Phone booth in Storatorget.  Visby, Gotland.  Sweden


part of materialism by Philip Greenspun

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Nicholas Negroponte is the director of MIT's Media Lab, famous for coining the phrase "Negroponte Inversion". Here's the idea... Today: person-to-person communications travel in wires (e.g., phone lines) and broadcast communications travel in the air (e.g., from a TV station's transmitting tower). In the Future So Bright You'll Need to Wear Sunglassess: person-to-person communications will travel in the air and broadcast communication will travel in wires. That's the Negroponte Inversion. Now you know why all those folks are buying WIRED magazine.


Making a call from near Verona's Piazza Erbe Since I'm in the moribund Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, which is not nearly as hip as the Media Lab (part of the architecture school at MIT), I still cling to old-fashioned notions like getting a hard-wired phone line. This turned out to be shockingly easy. Our local phone monopoly is NYNEX. After 15 minutes, I'd scheduled a disconnect date for my old number in Melrose and a connect date for my new number in Cambridge. Everything went like clockwork. They never had to enter the unit. Then I tried to get ISDN.

Actually, I'd tried to get ISDN working in my old house. It took two months and $350 to install. Then it didn't work. I tried a bunch of different ISDN routers but basically the problem was that the phone company would drop the connection after less than a minute. One could get tech support from NYNEX if one were willing to wait on hold for, literally, an hour. They weren't much help. Then I tried to get the line disconnected. I called the local office. They told me to call the ISDN contractor. "We can't install or manage ISDN lines; we contract that out." So I called the contractor. "Your line was installed by the old contractor. You have to call them to disconnect. Here's the number." The number was unreachable. The bills kept coming, though ...

So I started early in August 1996 to order ISDN for my new house. "We'll just do a loop test and then get back to you." I called in early September. "The engineers went out to do the loop test but they couldn't find your house. Do you live at 5 Erven Terrace?" No, 5 Irving Terrace. "Oh, well that explains it." They had my phone number correct and my phone number was listed so I didn't really understand why they couldn't call 411 to find my address. Nor did it explain why they'd failed to find my house and then not done anything about it for two weeks. So I called them two weeks later. "The engineers went out again and they couldn't find your house again. Do you live at 5 Erven Terrace?" Greg asked. No, 5 Irving Terrace. "Oh, well that explains it." I pointed out that I'd been through all of this two weeks before. "Not with me, you haven't." He said he'd correct the information immediately.

So I called them one week later. "There's no order here for you. There's no record of your having ordered ISDN service," Tim Thompson said. "I'll have to enter a new order for you. I'll mark it 'expedite.'" That's what they said the last two times, I pointed out. "Well, you weren't talking to me."


In between visits to, I eventually prevailed upon NYNEX to install the line. It tested fine with their equipment, but I couldn't connect using my Motorola BitSURFR Pro. Now the real problem with ISDN became apparent: Divided responsibility. Consider your position. You are a poor loser at home and all you want is for the packets to go from the back of your Macintosh into "the Net". If the packets are getting stalled, it could be a malfunctioning or misconfigured BitSURFR, in which case you should call Motorola tech support. It could be the line, in which case you should call your local Telco. It could be your Internet Service Provider, in which case you should pray to God.

With three organizations pointing figures at each other and saying "it is the other guys' fault," it is amazing to me that anyone has ever gotten ISDN to work. I finally got mine to work by scrapping the Motorola BitSURFR and getting an Ascend Pipeline 50 router, the product recommended by my ISP (an in-house MIT organization). They wanted me to get an Ascend 50 so that they could configure it properly and I would just have to take it home and it would work.

It didn't.

I called Ascend tech support and waited two minutes on hold before being connected to Jerome. He dialed into one of my ISDN channels and poked around inside the Pipeline 50. Then he said "Your subnet mask is wrong for the range of IP addresses that they've given you. I fixed it." I noted that my Macintosh was complaining that another computer on the same wire was claiming that same IP address. "Oh, you've got Proxy ARP turned on," Jerome said, "I've turned it off. Everything should work now"

It didn't.

It turns out that MIT bought its big ISDN concentrator from Ascend as well. So I had Jerome connect into that and poke around. "They've set the subnet mask incorrectly for you there as well."

When it finally worked, it was amazing. The Ascend would hang up during periods of inactivity and connect in about one second when I started to work again. If I was downloading a lot of images into Netscape, the Pipeline 50 would notice the extra traffic and add another 64K data channel. With the Pipeline's 4-to-1 compression, using Emacs on an Unix box at MIT via the X server on my home Macintosh was almost like sitting at my desk at MIT.

The only thing that could have darkened my day at this point was the bill. ISDN was designed in the 1970s to provide efficient reasonably low cost point-to-point digital communication across the continent. You really cared to whom you were connected and would be willing to pay a big price for that service. Now people just want to use ISDN for Internet access. They don't really care to whom they are connected. In fact, having to choose an ISP is an annoyance and they would probably much rather the phone company took the bits and routed them into the Net. However, due to regulatory restrictions and corporate inertia, the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) haven't all caught up to this.

Most of the RBOCs charge you per-minute if you are using your ISDN line to call across town with a data connection. An example of a forward-thinking RBOC is Pacific Bell. They will provide you a complete package: ISP service, modem, line. For this you pay $75/month. If you use the line between 8 am and 5 pm Monday-Friday, you pay 1 cent/minute. So if you left your line connected continuously you'd pay an extra $120/month. By contrast, assuming you could ever get three vendors in Massachusetts to work together, the same pattern of usage would cost you 1.6 cents/minute times 24 hours times 60 minutes times 30 days equals... about $700/month! If you want to call a little farther or, God-forbid, your line is billed at business rates, you could be paying a lot more. One guy in my lab at MIT got a bill from NYNEX for $2700 one month. NYNEX will be naming their next building after him, I guess. If your ego doesn't need that kind of boost and you work for some kind of non-profit, you might want to get in on the MCET program for $90/month flat-rate.

[NYNEX, at least in Massachusetts, is unregulated as to ISDN, an "optional service". I talked to a woman at the Department of Public Utilities. NYNEX can take six months to install your line. You can't complain to her. NYNEX can charge you $2000/month if they want. You can't complain to her so long as NYNEX has properly filed their intent to charge you $2000/month. If you don't like it, you can... well, you can't do much. NYNEX has a monopoly on offering ISDN lines. It would be illegal for someone else to sell you one, according to the DPU. So if you didn't like the regulated monopoly that sells you regular phone service, good luck with the unregulated one selling you ISDN.]

A more common approach is to defraud the phone company by programming your equipment to originate all calls with a voice header. It looks to the phone company like you've made a voice call to another ISDN telephone and are chatting away. But your ISP has in fact programmed their "modem bank" to answer all calls whether they have voice or data headers. You end up getting 56K instead of 64K per channel but you only pay the voice tariff, for which there is usually a flat monthly rate.

The reaction to this common practice varies among the RBOCs. The good ones say "We really ought to provide flat-rate ISDN data for customers. In fact, we really ought to just give them Internet service before they all desert us for the cable TV companies." A more common attitude is "We're never going to do flat-rate ISDN because the customers are tying up our switches and capacity and it is costing us and we'd really like to disallow flat-rate voice too so that the analog modem crowd doesn't clutter our switches."

My bottom-line recommendation for home Internet connectivity: use a US Robotics 56K modem over an analog line. If it is too slow, get a second voice line and another 56K modem and software to bridge them. When you can get a high-speed service from someone where they take total responsibility for the equipment and routing, buy it. Type the IP address and default route into your computer. If you can't ping (my Web server) then you can call one person and say "this service isn't working; please fix it."

If you are determined to ignore my recommendation and get ISDN because (1) you think it is cool, (2) you have a few weeks to spare to get it ordered and configured, (3) you have figured out how to leave it up most of the time and not get soaked by the phone company, (4) you really want a moderate speed high-reliability connection, then my best advice is to buy everything from Ascend. Getting an ISDN connection to work is at least as difficult as connecting your network to a T1 line. The difference is that if you buy a T1 line from ANS or Sprint they factor in $2000 for installation and have a lot of highly skilled people to walk you through the process. Ascend's customer support people do more or less the same job that the folks at ANS network operations do, but they do it as part of the $600 or $1200 you paid for the router.


In their more candid moments and incarnations, the phone company more or less concedes that ISDN sucks. Their attempt to keep you from pulling the plug on them and letting your cable monopoly supply all of your communications needs is Asymetrical Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL).

Telephony uses 1% of the bandwidth available in the twisted copper pair that runs from the central office to your house ("the local loop"). ISDN uses about 10% of that bandwidth. ADSL uses 100% of the local loop bandwidth, enough to deliver 6 megabits/second to your house. This is enough for an MPEG 2 video, i.e., the same quality that you would get off a new digital versatile disk (DVD). Better than a VCR but not HDTV. The technology used in ADSL is very similar to that used in 28.8 modems but with some constraints lifted, e.g., the modem is free to use 1 MHz of bandwidth instead of the 4 KHz bandwidth limit imposed by line cards in current central office switches. So ADSL modems should eventually be quite inexpensive.

The real challenge for the phone companies is figuring out what they want to sell people. There is no reason they couldn't build a traditional hierarchical data network to sit in their central offices next to their point-to-point network. Then they could sell consumers low cost one-stop-shopping Internet access and their cost would be comparable to that of the cable companies whose system architecture is already very close to ideal for Internet data. Alternatively, they could beef up their point-to-point equipment so that every household in America could have a private 6 MBit connection to the video server of its choice. This would be a real revolution for TV addicts because it would decouple the wires from the content, i.e., you wouldn't have to beg Continental Cablevision to offer the Gold Channel just because they happen to own the wires that come into your house and therefore the content on those wires.

At least right now, though, I don't think the RBOCs "get it." They are afflicted with the brain-damaged notion that consumers want to choose their router and their ISP. It shouldn't take more than one minute for a consumer to connect to the Internet and there are companies who understand this.

Telephone Equipment

My current favorite toy is my AT&T-brand 900 MHz digital cordless phone. My friend Neil says that the buttons will break after 8 months and that the handset is too heavy. But I don't care. It works just like a regular phone. You need one of these! In my old place in Melrose it worked perfectly, with no discernable digital artifacts, until I was about half a block away from my house. 900 MHz is key so that you aren't sharing spectrum with all of your Luddite neighbors. Digital is key because otherwise you get the same crummy reception that standard cellular phones offer. Digital also makes it much easier to share spectrum with your yuppie neighbors.

For many years, I had Panasonic tape-based answering machines. They figured out when someone hung up and didn't take blank messages. They hung up if I picked up the phone elsewhere in the house. Then I saw an AT&T digital answering machine on sale. No moving parts. So I bought it. It couldn't figure out when someone had hung up so I started getting lots of blank messages. It didn't hang up when another extension was answered so I recorded lots of conversations. I didn't notice the low battery LED so I lost outgoing and incoming messages in a power failure.

Any answering machine is better and cheaper than Nynex call answering. I let them sell it to me for my new line, free for 30 days. It didn't answer. I called Nynex. They gave me a "tech support" number. They weren't open. I called back during standard business hours. The line was busy. When I finally got through, they promised to have it turned on within an hour. It wasn't. I called again; they promised to turn it on again. They didn't. They did manage to bill me for it, though...

Cable TV

"Continental Cablevision has a long-standing corporate commitment to helping the Black Man in America," one of their vice-presidents noted. "That's why we decided to bring high-speed low-cost Internet access to Roxbury and Dorchester. We figured if ghetto dwellers couldn't afford to buy food or medical care then at least they'd enjoy surfing the Mercedes Web site. But then we got to thinking: there are probably a lot of blacks in Wellesley who'd like to get on the Net. So we wired Newton, Needham, and Wellesley instead."

[Note: if you don't live in Massachusetts, then you might not recognize the last three as the whitest richest suburbs of Boston.]

The good citizens of Cambridge are also privileged to have Continental Cablevision as their cable TV monopoly. In 1993, they offered 500 kbit/second Internet access to anyone inside Route 128 for $90/month. All of my friends called to sign up. "It isn't quite ready. We'll get back to you when it is." Three years later, my friends are still waiting.

Soon after I moved into Harvard Square, my mailbox was filled with "sign up for cable" postcards from Continental. I figured that, in three years, they must have had time to put in a router or two so I called. There was no Internet access in Cambridge at any price. For $30/month you could get what sounded like a lot of cable channels but you'd have to have a converter box in your house that would make all of your cable-ready equipment worthless.

Continental claims that they'll wire up Cambridge in mid-1997. You can check the Highway1 Web site to see if they've wired up your town yet.

If they have, you are in for a treat. The cable network is almost ideal topologically for providing cheap Internet. There is one wire serving 100 or 200 houses. Upstream from this there is a tree of wires and video amplifiers. The cable company can say "we declare the wire going to your house to be a Class C subnet." Then they put cable modems into each house that put an Ethernet onto an unused cable channel and routers upstream at every point where there is a video amp. If all of your neighbors started running pornographic Web servers on their NT boxes then you'd have a bit of a bandwidth crunch because you are sharing a 10 Mbit channel with 100 other houses. But there is no reason the cable company couldn't split off some fraction of those houses onto another Ethernet in another unused video channel.

My friend Pete lives in Newton and he was one of the original Continental Cablevision beta testers. I asked him how long it took him to hook up his Macintosh to the network. "37 seconds."

My own cable modem

By the time cable modems were available in Harvard Square, Continental had changed its name to "MediaOne". I got my cable modem late in 1997 but MediaOne couldn't get the box in my apartment to talk to anything upstream. "Probably your street isn't actually routed yet," the technician noted. "We'll be back here in a couple of days."

They never came back.

It took me about six more weeks before I finally got IP connectivity through my cable wire. When it came, though, it was very fast. At least as fast as being inside MIT Net (connected via a BBN Planet T3). What's more, MediaOne was peering with MIT Net and therefore it was only seven hops (and 6 ms) from my house to the Unix boxes that I needed to drive.

Life was sweet on my Windows NT machine except for the fact that the other computers in my house (and my HP laserprinter) couldn't talk to the Internet via MediaOne. MediaOne only gives you a single IP address. I put an extra Ethernet card into my WinNT box so that it could talk to the Macintosh and the laserprinter. This worked great until I was "deprovisioned" by MediaOne.

"You're running an ARP [address resolution protocol] script on your computer," the MediaOne abuse team said. "One of our other customers complained that he was seeing an ARP request every second of every day from your box."

I ripped apart my NT box trying to figure out what could be ARPing. MediaOne turned me back on and I asked them "am I still ARPing the network?" They replied, "We don't know. We will have to ask the customer who complained."

Thus did I learn a couple of interesting things about MediaOne. First, they've set up the network so that one customer, without even being malicious, can trash the service received by all the other customers in a city. Second, they themselves lack the technical means to monitor the traffic on a subnet.

Anyway, one of my friends lives a few blocks away and he was able to see my packets. "You're still ARPing," noted Olin. I pulled the network cable on the box, resolving to install a Linux box to do IP masquerading and also screen MediaOne from my NT box's need for ARP.

I told this story at the Computer Bowl" and a guy there said "you have an HP Laserjet, don't you? The HP Jetadmin software ARPs the network every second by default. You have to go through about 10 menus before you can turn it off."

My next move was to install a 2e-500h from After a 10-minute unboxing, this routed to my whole subnet via IP masquerading and also served as a firewall so that, if my NT box were ARPing again, the Internet would be safe from me. The Cayman box performs more or less flawlessly, does not require any administration time, and has happily routed traffic to and from six machines simultaneously. I've also tried the competing SonicWall firewall/address translator. It took longer to set up than the Cayman product, doesn't have its external MAC address printed on the bottom (connect to its admin server and recognize that the "serial number" is actually its external MAC address), and has a pernicious 5-minute default for timing out idle connections that will cause you pain if you use telnet, ssh, or similar protocols (visit the /management.html page to change this to 9999 minutes).

Cellular Phone (Sprint PCS)

Storatorget.  Visby, Gotland. I got an all-digital Sprint PCS phone and have been using it for a few months in Boston and New York City. The service fundamentally works. Where there is coverage, you pick up the phone and make a call. Your call does not get dropped or filled with static. The voice quality is not the ultimate; you can tell that the information is being compressed to the maximum extent possible. But it is good enough that most people you call won't be aware that you're mobile.

The first good thing about PCS is that it is lower power than a regular cell phone. So the same battery will last nearly twice as long in a PCS phone. Sprint claims 48 hours of standby or 4 hours of talk time for the Sony-brand phone that came with my service. It seems to deliver about 36 hours of standy or 2 hours of talk time. Presumably the lower power means that you're less likely to fry your brain cells and get cancer.

Another good thing about PCS is the system architecture. Caller ID is built in. You don't have to register your phone when you travel. When you get out of the airplane in New York City, you turn the phone on and it self registers without your having to make a call. Speaking of New York, PCS includes encryption out the wazoo. I don't think that these phones will be clonable. If your phone is out of range or powered off, callers get dumped into voice mail. When you turn your phone back on, a little envelope icon appears and an LED blinks. You press a little envelope button to retrieve your messages. Sprint doesn't have it set up yet, but the system is apparently engineered so that your phone can function as an alphanumeric pager. I'm waiting for Sprint to get smart and put in an Internet email alpha pager gateway.

[Note: As a member of MIT Class of '82 I feel compelled to point out that much of the technology behind PCS is from Qualcomm, the MIT spinoff whose main expertise is spread spectrum communication but that is best known for giving away Eudora.]

I like Sprint's pricing structure for PCS. Unlike with any other cellular plan, it doesn't feel like they are trying to ream you. They don't try to sign you up for a year. If you don't like their service, you can cancel any time. The first minute of an incoming call is free. If you're using your phone more or less like a pager, you might not pay any airtime charges at all. You can get flat-rate plans so that if you are driving around the country, you don't pay any roaming charges.

My friend Olin says that one needs a vibrating phone because, well, "it's more personal." Olin is right. So many people have cell phones now that they are constantly ringing. If you hang out with yupsters and someone's phone rings, everybody reaches for their pocket. It is pathetic. You need a phone that vibrates.

What about customer service? I've sent Sprint a couple of email messages and they've answered them. I wouldn't recommend calling their customer service folks.

The bottom line on Sprint PCS is that I finally have a cell phone that is more of a convenience than an annoyance. However, it is tough to explain PCS's virtues to someone who has never suffered with analog service. Sprint PCS just works the way that people think a cell phone should work.

Cellular Phone (AT&T Wireless)

AT&T Wireless Services offers an inferior PCS technology (TDMA) but theoretically offers better integration between analog and digital systems, seemingly more digital coverage in the Boston area, and perhaps better coverage over the entire country. Here's my experience with the AT&T phone (a Nokia 6162, which has 8-day battery life): As soon as the phone worked, I found something to dislike. The Sony/Qualcomm Sprint PCS phone obtained time and date information from the central PCS switches. It displayed this information at all times right on the front LCD panel. If you went from city to city, the display automatically adjusted itself to the new time zone. So it was useful as a watch or for writing checks. The Nokia/AT&T phone, like the unbelievably expensive AT&T ISDN wired phone system at MIT, though it is continuous communication with a powerful central digital computer, demands that the user set the time. Another exciting task!

I tested the phone on a trip from Boston to New York City and back. I stopped in Hartford, Connecticut at Mark Twain's house for the one-hour guided tour. We were shown Mark Twain's telephone, the very first residential telephone installed in the United States. Twain sent in a report card every month with his bill. The best grade he ever gave the phone company was a "+", which meant that it sounded as though there were an artillery battle raging in the background.

Back on I-84, I took advantage of the digital service to call one of my friends. Every few seconds, there was an explosion of static in the background. I said "This is terrible; there is an explosion of static ever few seconds." He replied, "That's not static. I'm at a rifle range sighting in my new AR-15. Those are rifle shots in the background." I'd forgotten that he'd rushed to get a permit and the rifle just before the Massachusetts ban on high-capacity rifles went into effect (October 26, 1998).

On the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, coverage was analog. The call I made was plagued by static and dropped after a few minutes. Once on the Hutch, TDMA digital service was again available. I called a friend in Manhattan to let him know I was coming. "That phone you're using," he said, "It's Quality. Sounds like you're calling from the inside of a toilet bowl."

In Manhattan, the phone said that it had digital service all the time and I was able to make a few calls. But a couple of digital calls were unreliable and noisy while connected and then were dropped. Receiving calls was tough. Most of the time, I couldn't hear the phone ring. I kept the phone in my right-hand pants pocket, same as the Sprint/Sony/Qualcomm phone, but the ringer, even set to the loudest setting, wasn't loud enough to hear in a restaurant or on the street. Some of my callers left voicemail and the phone said "7 new messages". But when I pressed the "listen" button, the phone said "no mailbox number." Sprint PCS voicemail was much simpler. Though the phone was advertised as being good for 8 days of standby or 3 hours 15 minutes of talk time, my phone's battery went dead after 2 days during which I'd talked for 35 minutes.

I did finally figure out how to set up and use AT&T Voicemail. The system is inferior to Sprint's in that it is impossible to delete a message without hearing the whole thing. You are forced to listen to an entire message before being able to delete it. [Note: after a few weeks, AT&T Voicemail degraded back to its inital "no mailbox number" state.]

Another area where Sprint wins is directory assistance. With Sprint, the operator gives you the number and then connects you at no additional charge. With AT&T, you're apparently supposed to juggle the phone, a pen, and a pad, write down the number, then dial it yourself.

After a few weeks, Boston changed from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. The Nokia phone, though I'd painstakingly set the date and the phone was continuously connected to a multi-billion dollar computer system, started to display the wrong time, just like MIT's AT&T-brand ISDN phones. Upon reflecting that even Windows NT is smart enough to perform this change automatically, I called (800) 654-2680 to arrange to return the phone. After waiting on hold for 20 minutes, the folks there said that I had to talk to "customer care". They would transfer me but they "weren't allowed" to give me the number. After another 10 minutes, I talked with a customer service woman who said that she could cancel my service but couldn't arrange the return of the telephone since I hadn't ordered it from AT&T. When I pointed out that I had never talked with anyone except AT&T, she put me on hold and then came back to say that I should have called (888) 725-8805. After 20 more minutes on hold, I was connected with Karen Norton, a woman so friendly and well-informed that it pained me to return the phone... but I did.

AT&T epilogue

Despite the fact that the fundamental AT&T service never worked, their billing computers eventually lumbered into action. Several weeks after returning the phone, I received a bill for $103.59, which seemed excessive given that I'd returned the phone for non-performance. I telephoned AT&T four times before they could even get their computer systems up far enough to look at my bill. Each time AT&T's system prompted me electronically for my phone number but then when a human answered, I would be asked for the same information again. When I finally did get through to a customer service person who could look at my bill, she refused to credit any of the $103.59. After 15 minutes of hold time, she connected me with a supervisor, Joe Fox. He was completely unhelpful initially but eventually offered me a partial credit. When I asked to speak with his supervisor, he said that the credit offer would be revoked if I insisted on talking to anyone else. He did eventually connect me to his supervisor, Joe Cotton, who brusquely said that, yes, the offer had been revoked and that AT&T would demand full payment of the $103.59.
Text and pictures copyright 1996 Philip Greenspun

Reader's Comments

Well, it looks like your ISDN troubles were much higher than mine.

It took about a week for Ameritech here in Illinois to come out to my house and install the line. Then I just hooked up my Motorola BitSurfr Pro and away I went!

It's only costing me 40 extra dollars a month for the line, and an extra 12 dollars a month at my ISP. I stay connected for 24 hours a day also. It's great and no way could I ever go back to 28.8 or 33.3 baud slow-pokes.

-- Scott Gant, January 22, 1997

Hi Phil! It is very suprising to me that in the US, country of modern telcom, it can be that hard to get a reliable ISDN connection to work. Though your depictions of *flat* rates (**sigh**) makes my head blush in envy, I must say that when it comes to installation and support, our German monopolist, the Telekom, is up-to-date. A remarkable lot of people here have ISDN, and it usually takes not longer than two weeks until completely set up. The Telekom charges you a fee of about $$130 for installation, and then you pay the normal (unfortunately very high) phone rates, as if using an analog line. All ISPs and online services in Germany support ISDN, and usually they use large dial-in racks (most of the time from Ascend). One word on the rates: The cheapest tariff in Germany at the moment is about 1.7 cents/minute, but that's only from 9 pm to 5 am. From 8 am to 6 pm you pay a rate as high as 4.5 cents/minute (yes, that's $$2.67/hour for a LOCAL call). Forget flat rates (**sigh**), no such thing here in Germany. Supported by very attractive market introducing offers lastings for over a year, the Telekom managed it to get a remarkable number of ISDN lines among the people (I don't have exact figures, but it should be a lot more than 10%). The next step in their campaign will be the video telephone, which is possible with quite good quality via an ISDN line. For web surfing, ISDN is great, of course. I use it for almost a year now, and I don't want to miss it anymore (though I'd rather have flat rates [**sigh**] than high speed). Surprisingly enough, a big and clumsy enough monopolist has achieved a goal that the (wonderfully) unregulated market in the US missed...

Well, let's see what the future will provide!


-- Frank "Sigi" Luithle, September 27, 1997

Our house got hit by lightning this summer and toasted my modem (I heard it go click an instant before the flash/boom, even though the computer was turned off) so I bought a new modem and put it in. Unfortunately, it's still slow, so I did various tests (different modem, with a laptop from work) and nothing worked. As a reference, I could only hook up to AOL at 4,800 baud.

So I called my friendly local telephone monopoly, USWest (aka Useless West) and they said it tested fine. With some persistent inquiries I managed to get a tech out to test the line and he said it meets their specs. What do the guarantee? 1,200 baud. That's it. I need to try re-doing some internal wiring in the house but in essence if I get 1,200 baud coming in, they feel they've done their duty. I inquired what a casual consumer internet user should do to get reasonable access speed. They suggested ISDN at $69 a month, plus of course $200 installation, $500 modem plus ISP charges and all your vacation time to get it functioning.

Here at work we have a T-1 line and I can see whay there's all this fuss about the potential of the internet. At home I slog into AOL at 4,800 baud and wait 10 minutes for my VISA offers, CD ads and e mail from porn sites to download and I see the grim reality.

Life's better here. <--USWest slogan. it's slower, anwya

-- Matthew Cole, December 10, 1997

Why not move to Britain?

We have ISDN that WORKS, Reliable, digital encrypted GSM mobile phones that cover 98% of the population from #15 ($20?) per month which includes 15 to 30 minutes of calls (#0.30 to #0.05 per min depending on tarrif & time of day - mostly #0.20/m peak, #0.12/m off peak) most of the 4 or so services providers are also providing European roaming cheap/free!

At home I have a radio-based phone service (line of sight radio transmission from local station to dinner-plate sized dish on the house) which is apparently capable of near ISDN performance (though I find 33.6k enough for work & net access via modem) I have 2 lines (each with 3 numbers - different ring tone on each number) 1 purely for data. These cost about #35 ($50) per quarter (ie $17 per month) in line rentals (plus calls)

We're also mostly equipped with cable since they started putting it in about 5 years ago & the market is getting more competitive - can't wait 'til someone starts offering free local calls - if I live that long (I'm 30!). Cable & Wireless Communications have a cable operation AND recently bought up UK NYNEX internet provider - I guess they've got the right idea !

PS. we also make TVR sportscars and the Lotus Elise

See you when you get here.

-- Ian Hobbs, February 5, 1998

Although PCS is better than the unencrypted analog cell phones, it's worth noting that the encryption used can be broken in a few seconds on a decent PC. Further info can be found at

-- Chris Adams, March 17, 1998
It's ancient history in a way, but your experiences bear it out: when I called my Ameritech business office in 1992 (I'd heard that among the Baby Bells, Ameritech was a leader in ISDN) and asked for information on ISDN, the rep asked me how it was spelled.

-- Fred Ballard, April 5, 1998
You describe MPEG-2 as ``better than a VCR but not HDTV''. Sorry to disappoint, but HDTV (more correctly called DTV or ATV) *is* MPEG-2. The TV broadcasters are finally figuring out that there's a lot more money to be made in delivering five streams of slightly-better-than-NTSC than there is in delivering one stream of quite-a-lot-better-than-NTSC.

-- Garrett A. Wollman, April 14, 1998
I got Sprint PCS at work with my employer paying for it (similar situation to you). Unfortunately, in the Los Angeles area, Sprint service was so bad that I finally had it disconnected. Generally, I could hear people who called me, but they couldn't hear me. :-(

-- David H Dennis, May 18, 1998
Isn't one drawback to PCS that you can't easily switch providers because the frequency range is allocated to that provider (and the phone is programmed with this as well)? I think that would make for higher prices because it costs you (the price of a new phone) to switch to a competitor.

I'm switching back to analog CDMA because I can save $10/month and get free minutes to boot.

-Case Larsen

-- Case Larsen, June 6, 1998

I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestion to just get 2 56k modems and 2 phone lines if all you want is twice the *bandwidth*. But if you really need better *latency* then you're still stuck with ISDN (or a more exotic technology like ADSL or cable modem). This is of paramount importance if you want to frag people in Quake.

-- Ben Jackson, August 16, 1998
the sony cm-z100 pcs phone has a vibrate feature. also, the pcs coverage seems to be pretty decent in NYC and boston. it gets a little spotty on the trip from NYC to boston, though. also, it seems to work well in minneapolis and san francisco, and the rates are pretty good.

-- Thomas Leachmere, August 26, 1998
Once sprint turned on paging for PCS phones, they added both an email->phone gateway ( and a web->phone web page on the www.etc. site.

Personally, I switched from Sprint PCS to Pac Bell as it provides better coverage where I am, costs less, and means I use the Nokia 9000i, thus lugging around two fewer boxes.

-- Mike Meyer, October 6, 1998

In reference to you AT&T article -- yes, their help line has 10-20 minutes of hold. It took them almost 7 days to get paging working on my phone -- which in the end was their programming error (they started a new exchange and did not tell their paging system!)Yes, it is very silly that the phone cannot get the time from the network. Yes, to other people, it sounds bad (bandwidth not symmetric so that the person paying the bill gets the best service -- scam???) But, my Nokia phone rings plenty loud. You can get a vibrating battery if you need more. You also can delete voice mail without listening to it (hit the skip- to-end key (3 I think, then hit 7). I get ridiculous amounts of talk and standby time -- at least triple my last way-cool phone. And, you did not mention the reason to get the service -- no roaming charges and no long-distance charges. My phone bill has gone from $700 a month to $120 a month and I can talk all I want. I am very happy.

-- Robert SIlvers, October 15, 1998
My HOME phone is more usefull to me when I hook up to the internet. When someone tries calling me and receives a busy signal, if they are a GOOD friend they know to call my cell phone - otherwise beep, beep, beep....

I use my cellular phone for most personal calls because I only talk to a few minutes. I could afford to talk for hours, when I was a teenager and living with my parents. As an adult and I have to PAY for this stuff; suggestion - (women) if you want to talk for hours with me, bring over a bottle of wine. (men) bring a couple of women and wine.

My cell phone provides 3 usefull features: > Caller ID - unless they have unlisted numbers > A mobile answering machine - no need for an answering machine at home, my GOOD friends know to always call the cell if I don't answer and leave message there > and when you do ask that beautiful girl her telephone number, you will know right away if it is the joke line

-- Robert Trajano, December 3, 1998

As the only lawyer in America who does not yet have a cell phone, I was amused on a recent trip to Asia to learn that nearly all Japanese teenagers seem to have them. I can't help thinking that the lower cell phone penetration rate in America probably has something to do with the idiotic sender-and-receiver-both-pay system in America for double-billing phone calls. Surely high penetration regions like UK, Israel, Scandanavia, Hong Kong and Japan have the sense to realize that cell phones are a price elastic luxury item and only the sender should pay (a reasonable forward pricing rate not much higher than a land line). How did the US manage to drop the ball on such an important issue?

-- Sam Citron, January 7, 1999
m,m ./

-- anonymous anonymous, January 14, 1999
"An example of a forward-thinking RBOC is Pacific Bell."

That's a very, very scary thought. If your opinion of PBI is that high, it must be *tremendously* bad there.

Take a look at PacBell's current DSL offerings. Note how they have systematically removed SDSL from the array of available products. At $150 a month, 384kbit SDSL was an amazingly good offer. Now it's been replaced (before they even complete the rollout of DSLAMs to the majority of households) with paltry ADSL offerings, obviously intended to ward customers away from inbound connectivity. I would have liked to see the midrange SDSL offerings cut in price along with the asymmetric stuff -- but it was not to be.

Covad offers a competing DSL product that actually exists now, but at approximately twice the price. It must feel good to have the market to yourself!

"My bottom-line recommendation for home Internet connectivity: use a US Robotics 56K modem over an analog line. If it is too slow, get a second voice line and another 56K modem and software to bridge them."

That may be true out in the wide, wide world, but here in Pacific Bell-land, you're lucky if you can eke 36kbit out of this decrepit copper. And even were one to splurge on an inverse-muxed rig (Linux EQL makes this easy) there are practically no ISPs willing to offer it at a reasonable price. Those that could be cajoled into it would likely drive the cost up towards where Covad DSL makes sense (about $200 a month).

I'd say that cable companies are poised to inherit the earth, but as I live in TCI country, that seems highly unlikely. Their current estimate for data connectivity in San Francisco is somewhere around 2006. And this is TCI we're talking about, so it's important to add on the customary 50% additional time to delivery.

Nailed-up, statically addressed bandwidth for the masses is pure pipe dream. I imagine it will happen some time in the next 20 years, but I am not going to hold my breath. Every indicator is that carriers and ISPs want to charge more, not less, for the bandwidth they sell, viciously clubbing the poor end user back into her 28.8 cave.

-- anonymous anonymous, January 17, 1999

Ahhhh Don't Pick On Pac Bell: Here in Irvine CA, I get both Pac Bell ISDN with a Motorola modem and I pay only $29 /month. The ISP is an additional 30 /month.

We also have -ahhh not only do we have good weather here in Southern Cal!- Cox Cable Modems. They work wonderfully. It's about $45.00 including the $15 rental for the modem. It also includes the ISP service.

To solve the problem of ARP'ing, I shielded my home LAN by using two older 486 PC running win 95 routing shareware from sygate. One firewall runs two ethernet cards and the other one talks to the ISDN modem via a fast serial port. The ISP providers don't know about my LAN at all.

In the next few months, Pac Bell will provision my area with ADSL at something like $60.00/month for the ~360K download service -not as good as the cable, but it provides two POTS and it's very nice to have redundant access and extra phone lines.

On the installation side.. HAHAHAHA! I had my ISDN line installed about 3 years ago. I guess I was a guinea pig. I went through two modems, two computers, three months and untold technicians. Recently when my ISDN line went out due to construction in my house, I had to debug the whole connection because Pac Bell's techs were at a loss and didn't know how to run a loopback test from their 5ESS switch to my modem! Oh well, at least they're learning and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than what the rest of you guys east have.

As far as analog modems... forget it! Really forget it... Cable modems are so much better, and being always connected to the Net you can do things with them that your cable company doesn't want you to do. Just so long as you don't screw around too much.

Funny thing about ARP'ing. My neighbor just two doors up- he has a T1 line and a cable modem- put his LAN analyzer on the line and saw lots of ARP'ing. Maybe NYNEX is full of it?


-- tony esporma, February 25, 1999

I sell Sprint PCS as a second-party retailer (Ritz Cameras carries Sprint with usually lower phone prices in whatever city you're in... We usually have some GREAT rebates!), so I get the service (almost) free. I was astounded to find that not only was it as clear as my normal phone in the area I live (Metropolitan..(hehe) Portland, Oregon) but it also provides all of the numeric paging and text paging I could want. Text pages are an additional 25 cents, tho, but numeric pages are free, even if they are kind of a moot point with the caller ID. The other good point was that the service coverage was great. While i was limited to travelling in the I-5 corridor, and I had a hard time in my college buildings (Which are built like bomb shelters... complete with 4 foot concrete & rebar walls), I could CALL anywhere in Oregon and southern Washington without having to pay additional money. Maybe this is the way phone service was meant to be!

Addendum: March 23, 1999: Well, I quit working for Kits. Sprint cancelled my phone service and wanted a $250 deposit to reinstate service. Which, because that's about 2 weeks pay for me, sucked. So I went and talked to a girl who's now a good friend of mine (nod nod wink wink) at Voice Stream wireless. Her manager waived the deposit, and got me an Ericsson digital GSM phone, connected while I waited there. Despite a small hassle with the voicemail, the system works GREAT, and I get reception even in places where I didn't get anything before. The best part is that it doesn't snap, crackle, or pop at all, the way my Sprint phone did. I can still call in the same area, and my weekends are free... even long distance. Next time i move, I just have to go find a local phone company, and get a new GSM card. This is awesome.. :)

-- Karl Katzke, March 23, 1999

I live in California, Alameda to be exact, on a boat. You would think that would make telecommunications quite a challenge. It turns out to be surprisingly good. I've got a land line with an old Global Village modem for my Macs. It is plain old vanilla residential service. The $0.60/month "inside wiring" plan is a hoot -- try debugging 150 meters of submerged phone wire one day without it. (At another marina, PacBell said the demarc was at the dockbox!) But my "home" phone is CDMA cell phone service from GTE Mobile. Since I have the option of moving the house, it makes no sense to hand out the land line. I give everyone my cell number. I costs me about the same as a regular phone service. That's including the voice mail (the system sounds a lot like what Sprint PCS is using). The coverage area is great (almost as far as Sacto before roaming, and as far south as Monterey -- I have coverage when I go SCUBA diving). So far the only break I've hit is 101 at Moffet Field.

It gets even stranger. Cable? No problem. Every dock is wired for cable. (Some of the big boats have DSS satelite service but that's for people who like to show off their bank accounts.) ISDN? I know, old hat, but I know of at least one boat in Berkeley wired up and running for more than a year. DSL? Both PacBell and Verio will provision to the dock! I'm waiting for a) approval at the office to pay for the service and b) Verio is promising a price change next week to compete with PacBell. Ricochet also reaches into the marina, but since I only use the computer dockside, I haven't felt the need yet.

-- Ken Mayer, May 3, 1999

I think the woman you talked to at the Mass Dept. of Public Utilities was mistaken about Bell Atlantic not having to install your ISDN line in a timely manner. In 1991 the DPU ruled that BRI ISDN service is a "monopoly basic service." New England Telephone wanted to treat it as a "discretionary" service but they were overruled. As a result, at a regulatory level, ISDN is considered to be similar to basic telephone service, except with the added component of $8 for the digital subscriber line upon which the signals travel. It is interesting to note that $8 is approximately the marginal cost to NET / Bell Atlantic of providing ISDN service as opposed to regular POTS service. In states where ISDN is considered "discretionary," the phone company typically will price service much higher than this. The plus side of the low pricing is that it doesn't cost the consumer an arm and a leg. The minus side is that BA has less incentive to invest in their network and administrative infrastructure. Thus the huge ordeal in obtaining ISDN service.

I am trying to order ISDN service myself. I checked with DPU staff, and they say (6/10/99) that ISDN in Massachusetts is still treated the same as it was in 1991. Some of the representatives that handle customer complaints in the DPU's Consumer Division are not aware of this, and so when they hear a customer complain about their ISDN service they think "internet access" and assume that they have no juristiction.

-- Jeremy Greene, June 11, 1999

I've got a Sprint PCS phone as well, and I'm pretty happy with it. One of the nice features I noticed is that if I miss a call due to being out of the service area (for me, in the subway), and the caller doesn't leave voicemail, it sends me a text page with the calling phone number (if they haven't blocked caller ID). This reaches me when my phone comes back into service.

-- Curt Sampson, July 1, 1999

I switched to Sprint after being a longtime AT&T (aka Cellular One, aka McCaw) customer and playing the get-a-new-phone-every-year-by-switching-plans game. But I was sick and tired of the flipside of that, namely, their changing pricing plans with me being locked into my plan for a year. Sprint doesn't lock you in, period. You pay for the phone up-front, instead of over the course of a year (buried in the monthly charge). I find the kickback scheme Cell One uses to pay its dealers offensive. (They get a cut of your monthly fee, forever, long after you've paid for their services and the cost of the phone.)

Sprint is one unified entity (and not lots of little pieces like Cellular One), so they do some things better: you can roam anywhere, and it forwards calls automatically. No extra charges, either. (Other companies are doing this too, now, I think.) Voicemail works really well, and using it costs less. One number to call for help. Competent Customer Care. Getting a new number when I moved between coasts was easy. (In fact, I got them to make my cell number very similar to my home number. You can change numbers anytime. They were very nice about it.) The bill is basically lower. Changing plans is free and unlimited.

Downside of Sprint has been, they had to build their network from scratch, and so don't have as many towers up as the others, and coverage has been spotty. This is rapidly changing: e.g., the place I was working at for a while last year (Allendale, NJ) was not on the net when I was there, but now is. (This is in high-$ Bergen County, so no surprise that they'd added it.)

The Sony Z-phone finally has the form factor and (most of the) features I want: vibrate ring, tiny size, digital stuff like the clock and paging. Even a little scrolling wheel, like on a mouse. One peeve: The next phone I get had darn well better download its phonebook from my PC! (I know, some already do this -- there are Nokias and Ericssons with IR ports, whether or not they use them. I hear some of these features are more enabled on Euro versions.) And they can keep their video games, thank you very much.


Agree with Philip on this. It is the answer. No more having to remember to shut it off in movies, on dates, at funerals... It can be silently ignored. Avoids the "everybody reach for your phone" problem when one rings, which, I saw on a visit, is really dramatic in Hong Kong (where phones work in the subway!). And it's much classier than a gimmicky Nokia playing Beethoven.

-- Thomas Hundt, July 22, 1999

Sprint PCS = nationwide coverage. I found out that New Mexico must be in Old Mexico. But apart from that I really like the system when within reach of a transmitter. In addition I use the scheduler feature to wake me up each morning, So far it's been very reliable, much more so than my alarm clock!

-- Paul Ashton, July 24, 1999
We have considered switching from Cel One after receiving a $28 roaming bill for a few calls made on the East coast.

Sprint looks like a good system, but look at their map before signing up. The East coast looks great, as well as some of the Midwest, but there are vast areas of the Southwest which look pretty barren. (In more ways than one!)

Jeff Lowenthal

-- Jeff Lowenthal, July 29, 1999

Sprint is okay -- the service is pretty good, and I like many of the same features that you do -- but should you have a problem with their service, and need to speak with Customer Care -- be aware that these nice, hard-working folks have absolutely no authority whatsoever to help you. BTW, they can refuse to sell you a plan or an option for any reason whatsoever -- we received a notice that said that we were refused this service "based on no previous information" and "based on no credit reporting service". In other words -- we smell, and that's why they won't let us buy. I plan on speaking with other customers who "smell" the way we do...I don't think that's right. What do you think?

In other news, no one knows how to connect a notebook to a modem to a cell phone. Sprint sez it will be offering internet access thru it's PCS service "by the end of the year" -- IBTWISI, Call any of the other cell service providers and you get thrown back and forth between tech support and sales. The tech people know modems, but not phones ("which phones will that modem work with?" "dunno, I'll give you back to sales..." "what cable do I need with that?" "depends on the phone, but I don't know phones, I support wireless data. Let me give you back to sales...") The sales people know phones but not which ones are data capable, or what wireless data accessories go with each phone ("I'm sorry, I'm sales. I'll transfer you to the WIRELESS DATA support people, they can help you...") The overiding opinion is that although analog is just like a "crappy land line" you can't just plug your rj jack into a Nokia and get online. But they don't know what pieces parts go with your computer/phone, or with their services. Airtouch has an itty bitty page on it's site about this, but it isn't detailed, and no one in their customer service/sales/tech departments knows anything about the things on that page. I think the site has been hacked and the deperate punks put up this wireless tidbit as a RED HERRING to further frustrate people like me who are just looking for a way to get e-mail while I'm camping. (No comments please about how pathetic that is. Fishing and e-mail ARE my social outlets.)

-- Pook LaRoux, August 9, 1999

I'm in Pittsburgh, which is Bell Atlantic territory. ADSL pricing is reasonable, if you can get the service. They tell me I'm too far away. Many of the people I know who ordered it are having trouble getting it installed, and of those who have it installed, several are having trouble getting or keeping it working. My cable company doesn't do cable modems yet, and will probably have telco return when they do, which basicallyy means for me it's ISDN or nothing, at twice the speed of my 56k dialup, or only 1/12 the speed of the lowest Bell Atlantic ADSL offering, and for the same continuous connection it's only about 4 times the price! Makes me want to run right out and buy it. Reasonable high speed networking will probably happen eventually, but right now you pretty much need to be lucky, special or rich to get it.

-- Derrick Brashear, October 5, 1999
Here in Garfield, New Jersey, ADSL is NOT available and most likely will never be available. We are too far away from the nearest switching station.

What I am waiting for is the satellite hookup that Bell Atlantic is working on....everything all rolled up into one nice little SAT dish, telephone, Internet, TV, radio...etc.....My friends at NBC tell me it's about two years away.....I'm looking forward to it, but only if I get a better job....$$$$$$$$$

-- Marika Buchberger, November 3, 1999


I got uswest dsl at home last march. I needed to set up a web server (on an nt 4 box) to run prototype pages outside my organizations firewall. It took a few phone calls to find out that I had to buy $165 a month worth of services to get static ip. It took three weeks and a lot of sweat and sitting on hold to get everything up and running, but once it was up it ran solid 99.1% of the time.

Suddenly in November my service disappeared.

I was coordinating a complex database driven web site project through my home server, and this was a disaster. USWEST said a change order had gone in on the 2nd of november to drop me from 512k continuous to 256k modem pool level of service on dsl. My equipment (cisco 675 router, external) didn't support the modem pool, so I explained that I couldn't have placed the order since I am not insane.

Checking my phone logs I found that I had called USWEST on the second to see if there was a new product/price strategy for fixed IP addresses yet. My inquiry was taken as an order by the "customer service" rep. Funny they didn't try to confirm that the level of service would trash my installation.

I asked if I could have my 512k continuous service and fixed IP numbers back please since several engineers and content providers were sitting on their thumbs waiting for me to get back online.

USWEST said it would be processed as a new request and take NINE working days minimum to restore the previous level of service.

I had learned at this point that yelling and crying out to GOD on the phone with telco operatives didn't do any good, and they all could see the extensive NOTES field on your customer record which went into detail about yelling and crying out to GOD. SO I politely reminded them that a. I hadn't asked for or authorized the change order, which they admitted, and b. an expensive project was languishing. They still said it had to go into the pipeline like all new orders.

I requested a change of ISP at that point, switching to VISI.COM from USWEST.NET. Visi offered a fixed IP address for no charge, and were willing to show me how to set up my own linux box as a front end on the internet to distribute access on my internal LAN to as many devices as I wanted.

After 12 hours on hold at various times I quit logging the calls to USWEST "customer service" because it made me frantic and short circuited my hypothalamus, giving me blue aura vision, involuntary spasms of muscle tissue in my biceps and stomach, and a sort of induced-tourettes syndrome which produced barking and cursing noises and involuntary salivation and hyperventilation. I recalled what I had learned in yoga classes about control of the autonomic nervous system, and resolved to treat each call as though it were the very first one to USWEST, and treat each operator as though they were my best friend from high school. That kept me out of the urgent care ward.

By December 9th USWEST was scheduled to translate my dsl service to after another 16 phone calls, at least half of which resulted in sitting on hold for 30 to 90 minutes. When it was translated, it was done incorrectly, with the numbers in my data base entry duplicating those of another customer who was online already. That took another 5 calls and 6 days to resolve. Then I was billed for the month of November and December by USWEST for the full 512k continuous connection rate. That took another 5 calls to resolve. I am estimating that it took 30+ phone calls total, with the amount of time spent on the phone exceeding 24 hours, to switch my ISP from USWEST to VISI and get the correct level of service on my DSL.

I have continuous dsl with a dedicated ISP# for $30 for the dsl and $20 for the ISP each month.

Incidentally, I discovered that my line averages 18 decibels quality while USWEST guidelines say that 21 decibels is an acceptable minimum line quality and 30 is a decent average to qualify for an installation. I have never lost dsl because of line quality, and my pings are superb.

Sprint PCS

I proposed to my wife in November and we decided to get married on New Year's Eve, 1999. The only real problem was that she was living in San Diego and I am in Minneapolis. For logistical and sentimental reasons I decided to get my first cell phone and buy her one too. I started shopping and was overwhelmed at the number of variables and variations and subspeciation of variants among the various plans that were offered.

Sprint seemed desirable since they offered free long distance, but more importantly, I could get any area code assigned to my phones that I desired. By assigning Sara's phone to a 612 (Minneapolis) area code and shipping it to her in San Diego, I could make a local call through a pay phone to her cell phone in SD.

I had no experience with cell phones, so the quality issue never arose. As Philip says, the qualcomm/sprint phones seemed to work like cell phones are supposed to...maybe a little better since my sons could hear Sara across the living room when she was talking cell to cell.

I bought two 500 minute plans with free long distance, which was good since I ended up calling her office from my cell and vice versa. It comes to $119 a month with 200 off peak minutes added to my phone, and I got a 50% rebate on the $200 cost of the phones.

Without having other services to compare it to, I am delighted with my Sprint experience so far.

(we ran up almost 6000 minutes long distance on our other lines in addition to the Sprint "emergency" channel. Ain't love grand?)

We got married on New Year's Eve, as planned, and said "I Do" as the fireworks of the penultimillenial New Years were launched. She is moving out here at the end of this month (February 2000), and we will keep the Sprint phones, partly for sentimental reasons.

-- jeff beddow, January 21, 2000

My phone is from 1952, it's all black bakelite has a wire from the wall to the phone, a wire from the phone to the receiver, it makes me remember all the phonenumbers i need, because it doesnt have a memory itself, it has a rotating dial and the **RINGG** is the most beautiful one in the world ;-)

(and no, i'm not 80 years old... Actually, the phone is 20 years older than me)

-- Rolf Rosing, January 22, 2000

I work for Sprint PCS, and have for about a year and a half or so. During that time, I have worked not only in sales, but also in a main store. I have learned the technology and the backup systems that work for Sprint PCS, and the new Wireless Web, that came out last year in October. I will offer this... 75 percent of my Customers come to me frustrated with their old systems. Old Analog Cellular problems, Insane roaming or long distance charges (Not to mention widely differentiating charges), Poor customer service, (Yes, we won "Best Customer Care" the last two years running, so if you hear ours is bad, imagine WHAT ELSE IS OUT THERE! I know, I've been there, It's another reason I'm with Sprint today) among other issues. Many, however, just like the Sprint PCS rates, plans, and services. I personally like the Sprint PCS Ideals, and what they are working for. Basically, Sprint's Vision.

When Sprint Started 3 years ago (And yes, their Nationwide network was built from scratch in the last 3 years), they knew they were doing something differrent. A better transmition that the world would eventually have to adopt. Already Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong, Brazil and various countires in Europe are all turning to CDMA for its security, and it's ability to transmit Data, the future of all wireless technology. I can use my Phone in Puerto Rico! I bought a phone for my Girlfriend in Minnesota (I noticed the comment above mine, congratulations!) but she recently left me. However, she now has a decent phone that will last, which I know she is still happy with.

I have been a Customer with sprint since before I started. Many times I know I have had to send customers to other carriers, in cases such as We have no coverage in their area, yet. Or the fact that our system is not yet international. But for Average Ms. or Mr. Customer, it works quite well. And one thing to remember, is the Sprint Network is the Fastest Growing in the US. In a number of years, Sprint hopes to cover what Analog Cellular does today, Namely, 85% of the nation. (Yes, there are places NO WIRELESS PHONE WILL WORK, NOT EVEN ANALOG, although its usually WAY out there). Already, however, they cover over 4,000 cities, and around 90% of the US population.

Now, I hear a lot of people tell me they would rather have a cellular phone so it will work 'everywhere'. Well, Sprint offers Dual band, Dual Mode handsets that work everywhere analog does. It will just cost you a roaming rate. However, it is still, more likely than not, A LESS ROAMING RATE THAN WITH THE STRAIGHT ANALOG COMPANY!!! So that's no problem. But if you are talking every day in the boon docks of potatoesville, Idaho, pop. 117, you obviously need analog service. If most of your calling is done in the places where there are people (But not always!) you should look at Sprint PCS. Look at the plans for yourself. Or, if you would like help figuring out a plan, feel free to e-mail me.

Yes, there are other companies that deserve a look at. Nationwide: AT&T is Sprint's only competitor. The only problem is when you go travelling, you potentially lose many services like voice mail, as they use other systems that were built by other carriers. I don't know their prices yet because they are not in my Metro Area yet. Local? Pac Bell, Ariel, all worth looking into, but usually require a contract that you cannot break without a 150 dollar fee. Not to mention free long distance at such low rates is pretty much out of the question, and minutes are normally devided between night and weekend. (N&W minutes are dirt cheap EVERYWHERE, Especially w/ our local plans... Ask if your area has an "All-Nighter" plan). Analog? Not unless you need it. I don't even reccommend carriers that built digital on top of old analog systems, Such as AIR-----, or G--, it is only one step above having your conversation heard with a ham radio, regardless of their Digital Technology. Its not that they're no good... They do have advantages where digital isn't... Well, I refuse to bag on other companies.

I'll leave it at this. If you can, Go Digital. If you can, Go PCS (High Frequency, -FCC standard). It's more efficcient. Any questions on why, ask me please, or a Sprint SALES REP. Try not to get a contract, New plans can be offered on a 4-6 month basis, better ones. They're constantly competing and coming up with new stuff. Plus, if you want Data, Sprint is the No. 1 way to go, with upgradable speeds that will Soon go High speed, Mini browsers on most of the phones, just for kicks if nothing else. And finally, if you're worried about shelling out 100 for a new phone, find a refurbished one for 30, or rebates and deals through local dealers. Hey, its top of the line security here. And as low as $17-$20 / mo.

One final thought. I don't base off commission. That means if someone buys from another carrier, I still get paid, even if I don't make a sale. It makes me happy as a dealer to know that someone gets what they truly need, whether it be through Sprint PCS or not. That way, I have no reason to lie about Sprint Services. I believe in my company. I could be making more money at another competitor right now (Who will remain nameless), but I do what I do because I feel I am helping people get what they truly need, and that makes me feel like I am doing the right thing. If you have any questions, I will always try to answer them unbiasedly, to help you with what you need. My e-mail, by the way, comes straight to my PCS. ;-)

In Your service,


I now imagine my job is on the line for publishing something w/o authority. I hope I kept secret enough. But please feel free to e-mail me with any questions.

-- Phoenix 919, February 14, 2000

This paragraph suggests that philg made a critical telco mistake:
So I called them one week later. "There's no order here for you. There's no record of your having ordered ISDN service," Tim Thompson said. "I'll have to enter a new order for you. I'll mark it 'expedite.'" That's what they said the last two times, I pointed out. "Well, you weren't talking to me."
Everything telcos do has a number. Get the number. When you report trouble, request a ticket number. When you disconnect service, get the disco (yes, really) order number. (This helps when they try to bill you for service you thought you'd ordered shut off.) And, of course, when ordering new service, get the order number.

It is like voodoo. They may not be able to spell your name, but they can handle digits.

-- Matthew Braithwaite, February 21, 2000

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