The Dead Zone

Volume 6, Issue 81; 06 Sep 2003

With apologies to Stephen King: my new GSM phone, not.

First time surrealists are often confused by the similarities between fish and telephones.

When I started carrying a mobile phone, it was so I could be reached if necessary. Having a phone that only works in the U.S. and parts of Canada runs contrary to that goal because I do travel to, you know, the rest of the globe sometimes.

That's why I wanted to get a GSM mobile phone. At least that's one of the reasons. I've also lusted after a Sidekick-like device ever since I had a chance to play with Dan's in Vancouver. The prospect of an always-active, wireless GPRS data connection is deeply seductive. I want “Google in my pocket.

In the U.S., there are only two major GSM carriers as far as I can tell: T-Mobile and AT&T. But AT&T doesn't offer wireless service out here, so that leaves just T-Mobile.

After a few days of searching the web and fretting about my options, I went down to the T-Mobile store and looked at the choices. It turns out the Sidekick is a single-mode device. That means it only works in the U.S. You can pull the SIM chip out and put it in another phone if you travel internationally, so your mobile number works overseas, but that's extra expense and hassle.

The Treo 270 is a tri-mode device and T-Mobile claims it has the same GPRS capability as the Sidekick, so I went that direction instead. Besides, it would merge my Palm and my phone into a single device, reducing the number of gadgets I have to carry around. The Sidekick could potentially do that too, but the folks making it have a pretty unpleasant, proprietary, closed-source view of the device. You can't even sync it with your computer locally.

(There's an aside in here, where I go to the T-Mobile store, discover that T-Mobile thinks my social security number is associated with another person, come home, send faxes, call T-Mobile's fraud assistance group, call the Social Security Administration, call Equifax, send more faxes, and eventually conclude that it was just some clumsy data entry error on T-Mobile's part, but let's not go there.)

Eventually, I get home, charge the device, wait for T-Mobile to activate my number, and I get…nothing. T-Mobile customer service confirms my worst fears: I live in a dead zone. No service.

The irony? When I ask the device to search for service providers, it finds AT&T. But they won't sell me a plan in this market.

No new gadget for me. And no GSM phone, either.


Your experience spooks me. I'm in the middle of getting a Sony Ericsson p800 with T-Mobile service. It is tri-mode.

T-Mobile's customer service was lame, and I was trying to buy!

Couldn't you buy AT&T service somewhere else and use it. Guess your phone number would be in another area code.

—Posted by Margaret Green on 06 Sep 2003 @ 04:14 UTC #


It's a sad thing, that the reach of the T-Mobile cutomer service is nearly world wide :-)) One should assume, that only the best developments propagate around the world, but... Well. I'm feeling with you


Oli D.

—Posted by Oli D. on 08 Sep 2003 @ 07:23 UTC #

You forgot Cingular and Nextel. Cingular is the second largest carrier next to Verizon (which is CDMA) and also one of the first carriers to hit the GSM market in the U.S. My current work is heavily involved in the mobile world so here is some useful info:

* Cingular shows most of MA covered on there map (

* Here is Nextel's map (

* ATT GSM is the new kid on the block and coverage is bad but getting better (only major cities right now)

* T-Mobile is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG, has been around longer than ATT GSM, has good international coverage, but they are still expanding there network here(it is interesting to note that T-Mobile is leasing Cingular lines)

* Both Cingular and Nextel have international roaming plans

* Cingular also offers the Handspring Treo 270 (they have a lot of other tri-band phones as well)

From my experience, using an international roaming plan gets really pricey and should *only* be used if you really need people to contact you on that number. Most people get unlocked phones (phones that are not tied down to any provider) and take out the SIM card when travelling and buy SIM cards local to their place of travel. You get a local number but the rates are much cheaper overseas (some prepaid SIMs even have unlimited incoming calls)! Most people do this and suspend their account if they are leaving for a long time or just create a voicemail message giving people the new number (hey, they want to talk to you -- let them pay for it!).

If you buy a phone from the manufacturer they are locked to their network only, but if you let them know that you are travelling a lot they might give you the unlock code. People also sell unlock codes and unlocked phones so there is always a workaround. I have a friend who does if you are interested.

Don't forget to make the distinction between tri-mode and tri-band. Tri-mode means 3 modes. Digital 800, Analog 800, and Digital 1900. It's runs in two frequency ranges, therefore it's dual band. Tri-band is 900/1800/1900. The first two are used in europe and asia, and the 1900 is the one used in North America. 1500-1900 is considered the "PCS" frequency range. 800-900 are the "cellular" range.

In conclusion, the best thing to get is an unlocked tri-band phone (or a locked one which you can get unlocked). You can buy them here or overseas. They are real cheap in some places so I would shop around. If you travel, check the prices on some phones whereever you are at (without looking like a tourist -- you will get ripped off!). My friend gets the latest phones a few months before they hit the market and he ships nationwide so let me know if you see a phone you like online that isn't out here yet.

That's all for now,


—Posted by Nasseam Elkarra on 10 Sep 2003 @ 02:20 UTC #

Well we got vx6000 verizon picture phones went through the hassle of 5 phones and new numbers and the whole shpeel, but it turns out I ALSO LIVE IN A DEAD ZONE ! thanx for telling me. oh and also i am sure the tower is going to be built during the 2 years plan i have , so while you are charging roaming rates screwing people i hope you just make the money you want

—Posted by Lives in a Verizon Dead Zone on 06 Jan 2004 @ 11:08 UTC #