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I left AT&T after many years of being with them, because they simply charge too much for data and their cell coverage is pretty awful [where I live]. There are many places near where I live that require better coverage than anything AT&T was willing to do. I know because I complained many times to AT&T about their coverage. I've moved on to T-Mobile with unlimited data, texting and much better coverage.
T-Mobile, yes. Free text and data all over Europe, as well. I don't even need to mess with SIMs. Two phones on their "senior" plan total $60/month. No complaints at all.
 


T-Mobile, yes. Free text and data all over Europe, as well. I don't even need to mess with SIMs. Two phones on their "senior" plan total $60/month. No complaints at all.
They seem to be a good company, but in my area, alas, their coverage is lacking compared to AT&T.

If I could afford them, the company I would go with (based solely on coverage, mind you) is Verizon.
 


They seem to be a good company, but in my area, alas, their coverage is lacking compared to AT&T.
How recently have you personally tested that? A lot of people live in areas where T-Mobile is rumored to have weak coverage - me included (in Central Florida). During the past 2 years or so, they've made huge leaps in increasing coverage to the point where now AT&T is the one with the annoying dead spots.

The only disadvantage with T-Mobile I've had yet is they still have trouble maintaining generator power at their towers, so if there is a power outage, sometimes there won't be any cell phone service in selected areas. I usually report those as I spot them.
 


You can get much better rates for any carrier if you can live with the limitations of an MVNO. The two primary ones off the top of my head are (1) no roaming - so pick a carrier with good coverage where you need it. (2) deprioritization - if you are in a congested area you will get lower data speeds at busy times. There are probably others.

To get an idea of some options you can check here:

 



I left AT&T after many years of being with them, because they simply charge too much for data and their cell coverage is pretty awful [where I live]. There are many places near where I live that require better coverage than anything AT&T was willing to do. I know because I complained many times to AT&T about their coverage. I've moved on to T-Mobile with unlimited data, texting and much better coverage.
I left AT&T after being with them since the iPhone started when I only could get service from AT&T. Not saying they are the worst - I believe cell phone service providers are not the best vendors to deal with - but after years of overcharging for data, poor coverage, and an unlimited data plan that I could not use based on their restrictions, I finally pulled the plug and am now with T-Mobile. I also have about 30% more battery capacity, because the fight to maintain service through wifi calling would drain my phone. Now I don't need to use wi-fi calling, because I have 4 bars vs 1 bar. I pay about 40% less a month. And my new AT&T was on a limited data plan, but my T-Mobile plan is unlimited. Not looking back.
 


I know this has been covered ad nauseaum, but here in Israel, I'm paying 33 Shekels a month - less than $10 - for unlimited talk + SMS* + LTE data - 80Gb + 1GB data abroad + 200 minutes a month international calls. Something is wrong with the entire US industry.

(*Actually I think the unlimited SMS means something like "reasonable use" - perhaps defined as 5000 texts and 5000 minutes a month - I never hit that limit.)
 


We've been using Airvoice Wireless (an MNVO on the AT&T network) for a bunch of years now on their $10/month plan, which gives us more talk/text allotment than we generally use each month (with minimal data use), and the unused cash generally rolls over. Their online presence is minimal and customer service less than ideal, but I doubt we could find a much better arrangement.
 


I know this has been covered ad nauseaum, but here in Israel, I'm paying 33 Shekels a month - less than $10 - for unlimited talk + SMS* + LTE data - 80Gb + 1GB data abroad + 200 minutes a month international calls. Something is wrong with the entire US industry.
(*Actually I think the unlimited SMS means something like "reasonable use" - perhaps defined as 5000 texts and 5000 minutes a month - I never hit that limit.)
It is hard to compare cell phone costs because of the geographic circumstances. For example, I live in Montana, which is about 700 miles wide and about 300 miles north to south. We have about 1 million people living in this area. The majority live in towns with a few cities of 30,000 to 80,000.

The population density makes a lot of difference in the cost of the infrastructure. Location also makes a difference. My electric cost is $.072 (US) per kilowatt hour. Why? Most of our power comes from hydro-electric from dams built in the 1930's. We have no toll roads, and speed and traffic light cameras are illegal. We do need air conditioning but definitely need heating. We do not run our heat in July. One way to compare costs around the world is to compare the local cost of a Big Mac hamburger.
 



We've been using Airvoice Wireless (an MNVO on the AT&T network) for a bunch of years now on their $10/month plan, which gives us more talk/text allotment than we generally use each month (with minimal data use), and the unused cash generally rolls over. Their online presence is minimal and customer service less than ideal, but I doubt we could find a much better arrangement.
if I recall correctly Airvoice is one of the AT&T MVNOs that does not support MMS. Has this been true in your experience?
 



My wife's iPhone 4S has been dying a slow but painful death over the past few weeks. It has been a real trooper, being used for over 6 years (!) on the Page Plus network. This is a very low-use phone, and we just get either $10 or $25 pay-as-you-go refills every few months. I was going to just buy another 4S on eBay, but it seems that Page Plus will no longer activate phones which don't support voice over LTE (VoLTE). This means that the oldest iphone I can use on their network is now the iPhone SE. The 5 and the 5s can't be used. Too bad.
 


...it seems that Page Plus will no longer activate phones which don't support voice over LTE (VoLTE).
This is not the doing of Page Plus, specifically. Verizon has stated that their 3G CDMA network is shutting down at the end of this year, which unfortunately rules out devices that use LTE for data only. This trickles down to companies that use their network, such as PagePlus.
 


I still use an iPhone 4S, which is 4G but not LTE. In my area, the cell signal is weak and lately has been getting worse. I took it to see the Genius, but they would not run any diagnostics, probably because it is vintage, and could only suggest updating to the latest compatible iOS (9.3?), which I am reluctant to do, because it would likely have a very negative performance impact. I don't remember seeing any notes here or elsewhere that indicate that any of the updates improved cell reception.

Anyway, he also suggested buying a new iPhone to get the LTE capability. He says that the 4G network is being gradually switched over to LTE, so coverage will continue to degrade. However, he couldn't explain the difference.

Near as I can tell, to officially claim 4G support means that the device has to meet a very lofty set of performance requirements (100 Mb/s?), which no one actually comes close to meeting. When a phone displays the little 4G logo, apparently that doesn't mean you are getting 4G speed but maybe a little faster than 3G. LTE is more of a marketing term that just means the device meets a set of relaxed performance requirements.

So I'm trying to determine if a new iPhone will actually help.

Note: I just use it for phone, text messages, and playing music. I am still running iOS 5 on it and don't care about having the latest and greatest apps and other junk on it. I care about cell reception and the ability to make phone calls, not running apps.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
So I'm trying to determine if a new iPhone will actually help.
It's hard to tell without actually trying one, but Apple does give you 14 days to test and return an iPhone, if you want.

We just had an iPhone 6s, which has been a great phone since purchase in 2015, deteriorate to the point where it had to be replaced, despite having battery capacity of 87%. An iPhone Xr that replaced it is getting "cellular service in places that had previously been dead zones", according to the owner. (The carrier is Consumer Cellular over AT&T.)

As an experiment, you could also test cellular performance of your iPhone 4s while connected to an external power source vs. running on a partly depleted battery to see if that makes any difference in cellular signal quality (e.g. by using more transmitter power).
 


As an experiment, you could also test cellular performance of your iPhone 4s while connected to an external power source vs. running on a partly depleted battery to see if that makes any difference in cellular signal quality (e.g. by using more transmitter power).
I have tried it on external power, it doesn't make any difference. I had the Apple Store replace the battery 2 years ago, so the capacity is good. If I get a new iPhone to test, and decide it isn't any better, will they transfer my number back to the old phone?

I remember reading that one of the iOS updates changed something about cell reception. I think it only changed how signal strength was displayed and did not actually improve the reception.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
If I get a new iPhone to test, and decide it isn't any better, will they transfer my number back to the old phone?
I forgot about SIM compatibility and the fact that your iPhone 4s SIM is too large to fit into a newer iPhone SIM slot. What carrier are you using? Some (e.g. T-Mobile) may be easier for switching a phone number between one phone and another (e.g. using online account access).
 


I forgot about SIM compatibility and the fact that your iPhone 4s SIM is too large to fit into a newer iPhone SIM slot. What carrier are you using? Some (e.g. T-Mobile) may be easier for switching a phone number between one phone and another (e.g. using online account access).
I have AT&T. I don't think switching carriers will help the reception. The problem is no cell towers nearby.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
I have AT&T. I don't think switching carriers will help the reception. The problem is no cell towers nearby.
I wasn't talking about switching carriers, only switching between two phones with your exisiting carrier, but since you raise the issue, I can testify that switching carriers often makes a great difference to reception, particularly in rural areas.
 


I wasn't talking about switching carriers, only switching between two phones with your exisiting carrier, but since you raise the issue, I can testify that switching carriers often makes a great difference to reception, particularly in rural areas.
I just thought I would mention that, as far as I know, other carriers are also bad. The weird thing is I'm not in a rural area, I am just in a suburb that apparently doesn't allow them to build cell towers.
 


I just use it for phone, text messages, and playing music. I am still running iOS 5 on it and don't care about having the latest and greatest apps and other junk on it. I care about cell reception and the ability to make phone calls, not running apps.
Or how 'bout buying a flip phone and an iPod Touch (or other music player)? Could be simpler to maintain, more secure, and cheaper than a smartphone both immediately and in the long run.
 


Anyway, he also suggested buying a new iPhone to get the LTE capability. He says that the 4G network is being gradually switched over to LTE, so coverage will continue to degrade. However, he couldn't explain the difference.
A slightly terse background explanation:

The jump from 2G to 3G was fairly major. The 3G standards body is called 3GPP. When time came for 4G, they discovered that it was more like a tweak to 3G, so they adopted the term Long Term Evolution (LTE). 4G standards (and 5G!) are still maintained by the 3GPP group.

Anyway, 4G and LTE are mostly interchangeable, except for VoLTE, which I'll get to in a moment.

4G improves data speeds. It uses IP (Internet Protocol) to do data, with hugely better performance than you'll get on 3G. Exactly what you'll get depends on congestion, hardware capability of your phone and your carrier, but it should always be much better than 3G.

However, voice is unchanged, for the simple reason that when you make a voice call in a 4G area, it uses 3G. 4G doesn't define a new voice technology, or rather it assumes that you'll use Voice over IP (VoIP)—which is what FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Skype do. They bypass the carrier voice network to provide phone calls over the data network. In particular, the 4G frequencies are data-only; it uses 3G frequencies for voice.

Enter VoLTE, which is VoIP directly on the 4G (LTE) network (I'm simplifying here) - but controlled by the carrier. If your carrier and your phone support VoLTE, you should get much faster call setup and (usually) better voice quality (High Definition voice — better than 3G, but not better than other VoIP).

VoLTE doesn't use 3G frequencies for voice, and is a more efficient use of the spectrum. Thus, as carriers roll out VoLTE, they reallocate frequencies from 3G to 4G. They still leave some 3G, but coverage and congestion may suffer. I suspect that is what was meant by the statement that "the 4G network is being gradually switched over to LTE".

Anyway, I hope that helped, rather than confused.
 


Or how 'bout buying a flip phone and an iPod Touch (or other music player)? Could be simpler to maintain, more secure, and cheaper than a smartphone both immediately and in the long run.
Unfortunately, the 3G networks used by most flip phones will be shutting down at some point, so a long-term solution will require 4G or even 5G flip phones. ;(
 



I forgot about SIM compatibility and the fact that your iPhone 4s SIM is too large to fit into a newer iPhone SIM slot.
... I've yet to find a carrier that wouldn't issue you a new SIM card for an existing account. If that's really not an option (e.g. you think you might want to switch back), you can try the SIM-cutting approach. The chip in a SIM card is tiny and is completely contained below the contact points (which are identical for all sizes of SIM cards). So you can use a SIM cutting tool to cut a standard SIM or micro-SIM card to nano-SIM sizes. And if your tool includes adapter brackets, you can use one to put the now-cut SIM into a phone that needs the bigger size.

Or you can just have AT&T issue you a nano-SIM for your account and use a SIM adapter to put it in your iPhone 4S, should you want to go back.

(Disclaimer: I have not used any of the products linked above. I merely linked them because they were the first non-sponsored hits on an Amazon search for a SIM cutter and for a SIM adapter kit).
 


4G improves data speeds. It uses IP (Internet Protocol) to do data, with hugely better performance than you'll get on 3G.
... However, voice is unchanged, for the simple reason that when you make a voice call in a 4G area, it uses 3G. 4G doesn't define a new voice technology, or rather it assumes that you'll use Voice over IP (VoIP)
... Enter VoLTE, which is VoIP directly on the 4G (LTE) network (I'm simplifying here) - but controlled by the carrier. If your carrier and your phone support VoLTE, you should get much faster call setup and (usually) better voice quality (High Definition voice — better than 3G, but not better than other VoIP).
VoLTE doesn't use 3G frequencies for voice, and is a more efficient use of the spectrum. Thus, as carriers roll out VoLTE, they reallocate frequencies from 3G to 4G. They still leave some 3G, but coverage and congestion may suffer. I suspect that is what was meant by the statement that "the 4G network is being gradually switched over to LTE".
Maybe I can help add to your explanation a bit. First off, "4G" is a marketing term. I don't like to use it, because it means different things to different people. For instance, AT&T used it to refer to HSPA+ (basically a higher-speed 3G technology). Additionally, WiMAX was also considered an official "4G" technology (and was actually used by Sprint for a few years).

LTE is, as the name implies, the "long term evolution" strategy from 3GPP and is (hopefully) what people mean when they say "4G" today, but I still prefer to say "LTE", just to make sure there's no confusion.

LTE is not strictly an IP technology. It should be noted that the data portion of 3G technologies (whether in the CDMA or GSM families) also relies heavily on IP. There isn't enough room in this post for a description about all of the features offered by LTE (and its successors, like LTE-Advanced), but suffice it to say that there's a lot of complicated technology in the LTE radio signals and all the associated technologies (chipsets, towers, central offices, etc.) that goes a long way to creating the high-speed wireless network we all love today.

In the 2G and 3G world, there are two distinct networks: a voice network (which I believe includes SMS texts, but I'm not 100% certain of that) and a data network (which mostly carries IP traffic). The two networks don't interact with each other much.

In LTE, they eliminated the voice network. It's all data. Some data goes to the Internet, and some goes to a media gateway node (e.g. for voice, ISDN or other circuit-switched-like services). Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is a service running on this media gateway. It terminates the data connection (from your headset to the central office) and bridges it to a circuit-switched voice network. If you are in a region (or have a carrier) that doesn't support VoLTE, then phones fall back to 2G and 3G technologies for voice calls, if that's possible.

Today, nearly all carriers support VoLTE. Sprint was the last major holdout, but they started their rollout in October 2018 and should be fully upgraded soon. The other three major US carriers (AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) have had VoLTE since 2014.

Since VoLTE calls are an LTE data connection (direct to your carrier, not over the Internet like VoIP services), they are simply another consumer of bandwidth and are no different from any other application as far as the radio network is concerned.

I've always assumed that statements like "4G migrating to LTE" refer to the fact that 4G means different things to different people (see above) and is migrating HSPA+ and WiMAX nodes to LTE. But I could be wrong about that. I'm not always good at understanding marketing speak.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
... you can use a SIM cutting tool to cut a standard SIM or micro-SIM card to nano-SIM sizes
I wouldn't advise this unless you are willing to risk ruining the SIM and have a backup plan of some sort. My understanding is that it's particularly tricky to cut a larger SIM down to nano-SIM size, required for all recent iPhones.
Or you can just have AT&T issue you a nano-SIM for your account and use a SIM adapter to put it in your iPhone 4S, should you want to go back.
This, on the other hand, should be no problem, and I've done it quite a few times, using the following kit, which I really liked when I bought one in 2014:

 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
If you are in a region (or have a carrier) that doesn't support VoLTE, then phones fall back to 2G and 3G technologies for voice calls, if that's possible.
Thanks for the notes. If I understand correctly, older iPhones can use LTE for data while doing voice over the older 2G/3G system, but carriers are dropping 2G/3G, and voice will only be supported over VoLTE, so if your older phone doesn't support VoLTE, you won't be able to use it when 2G/3G disappears in your area, and you'll need a newer phone with VoLTE support - is that right?
 


I've always assumed that statements like "4G migrating to LTE" refer to the fact that 4G means different things to different people (see above) and is migrating HSPA+ and WiMAX nodes to LTE. But I could be wrong about that. I'm not always good at understanding marketing speak.
Alas, LTE is also more marketing than substance. However, "3GPP Release 12" is not very user-friendly. And wouldn't fit in the status bar at the top of the iPhone. :)
 


Thanks for the notes. If I understand correctly, older iPhones can use LTE for data while doing voice over the older 2G/3G system, but carriers are dropping 2G/3G, and voice will only be supported over VoLTE, so if your older phone doesn't support VoLTE, you won't be able to use it when 2G/3G disappears in your area, and you'll need a newer phone with VoLTE support - is that right?
Yes, pretty much. Depending on where in the world you are, switch-off dates will vary. Note that some places (like Europe) will switch off 3G before 2G because of legacy services like M2M (Machine-to-Machine communication) — things like smart electricity meters and the like.
 


In LTE, they eliminated the voice network. It's all data.
Since VoLTE calls are an LTE data connection (direct to your carrier, not over the Internet like VoIP services), they are simply another consumer of bandwidth and are no different from any other application as far as the radio network is concerned.
I hadn't thought about this. My iPhone plan gives me unlimited talk for free, but they charge for data. Since I have data disabled, my phone use has been free. Your post implies that when 3G voice goes away, talking will use the data option, now the only option. Is this accurate? I knew they would get me somehow...
 


I hadn't thought about this. My iPhone plan gives me unlimited talk for free, but they charge for data. Since I have data disabled, my phone use has been free. Your post implies that when 3G voice goes away, talking will use the data option, now the only option. Is this accurate? I knew they would get me somehow...
Generally carriers charge VoLTE as voice not data. You might need to check the fine print but I’d be surprised if VoLTE was charged as data.
 


... you can use a SIM cutting tool to cut a standard SIM or micro-SIM card to nano-SIM sizes
I wouldn't advise this unless you are willing to risk ruining the SIM and have a backup plan of some sort. My understanding is that it's particularly tricky to cut a larger SIM down to nano-SIM size, required for all recent iPhones.
Or you can just have AT&T issue you a nano-SIM for your account and use a SIM adapter to put it in your iPhone 4S, should you want to go back.
This, on the other hand, should be no problem, and I've done it quite a few times, using the following kit, which I really liked when I bought one in 2014:
Every nano-SIM card I have seen was actually a "3-in-one" SIM card, where you punch out the size of card your device needs using the existing perforations. The remaining bits can also be punched out and used as adapters for putting the smaller SIM into devices needing a larger card.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Every nano-SIM card I have seen was actually a "3-in-one" SIM card, where you punch out the size of card your device needs using the existing perforations.
Well, that's obviously not the case for the nano SIM included in a new iPhone, but I've seen that approach with SIMs supplied by carrier companies.
The remaining bits can also be punched out and used as adapters for putting the smaller SIM into devices needing a larger card.
I don't believe that's the same, nor as secure/stable, as the SIM adapter trays previously mentioned, which have lips that hold the smaller SIMs in place.
 


I just got off a chat session with AT&T customer service; here's the situation:

* The weak cell service is due to damaged network receivers on the tower in my area. He created a ticket to supposedly raise the priority of the repair.​
* There is no difference between 3G and 4G for voice. 4G just has higher data rates.​
* The 3G network is not being shut down, nor is capacity being switched over to LTE.​
* Replacing my iPhone 4s with an LTE model won't solve the reception problem, although it would enable WiFi Calling.​
 


I hadn't thought about this. My iPhone plan gives me unlimited talk for free, but they charge for data. Since I have data disabled, my phone use has been free. Your post implies that when 3G voice goes away, talking will use the data option, now the only option. Is this accurate? I knew they would get me somehow...
No. That should not be the case. As I wrote, it's not sending your voice calls over the Internet. The packets, although identical to data as far as the radio equipment is concerned, don't carry the same kind of data that Internet traffic does. They will go your your carrier's voice switches and will be routed and billed as voice traffic.

LTE has several features that make it possible for carriers to distinguish between different kinds of data for billing purposes. This is why you may find that some apps (e.g. those issued by your carrier for account access) don't count towards the total on your data plan. It's also one component of the solution used by those carriers that offer free streaming from partnered services (e.g. T-Mobile's "Binge On" plan).
 


I just got off a chat session with AT&T customer service; here's the situation:

* The weak cell service is due to damaged network receivers on the tower in my area. He created a ticket to supposedly raise the priority of the repair.​
* There is no difference between 3G and 4G for voice. 4G just has higher data rates.​
* The 3G network is not being shut down, nor is capacity being switched over to LTE.​
* Replacing my iPhone 4s with an LTE model won't solve the reception problem, although it would enable WiFi Calling.​
Take that all with a grain of salt. Customer service people are not network engineers. I doubt they understand the tech as well as we do. And it appears that this rep doesn't read AT&T's press releases (or is instructed to ignore them).
  • If there is a damaged cell in your area, that could definitely cause all your problems. Hopefully they will get it fixed soon.

  • If your handset/account/tower isn't using VoLTE, then your voice calls are 3G calls. If you are using VoLTE, then your voice calls are nothing at all like 3G.

    The days of 4G being nothing more than 3G at higher speeds went away when AT&T rolled out LTE. (If your phone is reporting "4G" on the status bar instead of "LTE", then this means you are actually using HSPA+, which is fast 3G, and is an example of AT&T's sleazy marketing - just like how they're re-branding LTE-Advanced features as 5G-E, even though the actual 5G-NR ("new radio") standard isn't being used)

  • AT&T is definitely shutting down its 3G network, starting in 2022. They've already informed their business customers. If AT&T's customer service rep says otherwise, then he's lying.

  • Upgrading your iPhone 4S will be necessary when 3G is turned off, but you've got at least two years before you are forced to upgrade. But it won't do a thing, if you've got a flaky tower servicing your area.
 


I wouldn't advise this unless you are willing to risk ruining the SIM and have a backup plan of some sort. My understanding is that it's particularly tricky to cut a larger SIM down to nano-SIM size, required for all recent iPhones.
I remember people talking about cutting a SIM card using a scissors or a hobby knife. I definitely don't recommend that approach, but if you use a good quality cutting tool, and double-check everything before you actually cut, it shouldn't be a problem.

In the worst case, if you really do mangle your card, you can contact your carrier and have them send a replacement (in whatever size you require). But it might take a few days to receive it in the mail. (I don't know if they can do it while you wait in a company store.)
 



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