I mentioned the other day that our Millenicom JetPack (Pantech MHS291L) wasn't performing like it should.
After chatting online with Millenicom Support, they opened a support ticket. A couple of hours later, I got an email.
We've just confirmed that at this time the appropriate corrections have been made to your account, and service should be restored to your device. You may need to power cycle or "re-seat" the SIM card in order for all changes to take effect.
In order to resolve the situation, the upstream carrier actually had to reset the data cycle on your device when reformatting some of the problematic features. To compensate for the difficulties and days of lost service, they've allowed us to reset your data to 0GB as of today for the month, and thus we're able to pass that courtesy to you as well."
I was very appreciative of the quick response.
Certainly, the peformance improved a lot.
I re-tested the Millenicom hoptspot service (which uses the Verizon network) against my older Verizon-direct JetPack (ZTE 890L) that we got back in November 2012.
The Verizon-direct ZTE 890L was still outperforming the Millenicom Pantech JetPack (a very highly related dedicated data device) by over 50% on both download and upload speeds. I tested them both in the same location and without the assistance of our Wilson Sleek 4G-V and Trucker Antenna boosting.
We still think the Millenicom Hotspot plan on the Verizon Network ($89.99 per month for 20GB of data) is a great deal for full-time RVers that are heavy data users. For most, the speed will be quite adequate. Also, it's appealing to have a plan without a contract and without taxes and fees added.
Compared to Millenicom, the Verizon-direct data is very expensive - 8GB for $90 (Verizon) vs. 20GB for $90 (Millenicom). Plus, with Verizon, you have an additional $20 line fee for a JetPack.
That's why Millenicom is so attractive. As long as the coverage is good and as long as the speeds are reasonable and as long as you need at least 4GB of data and as long as Verizon doesn't change the deal or throttle the speeds (which they have been known to do randomly), Millenicom is the way to go for most full-timers.
However, keep in mind that Millenicom is a bulk data reseller. And, clearly, Verizon (the "upstream carrier") has influence over the data that they sell them. I know lots of people that say that Millenicom service is exactly the same as Verizon-direct service, but, as I mentioned in a prior post, there are very few that have both, so side-by-side comparisons are rarely reported.
Since we added Millenicom at the first of the year, Linda's intuition has been that the Millenicom service didn't perform as well. I did a little random speed testing, and there wasn't much difference - sometimes Millenicom was a little faster and sometimes Verizon was a little faster, but Linda swore there was a noticeable difference when she was surfing the net and doing the online things she does. I hadn't tested much since March because we were in decent coverage areas and our speeds weren't annoyingly slow.
However, my latest testing shows significant differences, and we just decided to drop Millenicom due to current differences in performance AND our concerns that Verizon can change the game at their whim.
So, we're going back to Verizon for data and will increase our data plan. The good news is that Verizon has some new options as of April that lessons some of the pain of the pricing differences.
Competition has caused Verizon to make some changes.
The thing with cellular phone contracts is that the cellular networks "subsidize" the cost of phones and devices (they "give" away the devices or charge less for them) in exchange for locking you into their services. T-Mobile came up with a no contract option in which you buy your own device outright, and AT&T and Verizon have had to follow suit with similar plans.
I hesitate to go into too much detail because it's confusing and because, in the end, Verizon knows how to play the game so they aren't giving anything away. But, here goes anyway.
Verizon charges monthly "line fees" for each device.
- $40 - Smartphone
- $30 - Basic Phone
- $20 - JetPack (Dedicated data/internet device)
- $10 - Tablet
These "line fees" or "access fees" are how they recover some of the cost of the devices they subsidize during the term of a contract.
Under our current two-year contract, Verizon charges us a $40 line fee for each smartphone and a $20 line fee for the JetPack. However, when we go out of contract in November, if we continued using our current phones, we would go to a month-to-month arrangement. The smartphone line fee would be reduced to $30 per phone OR reduced to $15 per phone IF we have a data plan of at least 10GB.
Discounted "line fees" when a contract expires OR when you opt of the contract using the "Edge" plan described below to get a new smartphone are:
- $30 - Smartphone (with 8GB plan or less)
- $15 - Smartphone (with 10GB plan or more)
So, with a 10GB data plan, it would save $25 per smartphone per month - a $50 per month savings for us.
Now, they have also introduced the "Edge" plan in which they give you the same smartphone line discounts as outlined above, but you can buy a new phone with 20-month installments without the contract. Those installments depend on the phone chosen and range from $15 a month to $35 or so a month.
So, we decided to go with a 10GB plan which knocked our monthly line charges down $50, then we selected two new phones on the Edge plan at $20 per month each, for a net bill reduction of $10 a month. We got two new phones - Moto X by Motorola - and didn't have to extend the smartphone contracts.
When we get those phones paid for in 20 months (or sooner if we choose), then we will still have the line fee discounts in place. Or, once you pay at least 60% of the cost of the phone, you can trade in the phone (as long as it's in good condition) and get a new phone on the Edge plan (a new 20-month installment plan) to more easily keep up with changing technology without the 2-year contracts.
Verizon's "Share Everything" plan is now the "More Everything" plan. There isn't really all that much difference - additional features that we don't care much about. Basically, it includes unlimited voice and text for all devices and allows all devices to share one bucket of data - whatever monthly level you choose.
- 250MB - $15
- 500MB - $30
- 1GB - $40
- 2GB - $50
- 3GB - $60
- 4GB - $70
- 6GB - $80
- 8GB - $90
- 10GB - $100
- 12GB - $110
- 14GB - $120
- 16GB - $130
- 18GB - $140
- 20GB - $150
It's all way too expensive, but Verizon still has by far the best national geographic network and as much as I don't like Verizon, I'm comfortable relying on them for what we need to do for both voice and data. Especially with our business needs, we're willing to pay the premium.
Now, the other day I also mentioned another Verizon device - the 4G LTE Broadband Router with Voice (BRV) capabilities.
If you are in a 4G LTE coverage area (the data only works in 4G LTE areas), it's like a JetPack on steroids. Plus, it also has voice capability and can be connected to a landline-type phone.
In the world of cellular data, a smartphone is versatile and can be used as a hotspot for connecting other devices. However, using a smartphone as a hotspot drains the battery pretty quickly and they are not as reliable as a dedicated data device like a JetPack or Mi-Fi. If data is the primary goal and reliable connection matters, it's better to have a dedicated data device. But, as good as a JetPack is, the BRV shown above is even more powerful.
So, we thought we'd give it a try.
We brought one home, hooked it up and tested it against the Millenicom JetPack and the Verizon-direct Jetpack. I tested all of them ten times over a busy hour when lots of people are using their cellular devices - 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. eastern time.
Average Download Speeds
Verizon BRV Router - 18.665 Mbps
Verizon ZTE JetPack - 12.888 Mbps
Millenicom JetPack - 7.446 Mbps
Average Upload Speeds
Verizon BRV Router - 1.924 Mbps
Verizon ZTE JetPack - 2.826 Mbps
Millenicom JetPack - 1.392 Mbps
The new router was a clear winner on download speed, but surprisingly it didn't do as well as the ZTE JetPack on uploads. Still, I haven't heard a single complaint out of Linda since I hooked it up. :)
Again, as I mentioned previously, the data function only works while in a 4G LTE coverage area (which is continually expanding). But the speed is fantastic as I'm consistently up in the 20+ Mbps range during less busy times.
Note: Just before posting this entry, I was at 25.24 Mbps down and 4.96 Mbps up.
Then we connected a cordless phone. The BRV has its own phone number and brings in a solid voice signal that our cell phones only get when they are on the Sleek Booster (in our current location). So, now we have a regular phone in our rig that works from a cell signal.
Not only that, but we can forward both of our cell phones to the BRV phone number while we are home. So, a call to either of our cell phones comes in on the cordless phone which we can use anywhere in and around the RV without dropping signal. And we don't have to be tethered to a signal booster in areas where that has been necessary. We can also save our cell phone batteries because they don't have to be on at all while we're home, and calls to them still ring in on the cordless through the BRV.
When we leave the rig, it's just a quick *73 and call forwarding is disabled.
Future upgrades are planned which would allow us to use the device in conjunction with our all-in-one wireless printer giving us faxing capabilities. We've gotten along pretty well without neededing to fax things, but it would be convenient for the rare times we need it.
The voice function works anywhere in the Verizon coverage area. And the BRV has a battery back-up if the power goes out (for voice only - the battery isn't powerful enough for data).
So, the BRV only works for data in a 4G LTE coverage area and it has to be plugged in to use the data function. It's larger and not as portable as a JetPack. It has a more limited use, but when in a 4G LTE area, it's far superior to a JetPack.
Right now, it's "free" with a 2-year contract for the extra line. And the line fee is $20 per month for voice OR data or $30 per month for both.
Cellular Voice & Data Cost Summary
On the day we started on the road nine years ago, we were paying about $160 a month for cell phone service and internet connection (satellite only for the first few years and about 5GB of data). It stayed in the $160 - $180 range for a long time, but with our increasing need for data and advances in technology, that monthly cost has risen significantly in the last couple of years.
Not too long ago, we were paying $100 in line fees per month (2 smartphones and a JetPack) plus $80 for 6GB of shared data plus about $15 per month in taxes and fees. In addition, we were paying another $70 per month for satellite internet. That was a total of about $265 per month for phones and about 12GB of data, but the satellite gave us internet in places cellular didn't exist.
Then we got rid of the satellite internet (increasing service issues coupled with expanded cellular coverage) and boosted our cellular data usage to 12GB ($110). The monthly total was then about $230 ($100 line fees, $110 data, $20 taxes and fees).
Then we went with Millenicom and dropped our Verizon data down to 2GB ($50) just for our smartphones. At the time Millenicom was $70 per month, so the monthly total for phones and data was about $235 ($100 line fees, $50 Verizon data, $70 Millenicom data, and $15 taxes and fees). But we were getting 22GB of data.
Then Millenicom raised their price to $90 two months later, so we were then back to $255 per month.
Now we've canceled the Millenicom, increased the Verizon data back to 10GB ($100), added a line and the Broadband Router with Voice ($30 line fee) and replaced our two-year old phones with new phones.
Current monthly cost for phones and data - $240.
- $15 - Smartphone line fee (discounted from $40)
- $15 - Smartphone line fee (discounted from $40)
- $20 - JetPack line fee (kept the JetPack for portability & rural areas)
- $30 - Broadband Router With Voice line fee (data & voice)
- $20 - New Motorola Moto X - (for 20 months)
- $20 - New Motorola Moto X - (for 20 months)
- $100 - 10GB data
- $20 - Taxes & fees
So, we lost 12GB of data, but we have faster, more reliable data with more options, new phones, and better voice connection in our rig. Plus, we don't have to worry about what Verizon might do to Millenicom in the future. And we can upgrade data at any time in 2GB increments ($10 for each 2GB) if we need it.
After 20 months our monthly cost will drop to $200 OR we can purchase new phones on the Edge plan and keep it about the same.
Considering where we started nine years ago, how much more data we have now, how much more speed we have now (in many places), and how our business activity and income has increased, we really can't complain too much about the cost increases and I probably shouldn't worry about it as much as I do. :)
In addition, with the More Everything plan, we can add a Canada/Mexico 1,000 shared minutes voice plan for $15 per month. It's a plan add-on that's not easy to find on their website, but it's perfect for our trip to Canada later this month (no roaming, no long distance, no "per minute" charges for calls back to the U.S. or within Canada).
Conclusion & Recommendations
I don't delve into cellular coverage and plans all that much and we've never used the AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile networks. But Verizon has had the most geographical coverage since we started full-timing, and I periodically ask the experts if anything has changed.
Verizon continues to be the best option for coverage in the most places. Sometimes I'll hear the other networks are catching up, but I also still hear they are not even close.
Again, I hate dealing with Verizon, I hate the hours I have spent in their stores, and I hate the prices we have to pay to get the best overall coverage. But I love that we don't find many holes in their coverage when we travel, and when we do find holes we can often use a little boosting equipment to get by. So, we still put up with some of their shenanigans in exchange for helping us keep connected in the places we like to go.
Now, many of our more techno-savvy friends have multiple devices on multiple networks to improve their connection capabilities. And most of them have Millenicom using the Verizon network for data.
It's hard not to use Millenicom considering the lower cost for the 20GB of data, and that's what I'd recommend for most full-timers. They have many, many satisfied customers.
Note: I also recommend some cellular boosting equipment and some exciting new options are coming out this summer. Hopefully, we'll get to test a couple of those and report back.
However, our experience with Millenicom hasn't been the greatest, and much of that has to do with Verizon's policies and actions. For our purposes, I'd rather just pay the premium to deal with one company, and it might as well be the company that has all the power.
Do all full-timers need to spend $200 - $250 a month for cellular voice and data? Absolutely not. It just depends on how much you want to stay connected, how much internet time and speed you need, where you like to park, and whether or not you want to have your own secure internet connection in the comfort of your RV or rely on something else. As with all aspects of full-timing, there is no right or wrong way.
So, there you have it - a long-winded, overly-detailed discussion of our recent cellular decisions and our current set-up. Take what you can use and ignore the rest. In six months, it will probably be different anyway. :)