Author Topic: Cell Phone Coverage on the TA  (Read 2315 times)

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Offline HikeBikeCook

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Cell Phone Coverage on the TA
« on: December 06, 2020, 08:33:04 am »
Early planning stages for a 2022 TA ride and wondering about cell phone coverage. I currently use T-Mobile and a Samsung Android phone. I have had T-Mobile for 15 to 20 years and went with them, and stayed with them, because of their world-wide coverage more than US coverage and they were the first to offer Wi-Fi calling. I hiked the AT in 2007 and usually had a signal when everyone else did, but I only turned on my phone when I wanted to use it.

I also did a back country canoe route with my brother who uses Verizon. The vendor maps showed he had full coverage and T-Mobile was spotty. It turns out he had zero coverage for 3 days (we had the same model phones) and I had coverage with T-Mobile out on the lakes.

This tells me the provider maps are crap and I need to rely on actual user provided data. I plan on using a GPS and maps as well, and am a pretty skilled navigator, so I can go with out a phone for a few days. My wife is used to me being "off-grid" for a few days - by the time she starts to worry I am either safe or already dead  ;)  However, I am also old and cell phones have become the new life line for medical emergencies. Any input would be appreciated.
Surly Disc Trucker, Lightspeed Classic, Scott Scale, Klein Mantra Comp. First touring bike Peugeot U08 - 1966

Offline staehpj1

Re: Cell Phone Coverage on the TA
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2020, 10:27:29 am »
We generally had pretty good coverage on the TA with Verizon and anywhere we didn't have coverage other folks with other carriers also didn't.  I think the exception might have been Riggins Idaho.  My impression was that overall we had much better coverage than the other riders were met along the way with other carriers.  That was 2007 though, with recent mergers and changes I suspect T Mobile has gotten better in recent years, but do not know how Verizon and T Mobile compare these days.

My more recent tours I still had what I consider good coverage with Verizon, but did not have as much chance to compare notes with other riders.  I suspect that any carrier will still have holes in their coverage on the ST or even to a lesser extent the TA.

One thing I'd suggest.  For keeping touch with home, text messages manage to get out in short bursts of poor connection.  Emails also manage to get out better with a poor connection and can be queued up for when you do have a connection which can be cellular of wifi.  Relying on texts and emails for staying in contact with home is a good idea IMO.

Turning off the phone or using airplane mode if using the gps or other features greatly extends battery life.  Searching for a signal really eats battery.  Setting expectations of contact with home low before a trip is a good idea.  That way if you manage daily texts they are delighted.  If they expected daily calls or expected to be able to just dial you up any time they may be really bummed or even ticked off at you.

Offline jamawani

Re: Cell Phone Coverage on the TA
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2020, 10:43:40 am »
Do not count on coverage in Yellowstone National Park.
There are only a few places such as Old Faithful that have any coverage at all.
And that coverage is spotty because everyone is overloading limited tower service.

Should they build more cell towers in Yellowstone?
I think not. Perhaps we can just turn the phones off.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Cell Phone Coverage on the TA
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2020, 01:14:18 pm »
I sort of wish ACA would alter the  type of "activism" they do and concentrate solely on bicycle touring activism, i.e. get towns to offer camping, develop a map or database of good (or horrible) cell phone coverage along ACA routes, etc.  These things no one does but there is a definite need.  I do think the "young  riders" program they promote is a great idea.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Cell Phone Coverage on the TA
« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2020, 08:43:03 am »
I've also had good luck with Verizon.  I can only remember one time where someone with AT&T had service where my Verizon phone did not, but I can remember several times where the reverse was true.  I don't think I've ever been anywhere where T-Mobile had service that Verizon didn't.  I knew of two spots where Verizon didn't have service but Sprint or T-Mobile did (on interstates), but Verizon closed the gap on one of them and does have voice, but no data, on the other.  I've never personally observed T-Mobile having better coverage than Verizon on a bike trip. 

Of course, with a week or two per year of new locations, some of this may be dated.

Le me echo the advice to turn your cell phone off in between rural towns (except perhaps going across Kansas, for some reason), or at least put it in airplane mode if you're using the GPS with saved maps.  Otherwise you can ride all day without coverage, get into town where there is cell coverage, and your battery dies as you call out.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Cell Phone Coverage on the TA
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2020, 10:01:53 am »
Back in the day Verizon was definitely the clear choice and I am pretty sure they remain a good choice and maybe still the best choice (not sure on that last bit).  I remember when Sprint was terrible.  They targeted business users and had decent coverage in cities and along interstates, but pretty much nowhere else.  At the time I had a work supplied Nextel that used the same network as Sprint.  I was into whitewater kayaking for much of that time and also had a sailboat.  I had zero signal for much of my travels with both of those activities.

I recall taking shelter in a small hurricane hidey hole when bad weather kicked up.  I was close enough (~10 miles) to downtown Baltimore that I could clearly see the skyline across the Chesapeake Bay, but was unable to call home to tell my wife I was staying overnight to let the weather blow over.

I would imagine the the T-Mobile & Sprint merger has made them a decent choice and they certainly have been expanding coverage since the merger.

Since Verizon has been the gold standard for years if you already have it I wouldn't switch.  If you were shopping for a carrier anyway I might be trying to figure out which is likely to be better between T-Mobile and Verizon, but my bet is that they are both pretty good.  I guess there may also be choices that are under different names that use one or the other network and could possibly be a better value.

OTOH, I could see another approach that may be kind of out there...  With the increasing availability of wifi these days and with my current needs I could almost see myself saying the heck with cellular and just connecting when in towns using wifi.  I have had friends and family do that for European travel and it went well.  The device can even be a cellular phone with no plan and in airplane mode.  It would leave you with a level of isolation that many would find unacceptable.

I have a kind of love hate relationship with both Xfinity and Verizon and often think of ditching one or the other.  I guess I can afford it, but looking at the bills ticks me off.  In the case of Verizon that might mean having no cellular at all.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Cell Phone Coverage on the TA
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2020, 10:12:11 am »
Another option if you have certain Android based phones is to look at Google FI.  Last time I used it (2019), it used a wide variety of networks internationally but in the USA, it used a Spring/T-Mobile/US Cellular mashup.  The rates are something like $15/month plus $10/gigabit of data (prorated) with a cap of $60 on data. 

Google FI really shines if you go international as it is the same rate regardless.  We were in Central America for a month and the phone bill with extensive use was $100 total for two phones and unlimited data.  My son travels the world for 4-5 months a year (currently in Colombia) and he uses it and pays about $85 with unlimited talk, text, data, worldwide. 

You do need a phone that is Google FI compatible (see their website for details) but there is only a month to month contract so you are not locked it.  I normally just pause mine when I am not traveling internationally.  When I do travel, I forward my normal number to the Google phone number and it works seamlessly.

I have no idea how it would do on the TA but would assume just as well as T-Mobile. 

Tailwinds, John

Offline HikeBikeCook

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Re: Cell Phone Coverage on the TA
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2020, 10:20:04 am »
Thanks for all of the input. T-Mobile buying Sprint has moved them to the #2 spot in the US and #1 in 5G is you can believe the press. At the rate things are moving, 2 years is an eternity so we will see what happens by 2022. When we ride the GAP we have no coverage aside from Wi-Fi calling at hotels and B&B's and we survive just fine. Like I said, the phone is there for me to use, not for people to call me.  :D
Surly Disc Trucker, Lightspeed Classic, Scott Scale, Klein Mantra Comp. First touring bike Peugeot U08 - 1966