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This kind of situation is precisely why I very much prefer to give my service providers payment rather than let them take it. Yes, I have to remember to do it, but it means there are no nasty surprises. They send me a PDF statement, and I pay it, without anything sneaking past me. That is worth any convenience I give up.
AT&T was pushing the e-billing and autopayment by offering a discount on the monthly rate, which supposedly was fixed. What they did not say was that they would not send itemized electronic statements, just an email stating the billing amount, along with a link to the statement on their web site. That would require logging into my wife's account, and that access is now screwed up and requires resetting.

I have used autopayment without problems before for other fixed payments, like mortgage and loans, and the banks handled it flawlessly (although final payments required human intervention). I did not expect AT&T would fail to notify customers of rare increases (although, so far, our rate has not increased).

I would never use autopayment for utility bills that vary month to month, because major screwups can happen. The local gas company billed new tenants $8000 for seven days of service in July, because they had overestimated a prior reading and their computer misinterpreted the first real reading as the meter having gone through a full cycle rather than the previous estimate being off.
 


For those dissatisfied with AT&T or any other carrier, I have been very pleased with Consumer Cellular for my iPhone 5C and Ting for my old LG LX225 flip phone. I use auto-pay, and both companies send me an invoice for my review in advance of booking the charge. Consumer Cellular offers either an AT&T or T-Mobile SIM card. AT&T has much a stronger signal in my home area, so that's what I use.

My principal reason for selecting these carriers is that they allow me to pay for just what I use (in small lumps) rather than having to buy a huge amount of voice or data that I will hardly ever use. I have been very pleased with their services.
…Also, if it makes it any better, Charter/Spectrum around here is far worse. Far worse.
Michael, I'm a Spectrum internet and cable TV customer, so I have been inundated with solicitations for their new phone service. While I'm not looking for an alternative carrier, I like to keep my eyes and ears open. Can you give us specifics of how Charter/Spectrum is screwing up its cell phone service?
 


I would never use autopayment for utility bills that vary month to month, because major screwups can happen. The local gas company billed new tenants $8000 for seven days of service in July, because they had overestimated a prior reading and their computer misinterpreted the first real reading as the meter having gone through a full cycle rather than the previous estimate being off.
I haven't had problems with auto-pay for utilities. But I have the billing statement mailed to me, as well as an email notice of when the statement is actually posted. That gives me a chance to review it before it actually gets paid. The notification process is critical, since the electronic notification is much quicker than snail mail. But the wife insists on getting the paper bill (can't say I disagree) so that we have a record of billings and it is done on their paper. Besides, we have to support the Post Office. :-)
 


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 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. ;(
 


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