days, but there are some significant differences. Some cards add 60 days from the expiration date for your current period, while others just reset to 60 days after the last card added. The calendar time generally is the same for all the "cheap" cards for a given service, but you can buy cards with a range of prices to add various numbers of minutes. Most "brands" also have "annual cards" that add 200 or so minutes but are good for a year, usually for around $100 (US).

The trick is to buy the number of minutes you're likely to use within the service period (or extension of the period) that also goes with the card.

Usually, if you run out of minutes you can add another card to get more minutes, within the calendar time you've already added, without the need to re-register; but this varies with the "brand."

For most cards, if the "service time" expires while you have minutes left, you lose the accumulated minutes, so it's important to watch the "end date" and add a card before the expiration date if you want to keep the phone in use. For some cards, 00:00:01 on the expiration date is "too late."

I have used AllTel with a Nokia phone and in some locations it was better than Lin's TracFone (also Nokia), but in general the TracFone service (in the places we frequented) has been better. I've recently switched to TracFone, but with a Motorola machine; and in my opinion the Motorola is much more "user friendly" than the Nokias we've had. (Lin disagrees, but I believe it's just to avoid agreeing with me.)

I also got lucky and found a "special" that promised "double minutes for life" so my $10.95 Motorola gets me twice the minutes (120 minutes on a $20 card), although the service time remains at 90 days. (The AllTel was 60 days per card.) The "automatic double time" difference is less significant than it might seem though, since as soon as you register with TracFone you start getting "special offers" via email that let you get "double minutes" if you give them the "code" for the current offer when you "add the card."

In an out of the way location, you usually have to be able to connect to a server for the "brand" you have, but once the initial contact is made your calls may be "relayed" via any available service; and if the call is relayed "out of service" - i.e. via another carrier - there may be "extra charges" in the form of multiple minutes per minute of call deducted from your time balance.

In some areas, an alternate carrier may pick up your call, but once the connection is made you may have to re-enter the number being called so that the alternate carrier can handle it as a "foreign client" call, and "roaming fees" will nearly always apply.

Verizon is reported by the tech media as having the broadest available coverage, both in the US and internationally; but I don't recall seeing Verizon "prepaid service" phones or cards on the rack, although I haven't really looked. They may be a "subscriber only" service and may require a contract for all direct connections(?).

For the prepaid phones with the (I think) more common 60 day cards, a $20 card gets you 2 months service, at about $10 per month. With the current TracFone 90 days per card, you're down to about $6.70 per month, if the 60 (or 120 if doubled) minutes will last you three months.

If the Verizon (or AT&T) coverage is satisfactory for most of your use, you might consider buying an additional separate prepaid phone specific to the "problem areas" you're in only occasionally - without regard to which service it uses if you can find one that works where you will be. If you let the "service period" lapse, you lose any accumulated minutes, but the new card to "reactivate" the phone just for the time you'll need it may be a bargain. Note though, that there may be time limits for how long you can be in "lapsed service" without a very real hassle with getting turned back on.

Even if you have to buy a $20 phone and a $20 card - and toss it when the festival is over - you might still find it a worthwhile investment if you really need to keep in touch. (Although your friends may look at you a bit strangely if you tell them "the new phone number is only good next week.")


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Subject: RE: Tech: Aux Cell Phone ICE in non-Service Area
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 25 Jun 09 - 07:57 AM

Thanks, JohnInKansas. Subsequent to my post I was told by a friend that his Tracfone does not work at Grey Fox in NY, despite it's claim to work on all networks. Verizon does have a pay-as-you go phone at WalMart, but there was no one to answer any questions about it. I'll go to the Verizon store today to discuss the options.

It was also suggested to me that my AT&T phone is old and I would get much better reception with a newer phone. That doesn't seem to be my problem in these Verizon areas, because my laptop connect card (brand new AT&T) also didn't work there.

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Subject: RE: Tech: Aux Cell Phone ICE in non-Service Area
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 10:48 AM

Spoke to the people at Verizon. They do have pre-paid phones but none available in the store. WalMart has them (and others), along with cards to add minutes.

One of the Verizon plans which seems to be the best deal for me is a "core" plan which charges you 99 cents each day that you use the phone -only one charge per day- and then 10 cents a minute, which comes off your pre-paid card.

The cards are $15 for 30 days, with economies on up to a $100 card for 365 days. When the service days expire (e.g. after 30 days on the $15 card) you can add more time, hopefully before it expires. If you expire the time and don't use the phone for -I think they said- 30 days, your phone goes out of service and the phone number goes back into the pool. Then you have to jump through a few hoops to reactivate the phone.

No activation charge initially for the phone service, by the way, and no contract. The card apparently gets activated the first time you use it and the 30 days starts then. However, something is also activated at the register when you pay for it, enabling you to subsequently use it.

The services all say they have at least marginal coverage in the areas we're concerned about, but only Verizon had a "repeater" at the Grey Fox Festival in Oak Hill, NY. So Verizon people there had full coverage, while the others were sporadic. And Verizon is the only one that worked fully in Vermont.

So here I am, a loyal AT&T retiree getting Verizon service...

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Subject: RE: Tech: Aux Cell Phone ICE in non-Service Area
From: open mike
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 11:03 AM

and "ice" is? (In Case of Emergency??)

isn't there some recommendation that people enter a number in their
cell phone listed under ICE in the number listings...for someone to
call incase the phone owner is not able to use the phone?

i have had experience with being in a place where my phone
(att/cingular) didn't work but those all around me were talking
away on their verizon phones.

I would like to know more about the lap top connect card...
is ATT the only provider?

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Subject: RE: Tech: Aux Cell Phone ICE in non-Service Area
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 11:13 AM

ICE is In Case of Emergency, and they do recommend that you include a number under ICE in your cell phone address book. This would be a number for someone else to call your emergency contact, in case you are incapacitated.

AT&T is not the only provider of laptop connect cards, I know Verizon also has something similar and probably many others have it. I got mine through AT&T and it works easily and well, but only where AT&T cell phones work. It's basically another "phone number" and mine is a small USB attachment that I plug into the USB port on my laptop. I needed to download some software (AT&T Communications Manager) which I start up when I want to use the connect card. It locates the network and then I can open the internet browser normally.

You need to subscribe to a service to use the connect card, and one of the cheapest was not cheap, about $60 per month.

(Not easy feeding this internet addiction I have, but important when we're travelling and need to keep in touch...)

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Subject: RE: Tech: Aux Cell Phone ICE in non-Service Area
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 01:11 PM

In the US, any cell phone, whether activated, with or without time prepaid, with or without a contract, or otherwise (except with a dead battery) is REQUIRED TO CALL and connect when you dial 911 - any time and any place.

The "clinker" in that is that there are large spaces between towns and in small towns where there is no "911" service to connect to.

All cell phones sold recently also are required to have a "GPS" sensor that emergency services (like 911 operators) can query to find your location - but again only a small percentage of 911 services have the ability to read the location info. Some 911 operators can get only a general area (by identifying the "tower" that picks up the call) but this is seldom accurate enough to dispatch help without additional information. The most accurate systems "triangulate" your location by the signal strength at multiple towers, and can locate you within a fairly small area if you're signal can be picked up by more than one tower. Probably the majority of 911 systems are "completely clueless" unless you can tell them where you are.

Some phones allow you to select whether to give "location information" to persons you call (other than emergency responders), but the person receiving the call must have a phone capable of displaying the information and few are. Some parents turn this feature on so that when the kid calls home they know (fairly accurately) the true physical location the call comes from; but most parents probably don't know that the capability exists - and any kid with a cell phone knows how to turn it off and argue that they called "from a place with a weak signal."

While ICE has been recommended as a "standard addition" to your phone book on the phone, there have been several others similarly suggested; and as the question above indicates there are many who don't automatically recognize the meaning of ICE.

Others you might want to include:

1. ICE
3. Owner (and/or SELF)
5. Spouse (if applicable)

The last few are helpful if someone (honest enough) finds your lost phone and wants to call you to tell you where to retrieve it.

The "activation" of a card, done at the point of purchase, merely reads the "card number" and transmits the information that someone has paid for that card. Without that activation, the service will not accept the minutes/days when you punch in the "secret number" for the card that's under the "scratch off" wax strip.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Aux Cell Phone ICE in non-Service Area
From: Rabbi-Sol
Date: 26 Jun 09 - 01:30 PM

Hi Barbara,
            The company that you want is Consumer Cellular which we got through AARP.

Their service works over both, AT&T (Cingular) as well as Verizon cell towers, and there is never a roaming charge.

There is no contract involved and they have a minimal monthly charge which is quite reasonable.

They give you a free phone but it does not have all the bells and whistles on it. But as long as you can make and receive calls it is well worth it for the price.

They are also quite flexible and easy to work with. If you anticipate a month of heavy usage they will allow you to change your plan to more minutes and then change back again to the original plan the following month. This feature came in very handy last Summer when Fay was in the hospital having her hip surgery.

Try them and I am sure you will be satisfied.


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