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July 19, 2012

For Professionally Paranoid, Family Mobile Plan Not a Good Idea

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Around for ages and now being updated for data, family plans for mobile phones and devices would seem to be a great idea. The family unit (and say, do companies plan to recognize same-sex partners, BTW?) saves money, there's a single bill to process and pay every month and the cellular carrier of choice gets to keep all that business. It's all good -- if the carrier of choice has good coverage in the areas of use and can keep the network up under adverse circumstances.

A couple of years ago, I raised an eyebrow at CEO Ari Rabban when he said he carried around two cell phones -- one AT&T, the other Verizon Wireless (News - Alert). I thought it was a belt-and-suspenders approach to the world until he pointed it that without a working phone, he's out of business. Ari travels a bit, so he has lots of first-hand knowledge how one wireless carrier can have better coverage than another in a particular geographic region.

Sprint is currently my primary wireless carrier while another person in the household owns an AT&T Apple iPhone (News - Alert). I was stunned to see two to three bars of service for the AT&T network on the first floor of our house, where I'd been lucky to see a single bar on Sprint's network on the second and third floors. Clearly, for my geographic area in the suburbs of Washington DC, AT&T (News - Alert) would appear to have an advantage over Sprint.

If you're part of a family that travels together, you may want to intentionally make sure you've got different members on different wireless carriers so someone in the party has a working cell phone.   And if you're traveling overseas on any sort of regular/frequent basis, at least one member of the family should have a phone capable of roaming in the countries where you are going.

Local disasters are the other area where having family members on different cell plans can (literally) be a lifesaver.   Washington D.C.'s brutal experience with the derecho storm, with spotty cell phone service throughout the region due to a combination of power outages and cascading network failures, is the example I'm very recently familiar with. Verizon Wireless service was disrupted in large areas, while Sprint (News - Alert) and AT&T also encountered difficulties, with service varying from point to point in the Northern Virginia area.

When Huntsville, Alabama encountered its wave of hurricanes last year, Verizon Wireless turned up to be the hero in the area, keeping up service through power outages and blocked roads while AT&T had difficulties with service, according to technology executives I talked with. I suspect Verizon's success in Huntsville was tied to long-term planning and institutional memory tracing back to its Bell South roots and numerous experiences with tropical storms and hurricanes. 

My point here is that you don't necessarily have to be a "doomsday prepper" and start stockpiling batteries and ham radio gear in order to make sure you have some diversity of communications in case trouble strikes. If you really want to go that route, Globalstar is relaunching its satellite phone service this fall with phones listing at $500, a one-time activation fee of $50 and a monthly fee of $40/month with unlimited voice and data, plus SMS text messaging and voicemail.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.

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Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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