Tag Archives: T-Mobile

T-Mobile’s “Binge On”

With the recent introduction of its Binge On service, T-Mobile US is again mangling the English language. Binge On provides preferential treatment of packets  “from Netflix and Hulu (which are T-Mobile partners) but not YouTube (which isn’t) without having those streams count against their data plans.” (Wired article, T-Mobile Confirms It Slows Connections to Video Sites, 7 Jan 2016).  Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that if you have the Binge On “service”, T-Mobile will throttle data from YouTube et al to 1.5 Mbps. Some “service”!

Surprise: Binge On is switched on by default

If, like me, you have a legacy “Simple Choice Plan: Unlimited Talk + Text”, you may be surprised to learn that by default your account now includes the Binge On “service”. (Thank you T-Mobile, I prefer that you not throttle my YouTube videos.)  As far as I can see, Binge On provides no advantage for users with truly unlimited data plans. In fact, it slows down their YouTube viewing. Here’s how to turn Binge On off:

  • Log in to your T-Mobile account
  • Click on Profile (upper right hand corner)
  • Click on Media Settings
  • Click on Binge On to turn it off (as illustrated below):

t-mobile binge on 1184w

I mistakenly thought that T-Mobile’s legacy plans were immune from encroachment by throttling. I was wrong. Apparently the FCC wishes to chat with T-Mobile about its latest twisting of words’ meanings: T-Mobile’s Binge On: When throttling may not break the rules, Arstechnica, 7 January 2016.

Is Binge On legal?  According to the EFF,

. . . throttling all traffic based on application type definitely violates the principles of net neutrality. It also obviously violates the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which says that ISPs

“…shall not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service…subject to reasonable network management”

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Cel-Fi LTE signal booster

T-mobile works fine for me, except in my house. I think that the nearest T-mobile cell site is about a half-mile away, but the signal path is filled with old growth (signal absorbent) trees. I can’t use my cell phone on the ground floor, and it’s usable in only a few spots on the second floor.

Neither T-mobile’s tech support people nor its store personnel have helped. I read that T-mobile is now providing “signal boosters” to customers with weak signals in their homes. Apparently AT&T and other carriers offer similar systems.

CelFi LTE booster from T-mobileOn Friday, I fetched a new T-mobile “Personal CellSpot 4G LTE Signal Booster” from the T-mobile store, after paying a $25 deposit.

My booster is the “Cel-Fi” model RS3 or DUO, manufactured by San Diego-based Nextivity. It consists of two small boxes — the window unit and the coverage unit — and their wall wart power supplies. The window unit receives T-mobile’s LTE or HSPA signal (presumably at 1700 MHz), demodulates it, and transports the data via a 5 GHz unlicensed UNI link to the coverage unit. I placed the window unit on the second floor and the coverage unit on the ground floor.

cel-fi system schematic in house

What is its theory of operation?

Apparently the system is essentially a repeater. I have no idea how completely it demodulates the tower’s signal before creating the in-house signal. Is the in-house signal that’s transmitted by the coverage unit on the same frequency as the tower’s signal that’s received by the window unit? I don’t know, but I doubt it. Nextivity merely states that the coverage unit “cleans up” (whatever that means) the signal. Neither unit has any user interface other than some front panel LEDs.

Does it work?

Placement of both units is critical. I needed about an hour to get the system working throughout my house. Without field strength measurement instruments, I relied upon the limited information that’s provided by the units’ front panel LEDs. It works.

I’ve found almost no technical information about this system except a bit in a thread on Howardforums and a press release regarding Nextivity’s use of 1/4 and 1/2 Watt output power amplifiers in this product. If you have technical information — especially antenna radiation patterns — on this product, please let us know.

What if it quits working?

Occasionally (maybe once a week) the received signal from the Coverage Unit drops to one bar and/or my phone reverts to a slow EDGE connection. I’ve found that resetting the Cel-Fi system restores signal strength and LTE speeds at my phone. Follow these steps, in sequence:

  1. Remove power to the Coverage Unit
  2. Remove power to the Window Unit
  3. Wait 30 seconds
  4. Restore power to the Window Unit
  5. Restore power to the Coverage Unit
  6. Wait a few minutes while the two units establish a good wireless link and the Coverage Unit adjusts its output level

You should eventually see a full 5 bars received signal strength at the phone.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

T-Mobile pulled the plug on their contacts backup server

Here’s evidence that some communications companies do a poor job of communicating not only with their customers, but internally, as well.

t-mobile contacts backup screenLast Friday, my trusty old Samsung SGH-T679 Android (Gingerbread) smartphone died. I purchased a replacement SGH-T399 from the T-Mobile store, and the salesperson wrote my subscriber data to its micro-SIM card. I merely needed to install my favorite apps and restore my contacts from T-Mobile’s contacts synchronization server:

  1. Install apps? Check.
  2. Restore contacts? Negative. Why? In July, T-Mobile pulled the plug on their contacts synchronization server. It, and my contacts list, has been taken off-line.

After a little hunting, I found this message on T-Mobile’s website:

Contacts was a free service that allowed you to backup up to 5,000 contacts on a secure T-Mobile server. Contacts has now been retired.

If you stored contacts on your phone, don’t worry, they are still there and will remain on your phone. But what happens if you lose your phone and haven’t backed up your contacts? Without a backup, your contacts will be lost forever . . .

I tested the T-Mobile contacts backup (or synchronization) system last year. It worked fine. When I needed it last week, it didn’t work. I cannot imagine a reason why T-Mobile would think that closing down the contacts backup service was a good idea.

Rachel, T-Mobile’s helpful second-level support person, reported that T-Mobile’s management told employees that third party email providers such as Google provide contacts backup services, gratis. The problem is that Google’s terms of service grant Google carte blanche to your contacts (and everything else that you store with Google). They’re free to reveal all your contacts to anyone, including your competitors.

  • An incomplete restoration
    Rachel had a subset of my contacts in the form of a comma-delimited file (.CSV) sent to me. It was very out of date — maybe a year old — and contained first name, last name, and phone number only. Email address, notes, company, etc. were missing. I imported this file into a spreadsheet, edited it, and imported the edited CSV file into my contacts.

I’m surprised that Rachel and her colleagues at T-mobile didn’t object when management proposed this dumb idea. Customers seem not to have been asked their opinions. It sounds like at T-Mobile, all communication is one way: from the top down.

This dumb move by T-mobile has annoyed other customers. My guess is that it’s a breach of my contract with them.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

A quick fix for Android net connect problems

Airplane Mode screenshotOccasionally my Samsung Insight II phone (SGH-T679 running Android Gingerbread 2.3.6) quits communicating via IP with Internet hosts. Often, a wireless connection to a T-Mobile tower exists but there’s just no IP communication. Also, occasionally my phone insists that it can only establish a (low speed, perhaps 50 kbps) EDGE wireless connection to the tower; it refuses to connect at higher speeds (such as UMTS, HSDPA, or LTE).

A simple fix — short of shutting down and restarting the phone or system troubleshooting — is to temporarily place the phone in Airplane Mode (which shuts down its wireless radio transceivers) and then turn off its Airplane Mode (which starts its wireless radio transceivers). Your phone should connect to the cell site with the strongest signal — which may be different than the site that it was connected to before. Nine times out of ten this works for me.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Tech support

Today my T-Mobile Android phone suddenly stopped communicating with the Internet. I quickly ran through the usual troubleshooting steps. One step is to check IP connectivity by pinging an IP address on the Internet. I had no IP connectivity, but did have a decent RF HSDPA connection to a nearby cell site. These results suggested that T-Mobile’s backhaul link to their local cell site was broken.

android-pingI phoned T-Mobile customer hinderance assistance. Then I went through two tech support people who had no knowledge of the IP ping command. I asked to be transferred to someone who was familiar with ping. That person introduced herself as a member of T-Mobile’s highest tech support level. She didn’t know the ping command either but told me that she had been through the T-Mobile tech support training. She told me that that was six years ago.

This is normal. Tech support people who don’t understand the vocabulary of their trade is the rule — not the exception.

If you held a tech support position, wouldn’t you want to learn as much as possible about the technology? Why doesn’t T-Mobile require that its tech support staff know basic network vocabulary?

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Where are T-Mobile’s cell sites?

T-Mobile’s GSM signal inside my house is marginal. My Android phone indicates field strengths from about -100 dBm to -113 dBm. (I *think* that GSM needs a minimum field strength of about -109 dBm.) I have a vague idea where T-Mobile’s nearest cell site is located, but I’m having difficulty pinpointing it.

I’ve found conflicting information from these sources:

Transmitting_tower_top_usLast week I stopped at the nearby T-Mobile store. To my surprise, none of their salespeople knew where the nearest T-Mobile cell site is located . . . nor were they interested. One guy has worked there since 1998, and never thought to learn the nearest cell site location. I’m amazed.

I spoke with a T-Mobile tech support person on the phone, who volunteered an approximate cell site location within a mile of my house. I walked in that residential neighborhood, and my phone indicated a signal strength of about -71 dBm — which would indicate that I was getting warm — but I was unable to visually identify a cellular antenna. There’s no tower, but there is a church nearby, and I’ve read that T-Mobile likes to place cell sites within church steeples. My guess is that this cell site is just a repeater, with no fiber backhaul.

If that’s the nearest cell site to my house, the signal’s path loss to my house is about 30 to 40 dB. That seems reasonable, as I *think* that T-Mobile operates in the 1700 and 1900 MHz bands and there are lots of mature trees in the path to my house.

Can you recommend a method of determining exactly where the nearest T-Mobile cell site to my house is located? Please?

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Smartphones’ impact on spectrum

Smartphones chew up rf (radio frequency) spectrum. Last month my Android phone, according to T-Mobile, consumed 15 gigabytes of data — and I don’t stream movies.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s CEO, recently expressed regret that AT&T offered iPhone buyers unlimited data for $30 per month:

My only regret was how we introduced pricing in the beginning, because how did we introduce pricing? Thirty dollars and you get all you can eat. And it’s a variable cost model. Every additional megabyte you use in this network, I have to invest capital.

Nobody foresaw the voracious data appetite of the iPhone.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stated that a smart phone uses 24 times more spectrum than the predecessor feature phones, and a tablet uses 120 times more spectrum. Without taking action to find more spectrum for these devices, “we risk losing out on extraordinary commercial and social opportunities,” he said.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

T-Mobile’s VoIP 9-1-1 Strategy

Yesterday, my T-Mobile home page included a link to their page titled Wi-Fi Calling and 9-1-1 Address. This describes their method of providing 911 caller geo-location information when using a T-Mobile phone that’s connected via a Wi-Fi access point. [“Wi-Fi Calling” is their tradename for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).]

Like their cellular phone 9-1-1 location strategy, it doesn’t rely on the caller phone’s GPS receiver. Also like their cellular geo-location strategy, it tries the most precise method first, and falls back to progressively less precise methods. I guess that the other U.S. cellular companies employ a similar VoIP 9-1-1 strategy.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Now, THIS is poor customer service by T-Mobile.

Reader Sue, in a comment yesterday, pointed me to a story headlined Customer stabbed inside T-Mobile store. It warrants its own post.

The gist: A 59-year old T-Mobile customer enters a Philadelphia area T-Mobile store to inquire about apparent double-billing, an argument with a store clerk ensues, and he’s stabbed in the left side by the clerk. The victim/customer is admitted to the hospital where he undergoes emergency surgery. The 21-year old assailant/store clerk has split.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

T-Mobile’s Deceptive Vocabulary

My Samsung Insight II phone includes firmware by T-Mobile. When near an up-to-date cell site, the little icon to the left of the signal strength indicator proudly displays 4G. T-Mobile Android desktop with 4G icon While I remain in the same location, when I check the phone status within the Settings app, Mobile Network Type is either UMTS or HSDPA.

Neither UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) nor HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) is considered to be 4G (Fourth Generation), yet T-Mobile calls them 4G. UMTS and HSFPA are 3G technologies that enhance GSM. They’re pretty fast (I measure 3 Mbps download speed), but they ain’t 4G (potentially up to 50 Mbps).

Once again, T-Mobile has attempted to change the definitions of words. See recent article T-Mobile’s “Unlimited Plus” data plan.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Let’s see how THIS data plan works.

I just learned that in September, T-Mobile created a new data plan called “Unlimited Nationwide 4G”. This time it may indeed be unlimited. It is not true 4G. Supposedly it has no cap. Reports are that T-Mobile was hemorrhaging customers: they lost over 200,000 customers last quarter. T-Mobile hopes that this new data plan gives them a competitive advantage over AT&T and Verizon, who no longer offer unlimited data plans.

I’ve replaced my Unlimited Plus data plan ($10 per month) with an Unlimited Nationwide 4G data plan ($20 per month). Download speed measures 3 Mbps. So far, so good.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

T-Mobile’s “Unlimited Plus” data plan

Maybe T-Mobile is exempt from truth in advertising laws. Maybe they’ve quit speaking English and converted to Newspeak. I wonder because T-Mobile’s “Unlimited Plus” data plan is not unlimited. For the first 2 gigabytes he receives each month, the subscriber can access the Internet at 4G speed (about 3 Mbps measured download speed); then the connection speed drops to about 50 kbps. It’s throttled. It’s capped. It’s pathetic. It’s not unlimited.

This is another case in which our bloated government has failed its citizens. Doesn’t this false advertising violate an FCC rule? Where’s the The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whose “principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anti-competitive business practices”? Answer: asleep at the switch.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

These are not the droids you are looking for.

Android is an impressive operating system, but it’s far from perfect.

Android employs pre-emptive multi-tasking: the operating system retains control of the CPU even after starting a new process. It will, without warning, shut down background applications to free up memory. (Most modern operating systems on computers with disk drives, as they run low on memory, will swap least-recently-used memory contents to disk. This is called virtual memory. My Android phone has no disk, so there is no virtual memory.)

Block Diagram of Android's functions
diagram: Alvaro Fuentes Vasquez (Kronox)

Unfortunately, when it needs memory, Android will shut down background apps without warning. Sometimes it shuts down Tunein, and that app doesn’t allow streams to resume from the interruption point. Trying to resume the audio stream can waste tens of minutes.

High-Level programming provides fast app development but poor control

Android provides high-level system calls to its apps, and the apps are written in high-level languages. The result is that for real-time functions such as streaming media, the user has very little idea of program progress or user control. At least half the time that I try to stream media, my attempt fails a few minutes later, with no real indication of why it failed.

This reminds me of the MS-DOS days: MS-DOS and PC-DOS provided system calls for communication. They were limited and slow, so communication application programmers simply ignored the MS-DOS system calls and instead used low-level routines to talk directly to the underlying hardware. They could do this without breaking the system, because MS-DOS was a single-user, single-tasking operating system. It broke some portability between hardware platforms. The world of Android is much more complex: the phone’s stability requires that each Android app behaves itself by communicating via Android system calls only. (It’s easy to forget that this thing is, after all, a phone.)

I don’t know where this is headed. Clearly Android needs work on its user interface. It probably ought to ask permission before shutting down a background app. It should provide low-level system calls, and the app writers need to use those system calls to improve the interface for the poor Android user.

This article is based upon my experience with my Samsung SGH-T679 Insight II 4G (aka Galaxy Exhibit 4G) T-Mobile phone. It uses Android 2.3.6, which I guess is named Gingerbread.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

My Android phone has become an audio library.

Podcast icon 200w

icon: Yagraph
For me, having podcasts in my pocket is the smartphone’s killer app.

I’ve mentioned that I like to listen to audio as I program computers. (One exception: when I must concentrate on a stubborn problem, I need silence.) With my new Android phone, I can listen as I take walks, as well. At the moment, I’m listening to a 15-minute long biographical sketch of mathematician Joseph Fourier.

This podcast is part of BBC’s A Brief History of Mathematics. I found this series within the History section of the free BBC Podcasts app that I downloaded from the Google Play Store. The BBC Podcasts app is loaded with podcasts, neatly arranged by category. So far, I’ve stuck with the factual, scientific, and historical ones. It’s a goldmine that costs nothing.

I’ve also been listening to the technology podcasts that are available within the Tunein app. These include Michio Kaku’s Explorations in Science, The Wall Street Journal’s Technology Marketplace Report, etc. You can download the Tunein app from the Google Play Store, as well.

I’m overjoyed to have stumbled upon these podcast apps, because (as you may have guessed) the program content that I like to listen to isn’t standard broadcast fare. For me, the promise of “content on demand” has been fulfilled. I’m grateful to these podcasters for making this material available.

If you have an iPhone, I’d guess that the same apps are available from the iTunes store.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

My first impressions of Samsung Exhibit II 4G phone

So far, so good.

Samsung Exhibit II SGH-T679 phone

I recently purchased a T-Mobile Samsung Exhibit II 4G SGH-T679 phone from Amazon for about $190. (T-Mobile’s stores sell it for $330. That’s the unsubsidized price.) It’s a second-tier smartphone, but has all of the features that I want in a smallish package. It’s advertised as a prepaid phone, but my postpaid T-Mobile SIM card from my flip-phone worked fine. Based on my few days’ use, I’m not convinced that I want to always carry a smartphone. In many ways, my little Samsung SGH-T439 flip-phone makes more sense for voice, text, and consulting Wikipedia. I predict that I’ll continue to swap my SIM card between the two phones.

I added a Sandisk 30GB microSD card for $20 from Amazon, and a silicone case and screen cover ($8). The phone is lightweight and easily fits in my pants pocket. Its replaceable battery drains quickly, but the phone allows you to turn off power-draining circuits such as WiFi and Bluetooth when they’re not needed. I like the fact that from the Settings menu, I can monitor what purports to be real-time RF signal strength in dBm. I’ve seen this vary from -73 dBm to -109 dBm in my neighborhood.

T-Mobile has loaded this Android phone with apps, most of which I think I’ll delete, once I gain root privileges. That should be an adventure, but is apparently the only way to gain the privileges necessary to delete the apps.

My initial impression of the touchscreen interface is that it’s horrible. Maybe I’ll grow fonder of it with use.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695