Can you hear me now?

By Doug Miller
Cape Flattery
As we all become more and more reliant on devices that are constantly connected to the cloud and each other it is always a wake-up call to lose connectivity to the rest of the world for a period of time.

I went through that this week when I was out in the Cape Flattery area where I was scuba diving and doing some fish surveys with REEF.org.

My first surprise was that I had no cell coverage. I have AT&T for both my Titan II Windows Phone and my Android-based Galaxy Tab. Despite the AT&T coverage map showing good coverage where I was staying, there was absolutely no signal to be found anyway in the area.

Other folks with Verizon phones worked fine. My Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G mobile hotspot also had a strong signal for 3G which allowed me to at least connect over WiFi. So what’s up with AT&T advertising they have coverage for an area when they clearly do not? I wonder how many other people find they have no cell coverage in areas where cell network providers advertise full coverage?

With no cell phones, I relied on WiFi via the Sprint Overdrive to check email, use Skype and do my work using my PC, tablet and phone. Without 4G or high speed internet, connection speeds were not very fast. It is amazing what breaks when you don’t have a fast connection. My PC-based email via Outlook to Office 365 seemed to consistently work fine although as expected a little slow to update messages. However Outlook didn’t do so well talking to my Gmail account via IMAP. Headers would download but I had long waits to view the actual email messages. This also seems to be related to installing the new Office 2013 preview and then uninstalling it. Since doing that, my original Outlook 2010 has been flakey. I eventually had to use the web-based interface to Gmail which worked ok although I have never been a fan of this interface. My Android tablet also seemed to have issues mainly with email just refusing to sync. Even the Android Gmail client showed long delays accessing my cloud-based mailbox.

Surprisingly my Windows Phone was my most reliable communications device even without a cell signal. I connected the phone using WiFi to the Sprint Overdrive and all my email from 4 different accounts was always up to date. I have come to find that my Windows phone is by far my most reliable communication device for voice, web access and email. It is also amazing that the device is consistently fast – no matter how many apps are running – and has never crashed in my three months of using it. If only my Windows-based PCs were this consistent.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t believe cell network provider’s coverage maps.
  2. Don’t mess with your PC setup before a trip away from your fast internet connection.
  3. If you can, bring more than one mobile device and preferably use ones on different cell networks. Without a decent signal on my Sprint Overdrive, which allowed me to connect my PC and AT&T devices via WiFi, I would have been totally disconnected.

Before this trip, I was really interested in AT&T’s new Mobile Share plan and had planned on dumping my Sprint Overdrive since its contract is up and going with AT&T for everything. I have now decided I will not do this. I’ll probably stick with AT&T for my phone since I am locked in for another year and a half but continue to use another provider for a mobile hotspot service – just in case coverage isn’t what it is supposed to be.

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