5G – Here And Getting Closer
I outlined some basics on the new 5G towers a few weeks ago, but I wanted to simplify and add to it as well. Basically there are two 5G technologies being deployed in this country at the moment, sub-6 and mmWave. T-Mobile and ATT are going mostly with the sub-6, which will reach more people. Verizon is going with mmWave, which is even faster but restricted to specific spots like stadiums, stations, or a place like Times Square. Consequently, Verizon is way behind. Ultimately, all of these carriers will deploy a mix of both types of 5G towers. If you are due for a new phone, I am going to give you my opinion as to when 5G should mean something to you. This does not mean give up on your carrier or that your carrier is bad or that you need to throw out your 6 month old phone to get a 5G phone. I’ve uttered no such words. I got a real life test of 5G on the T-Mobile network in Boston last week. My wife’s 5G Samsung clocked in at double the speed of my iPhone 11. Therefore, if you are a T-Mobile customer — I would say the time to buy a 5G phone (again if you are phone shopping) would be as soon as these iPhone 12 models come out. Then you will have a mix of low end phones like the Revvl 5G, or the Samsungs, and the iPhones to choose from — all with 5G. ATT is at the middle of the pack. Their 5G is not as widely deployed as T-Mobiles, but they are getting there. If you still want to save some money by buying that iPhone SE, go for it. But by 2021, early next year, I think you should definitely be considering a 5G phone if you are phone shopping. With Verizon, on the other hand, I think there is no rush to get a 5G phone — probably until the 2nd half of next year. Ultimately, two years from now, Verizon may end up having the best 5G network. Slow and steady wins the race? We hope or they hope! Rumor has it that only the super expensive iPhone 12 Pro Max model will even be able to communicate with Verizon’s mmWave towers. The other 3 models coming out this fall will not. If I were a Verizon customer, 5G wouldn’t even be a part of my thought process yet. (And yes, you can still buy any of the other iPhone 12 models to use with Verizon’s existing network.)
Fall Is Peak Season For Technology
Fall is the busy season in my business and in the world of personal technology. We will see new iPhones before the end of October, perhaps in two separate launches for the 4 models expected to be released. New Apple Watches as well as iPads (possibly) will be coming out next week from Apple. There will be brand new computers from Microsoft, including a reported “moderately priced” Surface laptop. Wait there’s more! Apple is coming out with a brand new macOS 11 which is supposed to be the biggest deal for the Mac in 20 years since OS X came out. Finally, ioS 14 / iPad OS 14 will be here quite soon. Let’s make sure you have a backup first. And for my students in the back of the class, if you have a 5+ year old Verizon flip phone (iPhone 5s or 5c too), it’s time to get a new one. Verizon is retiring its old calling network on 12/31/2020. Your old phone will be a paperweight. What a season we can have together — I’m looking forward to being there for you, every step of the way! Now you know why I get excited about the fall!!
I represent about an equal number of Windows vs. Mac clients. A few are iPad or Chromebook only. I just wanted to say that if you are not absolutely locked in to particular apps on the Mac or you might be turned off by some of Apple’s decisions with the Mac or leery of the upcoming processor transition — you could probably do really well with a solid business class Windows desktop or laptop. Excluding any possible discounts or outlet purchases, I think you can get a nice system for $800 to $900. These computers cannot be purchased in stores. I know how to order them and have been doing so for years. The kind of computers I have in mind are often repairable and upgradable — serviceable is the word I am looking for. There is a reason why the State, the big hospital systems, and big insurance companies buy these computers by the hundreds (if not thousands) — they stand the test of time. They’re not buying Macs. It’s just something to keep in mind. With that said, I have helped Mac clients switch to Windows and Windows clients switch to Mac. I am a versatile provider of technology consulting services, with no preconceived notion that one platform is best for all clients.
Not Everyone Gets The Same Priority
I am talking about data prioritization with your cell phone plan. I have touched on this in the past, but I wanted to revisit it. Did you know that some of you might have prioritized data with your carrier and some of you may not? There is an order of data — when on a congested tower — where some users will be given preferred access and others may be slowed down or get slowed down to a crawl. (Prioritization is different than being capped or throttled. A cap would be — you get 5 GB of total data per month and you are totally cut off after that. A throttle would be — we limit all traffic to 5 mb/s even if you can get a faster speed in theory. Some plans are throttled to a very slow speed after reaching the cap.) But what I really wanted to address here is the idea of prioritization. You might be out and about trying to book a restaurant order or launch the Maps app or even buy some clothing for quick online pickup — then your phone just slows to a crawl. It’s possible that you are being deprioritized. There may be a lot of other users on that tower with priority over you. There is a good chance that it won’t happen to you. It might be congestion, however you just might not have the “top banana” priority. I haven’t heard of it happening a lot locally, but there are definitely parts of the country that are oversaturated on Verizon towers, ATT towers, etc. They have no choice but to route traffic with a certain order.
Let me just state a couple examples to help you clear up the confusion. If you get a monthly bill and you are on an older Verizon / ATT plan and you get like 2 GB of data per month, 4 GB, 8 GB — you are prioritized. If you have the first tier of Verizon’s new unlimited plans known as Start or Go unlimited – you are always deprioritized. Again, it may never be a problem for you. I just want you to know. The next level of Verizon’s unlimited plans tells customers they can be deprioritized after 25 GB of use (which is probably a lot more than most of you would use in a given month). Prepaid plans are generally always deprioritized, although ATT Prepaid has some exceptions.
Here are a couple of Bonus Features for you today.
Fax Is Back
With one company in particular and actually a couple of parties, I have been doing a lot of faxing lately. I haven’t had a true home phone with the phone company since 2012. From 2012-2016, I had a service called VOIPo for my home phone. Basically I plugged an adapter into my router and then positioned a couple of cordless phones throughout the home. At some point in my time as a customer, they allowed me to upload scanned documents (or computer created documents) and they would fax them out for me. In mid-2016, I decided that I didn’t really need the fax perk anymore and changed to a well known internet based home phone called Magic Jack. As I have shared before, I pay a whopping $40 per year for my home phone and use it for all of 5 minutes a month. Ultimately, I cannot fax with Magic Jack. So what did I do? I signed up with Humble Fax for $10 / month and no long term contract. This service gave me a local fax number. It allows me to scan documents to the computer and upload them to my Humble Fax portal. I can then compose a little cover page and send the fax out. It’s awesome. I can also receive faxes and get them delivered to my e-mail.
Still Rockin’ With T-Mobile
The subject of T-Mobile came up with a client recently and I just wanted to say that I am pleased to report that my wife and I still love them, 14 months later. They are the best big tech / telecom company I have ever dealt with. We are on the 2 for $70 / unlimited age 55+ plan. Only one person on the plan needs to be 55 or older. Our price includes all taxes and junk fees. As for the promises delivered on, here are the major ones. When we ported in from Verizon, they promised to pay off our phones. We each had a year remaining and about $600 total left on our phone loans. Within 14 days, I got a virtual Mastercard with the exact payoff amount loaded so that I could pay off Verizon. My wife is a big fan of the Samsung Galaxy phones and not an iPhone user. When the Galaxy S20 orders started in February, she was all in. The prices went up this year and the S20 was $999. However, it became more palatable when T-Mobile (through some kind of arrangement with Samsung) promised to give my wife $500 for her 2 year old Galaxy S9+. That phone only has a street value of about $150, approximately. About 3 weeks after receiving the phone in early March, T-Mobile delivered. $95 was given to us as a Bill Credit. $405 was put on a pre-paid Mastercard. I was then able to take that Mastercard and pay it all on my wife’s phone loan, knocking it down by 40%. Promises made, promises kept! If you are interested in that 2 for $70 plan, I can talk with you about it. It may not be for everyone and if you have the right iPhone (2018 models and later), I think I can set you up with a “bridge the gap” strategy to make this work optimally.
It feels like March 2016 again only better. Apple — overpriced? An Apple Tax to buy all of those Apple products? Not right now. First of all, they came out with a 2020 Mac Book Air a few weeks ago, with the good keyboard and LOWERED the price to $999. Apple knows that buyers are scared and budgets are constrained. So what did they do? They released a $399 iPhone SE on Wednesday, with the SAME CPU inside as the iPhone 11 / Pro.
I am not making this up. It is 100% for real. In March 2016, they first launched the SE line @ $399. However it was a really small 4.0 inch design based off of the 2013 iPhone 5s. I bought one that summer and used it as my daily driver for more than 18 months. The SE is back and better than ever. The screen is now 4.7 inches. If you have an iPhone 6, 6s, 7 or 8 — the new SE is the same size and timeless design put out by Apple back in 2014. Especially if you are still using a 6 (which will not get any more updates), 6s or 7 — this phone purchase is a no brainer. Do it! You may just choose to buy it outright or you could do interest free payments with your carrier for $16.66 a month for 24 months.
$699 iPhone 11? $999 iPhone 11 Pro? Unless you need to have 2 phone lines on 1 phone or some of the advanced features, you probably don’t need that more expensive phone. An iPhone SE would suit most of my clients just fine.
While many of my clients have incomes that are not necessarily affected by the COVID-19 crisis, investments have been drastically affected. I know that some of you are still working or are volunteering for organizations that are feeling some serious pressure right now. There is a natural inclination to want to save on costs. I have just a couple of ideas for you. T-Mobile, ATT, and Cricket (a subsidiary of ATT) are all offering plans that are $15 / mo for unlimited talk and text and 2 GB of data. I would say 70% of my clients use less than this much data in a month. Sick of paying $200 – $300 a month for a cable bill? If you are not a big TV watcher (so depressing these days, right?) why not consider going Internet only. In West Hartford, Go Netspeed is an awesome fiber optic option for $50 / month. If you can get solid speeds with the phone company (like 25 mbps or greater), you can usually get service for about $50 a month. Finally, you could go Internet only with a service like Comcast, you can get a plan for about $75 a month (and possibly less with a promo). If you are going to do Cable internet only, purchase your own modem and save the $15 / mo rental.
Technology Built with Slave Labor?
I only read this one story by the Associated Press so far and I am looking to confirm this against other sources. However, if it is really true that gadgets made by Lenovo, Apple and other companies are being made with forced Muslim slave labor — I think we need to change how we shop for technology. It’s a sickening feeling. Do we really know what it takes to make our high tech gadgets? I will report back when I know more.
There are some products relevant to many of you — such as a low cost iPhone and new Mac Books with the GOOD 2015-style keyboards — that were expected to come out as early as the end of this month. Given the disruption to the Chinese supply chain, it is now expected that you will have to wait a little bit longer. If you wanted one of these items, try to hold out a little bit longer. If your tech goes kaput before then, you will just have to choose from a product currently available.
Carrier Cell Phone Stores – Shopping Advice
I think I may have shared on this before, but I promised to touch on it again. There is nothing wrong with shopping at an ATT or Verizon store to buy your new smartphone. However, if you choose to go this route as opposed to buying online or buying at the Apple store, make sure you buy a couple of accessories from your salesperson. Some customers will go into the store and be insistent on just buying the phone only. Also, they may “shop” in store, buy online and then come into the store and expect the salesperson to set up the phone. I used to think it was no big deal, but then I heard from some real in-store sales staff. If a customer comes in a store and buys a phone without accessories, the sales rep can get fired for that. It’s a reality. These sales jobs are good middle class jobs. With this said, I offer you the option of buying your online with me and let me set up your phone for you. However, I know that you may ultimately want that in-store, hands on experience. If so, try to make it a sustainable transaction for all parties involved.
I just wanted to send this note out to a few of you whom I thought would be very interested to know.
The source is today’s Wall Street Journal, on WSJ.com. Apple has reversed course from previous guidance. Disinfecting wipes, like Clorox are now OK for the iPhone. Sprays are still bad.
Super Bowl Recap
What a game last night! Technology was a big part of the game — as there were 4K viewing options — and furthermore “tech” was featured prominently in the ads. Verizon and T-Mobile were jockeying for position regarding their 5G networks. Should you be concerned about 5G? It’s just getting off the ground and available for consistent use in a limited number of places. When Apple starts selling phones with 5G features — then you can take it seriously. If you need a phone right now, there is no need to feel bad about not having 5G. Get the best phone for yourself. Speaking of other ads, Google had a very touching ad where an older man used Google to take notes to help him remember his favorite memories with his wife. You too can use Google like this and use the Google Photos app. Google does invade our privacy a bit, but I don’t think they are doing it to be a malicious company. Plus — they do let you see all the data they have saved on you and you can download or erase it at any time. Google is an advertising company and I don’t like how they have “blacklisted” people in certain industries, like the health field Ultimately, one of their mottoes used to be “Don’t Be Evil” and I think for the most part — they are not. Were any of you up out of your seat during the halftime show? I was dancing a bit and my wife was laughing at me. Don’t worry, I will not ask you to dance at our next appointment. I know some of you are getting older and have a lot of aches and pains. After all, Shakira would say — the “Hips Don’t Lie”.
A Bit of Guidance on Xfinity Mobile
I just wanted to brief you on some developments with Xfinity Mobile. Some of my clients use this newcomer in the cellular field. They are a “virtual network operator” and run their calls through the Verizon network. There have been some changes to the offerings that started last year and fully took effect February 1st. XM offers a very simple pricing model — $12 for 1 GB — a low use plan or $45 for “Unlimited” — a great plan for very active users. There was a loophole that some customers who signed up prior to “fall 2019” were able to latch on to. If you used VERY LITTLE data, less than 100 MB (or 1/10 of 1 GB) your bill for services was $0 and you would only pay $3 or so for taxes. Obviously, how long could that go on for? Some customers abused the system. So now it is a minimum of $12 per month their low use “by the gig” plan. The next tier up from the $12 plan is $30 for 3 GB of use. The $45 “unlimited” plan is still in effect. I will also give a word of warning about buying phones from them. As is the case with many carrier sold phones, these devices are LOCKED to the network. You cannot get them unlocked unless the phone payment plan is paid off in full. Again, this is often standard practice out there for financed devices — with some exceptions. The other thing I want to make you aware of is that Xfinity Mobile has poor options for international travel. By poor options I mean — they are expensive. You can just resolve to use your phone on WiFi only overseas or use it lightly. Those are options. However, they don’t have a $10 / day Day Pass type option like Verizon or ATT where you can just take your plan with you when you go. With all this said, I just want to be totally up front with you about XM. I still have a line in my name that a family member uses.
The End of Deals?
I mentioned how I helped a client save over $500 annually on their Comcast bill last week. Unfortunately, that might be the last notch I can put in my “service savings belt” for a while. One thing I predict is that it is going to be harder to strike deals with them in the new year due to their “Vision 2020” campaign. This is an internal company framework which states that they are not going to give discounts to existing customers like they used to. The reason why I was able to save the aforementioned client so much was because she was paying for a pricing model that was out of date for the package she had. There were no contracts or promotions signed up for. Of course you can save money by cutting services, but when I bring that up not many have an appetite for doing so. Be flexible, consider competitors, especially those areas of West Hartford where Go Net Speed exists.
Cell Phone Market Is Changing – Part 2
I see real changes coming to the market toward the end of the year and going forward. Remember, back in the day, when Verizon was known for those “Can you hear me now?” commercials with Test Man Paul? (He works for Sprint now, go figure!) Their greatness was built on their CDMA digital calling network which launched in the mid 1990s. As analog was phased out in the early 2000s, that Verizon CDMA signal was known to penetrate everywhere — especially buildings. Starting in around 2014, Verizon, ATT and the other carriers began rolling out calling on their LTE data network. Some would argue that the calls are clearer, but I think the signal just doesn’t have the reach of the old CDMA and legacy calling networks. ATT shut down their GSM network a few years ago, but they still have 3G calling to fall back on along with LTE. Verizon’s CDMA calling network will be completely shut down by 01/01/21, after extending the deadline by a year in 2019.
Verizon says the CDMA shutdown is necessary to fully roll out LTE and 5G everywhere. This is a last call for all of the Verizon people out there. If you have an iPhone 5s or older, old Android phone (non LTE calling), or old flip phone — You will need a new device by the end of 2020. Verizon has no 3G calling network to fall back on. I really wonder if the improvements to the LTE calling network will make up for the elimination of CDMA. Furthermore, 5G will add new wavelengths and capacity that we can communicate on but 5G phones are cost prohibitive right now and owned by so few. Wait until Apple starts selling 5G phones, then you know it will be the right time to buy one. Then you will know that this new technology is ready for everyday use.
One score and one miss.
I will start with miss first. I know that some of you are likely looking for a quality laptop this year. You know how I rave about the Lenovo Thinkpad (IBM’s old line) and the Dell Latitude systems. In fact they are better than the current crop of Mac Books. For what seemed like this weekend only, Lenovo was offering an unbelievable $629 price on a fully decked out Thinkpad T480. It was brand new, even though the T480 was the 2018 model. I wish I could have gotten this information out to you sooner but I just wasn’t able to. By Monday morning, the price had jumped back to $2029. This 14 inch laptop is every bit as high quality as a 13 / 15 inch Mac Book Pro and in my opinion better.
I am pleased to report that I was successful in helping a client save big money on their Comcast bill. I was able to get them an annualized savings of $576, with monthly pricing going from $268 to $220. The name of the Comcast package was called Select Triple Play. The particulars that influenced this deal included a phone modem rented from Comcast ($14 – 15 approx.) 2 cable boxes, and HD service was included in the deal. The Select Triple Play includes the Digital Preferred cable TV package, one level higher than the “standard” TV package, and Blast internet (300 mbps). This deal is apparently an everyday price, no strings had to be pulled and no arms had to be twisted. Fees can go up in the future, as always. Please see my last update. In this scenario, the client could save the modem rental charge by buying their own telephone capable modem (approx $200) but it would take about 1.5 years for the cost savings to equal out. Given that this particular client’s house is known for lightning strikes and modems have been replaced in the past — renting is likely the best option.
If you are wondering about the Standard Triple Play, pricing will be a little less. If you can get a promotion guaranteed for 12 or 24 months, pricing will be even lower but you will have to sign a contract on those promos. What I can say is this, if you are getting all 3 services from Comcast not including any extra packages – $175 to $225 is very normal these days. As with the computers, promotional packages can be here one week and gone the next.
Preview: Cell Phone Market is Changing
I am going to get into this more in a future update. However, I see the cell phone market changing a lot as we move to the end of 2020 and beyond. Old networks are being shut down and the carriers are going to rely exclusively on advanced networks like LTE and 5G. There have been a ton of layoffs and I think this has put a lot of strain on delivering positive customer experiences.
Based on personal experiences and helping clients, I would say my ranking of best providers in terms of customer service are
1. Consumer Cellular (ATT Network)
3. Xfinity Mobile (there will be some changes coming Feb 1, however)
*Verizon has really fallen in my opinion. I also don’t have a lot of data to go off of with ATT directly, that is why I did not mention them. A provider can have great service on technical merits, but I think what my typical client (age 60+) cares so much about is the level of customer care provided. No one wants to wait on the phone for 2 or 3 hours to be heard.