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Ask Slashdot: Who Has the Best 3G Coverage In California and Nevada?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the good-luck-with-finding-rental dept.

Wireless Networking 134

New submitter derchris writes "We will be on vacation in the U.S. next month for about 3 weeks. We are going to do a road trip between San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. To not use roaming for data, and get a heart attack once back home looking at the mobile bill, I was looking at so called 'MiFi' devices, portable 3G Wi-Fi hotspots. As far as I know, more or less all of the U.S. carriers have such devices available. But as I'm not from the U.S., I have no idea what would give me the best 3G coverage in the areas we are travelling. Another question would be whether I can buy one of these devices off eBay, and use it with any SIM card. Let's hope there are users available who could give some advice on this topic."

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Very Specific Question (5, Insightful)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340411)

For a question posted on a worldwide forum this is a very geographically specific question. Shall I also ask Slashdot which carrier has the best coverage outside my front door? This isn't even a question that requires the unique expertise of the /. crowd; just go on the 3, maybe 4 carrier websites and check the relevant maps.

Re:Very Specific Question (5, Informative)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340549)

And if you're not aware what the major US carriers are, they're Verizon and AT&T, followed by T-Mobile and Sprint.

Verizon has better coverage in most of the country, but as you'll be sticking to big cities and major highways the others should have good coverage as well.

Also, Verizon and Sprint don't use SIM cards, while AT&T and T-Mobile use different frequency bands for 3G. Make sure you know the device you buy will work with your choice of carrier.

Re:Very Specific Question (1)

realityimpaired (1668397) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340827)

Also, Verizon and Sprint don't use SIM cards, while AT&T and T-Mobile use different frequency bands for 3G.

This.

There's very little choice in carriers in the US, and if you're planning on using your existing handset, check who uses the same frequencies as your existing phone. While voice should work on any GSM handset on any GSM network (assuming they're still running 2G networks), data won't work at all unless your phone supports the same frequencies.

You'd be better off buying a burn phone with a prepaid card. In that case, it won't matter.

Re:Very Specific Question (1)

zoloto (586738) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341447)

t-mobile subscriber here, prepaid plan. never had a problem between St. George, UT; Las Vegas, NV; and LA with the exception of a couple valleys and long stretches of road w/o signal. (No one's going to build in the middle of a desert for tumbleweeds right?) I say between there and all the way up the 101 to portland, OR and Seattle, WA were 95% covered during my trips.

Re:Very Specific Question (1)

Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341593)

Also with T-Mo (albeit in Northern Nevada). The only carrier with consistent coverage outside of the "major" cities is Verizon. However, going between L.A., Vegas, and Phoenix I haven't had a problem with T-Mobile's "4G" coverage. The problems are on Highway 95, thankfully there are several very helpful brothels along the way. A few summers ago I was making the trek and had to stop at one when my car's radiators decided that it no longer needed fluid.

Re:Very Specific Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340597)

Up next on Slashdot: Where can I get a good slice of pizza in Peoria?

Which is an even dumber question, since obviously there's no good pizza in Peoria.

Re:Very Specific Question (2)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341547)

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g36538-Peoria_Illinois.html [tripadvisor.com]

  y'll have to click pizza yourself-- but there are 9 listed, with chuck e cheese showing as dead last (restaurant #88 of 88 in Peoria in fact)

Re:Very Specific Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39343879)

what, there's no Olive Garden in Peoria to edge out Chuck E. Cheese for last place? Oh, wait, this is Peoria.

Re:Very Specific Question (4, Informative)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340633)

According to those maps (at least the ones from AT&T), there's great coverage inside a particular canyon in Arizona, a particular valley in West Virginia, and a particular marsh in northern Michigan, all of which I've visited and can personally verify there is no usable service. Those maps don't come from the providers' engineers. They come from the marketing department, and should be trusted as much as any other advertisement.

Re:Very Specific Question (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39341365)

You may be interested in www.sensorly.com. Users run smartphone apps that record location/signal strength data points and report them to sensorly's servers. They then generate coverage maps based on actual data instead of carrier marketing.

There are flaws. For one, carriers could be reverse engineering the protocol that the app uses to report data to the servers and feeding the servers false data. Also, there's no way to tell whether a particular data point came from a user outdoors, a user indoors or a user in a car, so all you can really tell is whether there is any service at all as opposed to how strong the signal is.

If you're interested in data, while it does tell you wether 3G or "4G" coverage is available on a given carrier in a given location, it doesn't tell you how good the backhaul is. I have 4G all over the place in my area, but I see only about 20kbps downstream because my carrier hasn't provided enough bandwidth to the towers.

Finally, this is user-generated content, so if it shows no coverage in a certain area, it only means that nobody has surveyed that area yet.

Re:Very Specific Question (1)

T-Bone-T (1048702) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341399)

Yep. I have AT&T and my iPhone got updated to say I have 4G. "3G" doesn't even exist on the coverage map anymore. The worst part is the service is exactly the same, it was just a name change. AT&T is pissing on everybody and calling it rain.

Re:Very Specific Question (1)

Aryden (1872756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341521)

And even with the corporate discount AT&T offers to my company, I would have to pay almost double what I pay to T-mobile for less services.

Re:Very Specific Question (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340701)

I'm going on vacation in California and Nevada soon. Which brothel provides the best service? I was thinking the "Pimpin' for Paul" one I saw advertised on RT's Alyona Show, but I'm open to suggestions.

>>>This isn't even a question that requires the unique expertise of the /. crowd;

Yeah you're right.
What was I thinking.
;-)

Re:Very Specific Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340959)

I can tell you this, it's not one of the two just outside Las Vegas. They are super over-priced, like they're intended for the overflow of the kinkier ad-hoc newlywed couples.. couple hundred miles farther north near Reno is better. check the internets.

Re:Very Specific Question (1)

SonofSmog (1961084) | more than 2 years ago | (#39342217)

Skip the Brothel and just open the phone book if you are in Vegas. They will send several choices to your room. Cheers.

Re:Very Specific Question (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341091)

For a question posted on a worldwide forum this is a very geographically specific question. (Score:5, Insightful)

Meanwhile... [slashdot.org]

Single device multiple carriers (1)

kassah (2392014) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340413)

While it's possible to find one device that supports multiple carriers, it generally only supports one carrier well due to frequency differences. If you're looking for a device that'll work with multiple carriers, look for "unlocked". I'm not entirely sure there is a way to unlock the mifi things.

ANNOUNCE bryuessssslp the FURT (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340763)

Heyhey hey hey!!! buttholes in fish

Re:Single device multiple carriers (1)

aztracker1 (702135) | more than 2 years ago | (#39342351)

Since OP is going to be in major cities, then most carriers are sufficient... If they don't need really high speeds (since the MiFi type devices have really low data caps, and really high rates after), it may be better to buy a cheap (rootable) android phone from "Straight Talk" "Boost" or "Virgin Mobile" and use a tethering app. This may well serve you better... YMMV though.

Re:Single device multiple carriers (1)

lazybeam (162300) | more than 2 years ago | (#39344073)

The rates will still be a lot less than international roaming, which can be tens of dollars per megabyte!

Verizon (5, Informative)

commodore73 (967172) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340425)

I had AT&T in California and Verizon in both CA and NV, and Verizon was definitely better - almost no issues, where AT&T was terrible. I didn't travel extensively (mainly the bay area and Incline Village), but I would certainly avoid AT&T, and I would actually recommend Verizon,

Re:Verizon (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340485)

I also would recommend Verizon's My-Fi which is now available in 4G.

Re:Verizon (3, Informative)

crazycheetah (1416001) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340865)

This. The 3 main areas mentioned have Verizon's 4G coverage as well (and I am sure that AT&T and T-Mobile also have 4G to some degree in these areas, though, as they're pretty significant areas to get covered). Traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back with Verizon, I had pretty decent coverage the whole way (with a few holes). Same for Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back (a few more holes in the desert than the other, but I doubt you're going to avoid that with any carrier).

Although, specific areas (less than a square mile and less some times, even--this is especially true when you're in the more hilly/mountainous areas in the region) of those can still be different. I've found T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon to be pretty consistent throughout, but there are definite areas where one beats the others and areas where that same one loses to the others, along with some pockets that they all suck. Generally, though, if you're just traveling through and not getting stuck in a specific area for extended amounts of time, they are all pretty decent. I don't mention Sprint, because I have the least experience with them, so I can't be sure how they are in the areas, but I would be surprised to see that they suck too bad throughout, considering how important most carriers would probably consider those cities...

AT&T (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340671)

I live in BFE aka, North Central Indiana -- we have a big pocket of no-Verizon-ness, but AT&T is awesome here (at least since the Centennial Wireless acquisition).

If OP is sticking to Interstate travel, any big carrier should do. Once you hit the sticks, check coverage maps (I only get EDGE performance at home, but 4G at work).

Re:Verizon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340863)

Seconded^

Santa Barbara county here, Verizon is solid here with both their 3G and 4G.

Lot of hills and valleys here that seem to be the bane of ATT, TMobile, Sprint and anyone else.

Re:Verizon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340883)

Plus one on this comment. Verizon beats ATT in this area hands down. I was on AT&T until a couple of years ago, and got a dropped call about twice a month. Once I switched to Verizon, I can't recall the last time I had a dropped call. I also use them extensively for 3G (my cell becomes a hotspot, or I can tether). The data rate varies a lot depending on which hotel, which floor, and which side of the hotel I am on, but when it is working well, I can even do some video streaming.

Verizon is CDMA (1)

wiredog (43288) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340893)

No SIM card. That said, as long as you stay near I-15 or in town it's pretty good. Off the freeway and away from towns there's little reception, whatever the maps say.

Re:Verizon is CDMA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39341409)

Verizon does use SIM cards for LTE.

Re:Verizon (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340949)

AT&T was practically unusable in the bay area due to iPhone overload, but has improved quite a bit over the last year or so. Verizon is probably still better though.

(The problem with AT&T was not "coverage", but dropped calls & internet congestion.)

For tourists visiting Disneyland and the Vegas Strip, it's probably not a huge difference as all companies focus on covering those areas.

Re:Verizon (1)

dwillden (521345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340997)

Verizon does seem to have the most consistent coverage. As to your trip as long as you stick to the major highways when traveling between cities you should maintain decent coverage, and in most communities with service 3G is for the most part standard, though there are some gaps as always.

And the MiFi is Verizon's trademarked device/service.

Re:Verizon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39341795)

Interesting; when talking with the Verizon Regional VP he was very candid saying coverage is almost identical between Verizon and ATT just about everywhere. Saying that due to the technology Verizon uses they are able to add sites a bit faster, but ATT is usually close behind. Also that, and this was a year ago, ATT's 3G bandwidth is superior to Verizon's. Now LTE changes the game a bit. But all the flaming going on it is really interesting to hear (in person) that even Verizon doesn't see a whole lot of difference in the coverage between their product and ATT's.

If you make it to Texas... (1, Funny)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340429)

Dunno, but if you make it to Texas I have a suggestion [slashdot.org]

VZW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340435)

Without a doubt; Verizon.

Verizon = highest price and crappy treatment in exchange for godly signal

No, AT&T APPLE (1)

SmurfButcher Bob (313810) | more than 2 years ago | (#39342523)

..because THAT product can now get a 4G signal out of a 3G network!

Google (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340437)

Top result on google for "global ready mifi" is Verizon's MiFi 4510L. It'll use the Verizon network, and supports a SIM card.

Either AT&T or Verizon and AT&T uses GSM p (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340449)

As above. AT&T or Verizon will be your best bet.

AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, so if you have a phone you like you could buy a pre-pay phone and just swap the SIM card into it.
Verizon and Sprint use CDMA, so you'll have to use their phones, but Verizon's coverage is arguably better and they have less dropped calls.

FWIW, I have T-Mobile, but that's because they're the ONLY cell provider in the US that recognizes that they subsidize the phone on contracts, so when you're out of contract, they charge you less per month.

Verzion probally has the best covergae for you... (1)

ZiakII (829432) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340457)

Verizon probably has the best coverage for you... the down side is they are CDMA and not GSM so you will not be able to use sim cards. This really leaves only AT&T or T-Mobile for sim cards either one's coverage I usually find limited to Verzion's coverage sadly.

Re:Verzion probally has the best covergae for you. (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341667)

Verizon's coverage seems to only be better than T-Mobile in really out of the way places. If you are going to primarily be in even moderately populated areas, T-Mobile is just as good as Verizon. Summer of 2010 I took a family road trip between California and Wisconsin. We drove the southern part of the country on the way there, and the northern part of the country on the way back. While my wife drove, I worked with my laptop tethered to a remote desktop at the office. The coverage was great except for the national parks and Wyoming.

Re:Verzion probally has the best covergae for you. (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39342187)

When you're actually on the major highways, there's no difference. In and around towns? Huge, huge difference. At my last workplace there was no signal for T-Mo or AT&T, but 3G on Verizon. When we went to Disney World? Verizon was 1-2 bars of 1xRTT in the parks, AT&T was 4 bars of 3G.

Eurotrash (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340471)

The submitter is eurotrash. Please don't help them as they will just pollute this country with their B.O. and halitosis.

Coverage Maps (3)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340483)

All of the major carriers have coverage maps that are more or less accurate.

Verizon: www.verizonwireless.com/wireless-coverage-area-map.shtml

AT&T: http://www.wireless.att.com/coverageviewer/#?type=data [att.com]

Sprint: http://coverage.sprint.com/IMPACT.jsp [sprint.com] ?

T-Mobile: http://www.t-mobile.com/coverage/pcc.aspx [t-mobile.com]

Other Sites that may be useful:
http://www.cellreception.com/coverage/ [cellreception.com]
http://reviews.cnet.com/cell-phone-coverage-map/ [cnet.com]

Behold, the power of Google.

Re:Coverage Maps (4, Informative)

Quantus347 (1220456) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340659)

http://www.cellularmaps.com/3g_compare.shtml [cellularmaps.com]

This is a useful map, it compares: AT&T, Cricket, Metro PCS, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon.

One thing you should know however is that most of the companies actually share their networks to one degree or another, and there are options lesser known options that offer the same actual coverage. Check out: http://www.cellularbackdoor.com/alternative_networks.shtml [cellularbackdoor.com]

From the site: Same Network, Different Carrier - These are separate, "alternative" companies that use the same wireless network, also known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), wholesale networks, or cellular "re-sellers", of the major carriers. You get your phone and customer service from these companies instead of the underlying carrier. Some companies use more than one network and the type of wireless device determines whether a CDMA, GSM or WIMAX carrier is used. All features may not be available. This is where to look if you hate your carrier but love their network.

Re:Coverage Maps (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340905)

Fun Fact #1: Verizon and Sprint have a reciprocity agreement where customers can roam on the other carrier's network for free (agreement expires in 2016)

Fun Fact #2: Even though Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint, this agreement apparently doesn't extend to it.

At least Virgin is cheap. $35 for unlimited everything.

Re:Coverage Maps (1)

Momboleum (257861) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341011)

I live out in the middle of nowhere, also known as the Marin-Sonoma coast, which is 60 miles northwest of San Francisco and 20 miles west of Petaluma. We get Verizon service out here and if you're using T-Mobile, their phones work on the Verizon network. AT&T devices only work closer to larger urban areas in Northern California in my observation.

I'll probably be in the minority here... (3, Interesting)

erotic_pie (796522) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340501)

I'll probably be in the minority here, but I would say go with Sprint. Sure their data speeds aren't the fastest, but they are a good bit cheaper than Verizon, and their speeds are still plenty useable for web browsing, Pandora, and Netflix. Plus you get the added bonus of free roaming on Verizon's network if you're outside of Sprint's coverage areas. Pretty much anything is better than AT&T.

Re:I'll probably be in the minority here... (2)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340807)

I'll probably be in the minority here, but I would say go with Sprint. Sure their data speeds aren't the fastest, but they are a good bit cheaper than Verizon, and their speeds are still plenty useable for web browsing, Pandora, and Netflix. Plus you get the added bonus of free roaming on Verizon's network if you're outside of Sprint's coverage areas. Pretty much anything is better than AT&T.

If you want good coverage while you're in between cities, stick with AT&T or Verizon.

On a recent road trip between SF and LA, there were many places where my Sprint phone (work phone) lost coverage but my Verizon phone maintained coverage (I know this because we had some issues going on at work and I was getting a lot of emails - in many instances, I could hear some emails come in to my Verizon phone, and it wasn't until 10 - 15 minutes later that I'd hear a group of queued up emails hit my Sprint phone).

My gf has an AT&T phone and there were a few places where she had cell phone coverage and I didn't, and vice versa. But she had more problems with maintaining a data connection (we took turns streaming Pandora, her AT&T phone dropped out more often than my Verizon phone).

Re:I'll probably be in the minority here... (1)

erotic_pie (796522) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340939)

Good to know.

I guess it really does depend on the area. Here in Colorado, Sprint's coverage has been lightyears beyond what AT&T's coverage was. Even some places up in the mountains I'll still get decent coverage. My 3g data speeds are about half of what I was getting with AT&T (1mbit vs. 2mbit) but I'll take slower in more places than faster in few places any day. I also get 3g in most places that I was just stuck with edge on AT&T.

Re:I'll probably be in the minority here... (1)

Glendale2x (210533) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341519)

I have a Sprint phone so whenever I travel US 95 I just let it roam freely. As far as my experience goes I've never seen roaming charges when it locked on to a Verizon tower to maintain service (including light data usage) during the entire route between Reno and Vegas.

Re:I'll probably be in the minority here... (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39342983)

Sprint resellers are sometimes even cheaper, e.g. DataJack, though you lose the ability to roam on Verizon's network.

Buy unlocked at home, use TMobile or AT&T SIM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340521)

Your best bet will be to buy an unlocked device at home that supports the appropriate frequency, and then once you arrive in California go to T-Mobile or AT&T store and ask for a plan on a SIM card, telling them you already have a device to put it in. AT&T will probably work out the best simply because any device you buy abroad will work with AT&T's frequencies. TMobile uses a different frequency for 3G which is unique across the world to them, so that might be an issue. Another provider option is to go with a "regional" carrier, like C-Spire et al, that basically resells AT&T's signal for cheap.
 
  Other than that, there may be "prepaid" options available for a MiFi device of which I am unaware, such as through AT&T's "goPhone" plans. But the prepaid options are not advertised much in America, most of what we have is the "two-year contract" variety. You can also just get an unlocked phone that has the Wireless Hotspot feature, then when you get to America buy a "prepaid" plan for it that includes unlimited data, such as AT&T's "goPhone" plan.

Re:Buy unlocked at home, use TMobile or AT&T S (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39342261)

The regional carriers are just that - regional carriers. C-Spire owns their towers and has reciprocity with Verizon. I imagine that Cincy Bell, US Cellular, and the other regionals are similar, although some of those are GSM and some are CDMA carriers. You're thinking of MVNO's, which only resell service.

Virgin Mobile & other pre-paid vendors (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340529)

I'd go with a pre-paid data/phone vendor.
You can get a Virgin Mobile 3G phone and/or 3G MiFi-type device at many discount store retailers, no contract needed.
It uses the Sprint network. Sprint does not use SIM cards.
There are other pre-paid 3G phones and mifi-type devices available too.

Re:Virgin Mobile & other pre-paid vendors (1)

W. Justice Black (11445) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340737)

Second. I have VM service on my LG Optimus V that I occasionally use as a hotspot with my Linux laptop no problems. It's not teh awesum bandwidth, but it's usable.

Sprint's network (which VM piggybacks on in the US) is pretty good in the bay area and they're not nearly as price-gougy as VZW or AT&T.

$130 for the mifi, $50 for "unlimited" data (throttled after 2.5G) for a month. Resell the device on eBay if you want when you're done. VZW is at least 2x for the device...

Re:Virgin Mobile & other pre-paid vendors (1)

b0bby (201198) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341273)

The other thing pointing towards a pre-paid vendor is that most of the devices you'll see for the big carriers will be the price with a one or two year contract - someone coming from abroad may not be aware of this & buy something they don't need. I have used the Virgin Mobile 3g dongle:
http://www.virginmobileusa.com/mobile-broadband/ovation-mc760.html [virginmobileusa.com]
and it works well in areas where Sprint has coverage. You should be able to pick one up at a Radio Shack or Walmart (the Walmart ones will actually give you a better rate for the data), but both their websites are showing them out of stock so maybe it's being phased out. There's a MiFi too if so, for around $130. Don't buy a used one on ebay unless you can guarantee that the seller will provide you the user name & password for the account it was registered with, without that it's useless. The Virgin stuff won't roam to other carriers' towers like a Sprint branded one, but it's contract free. While you're in the cities you should be fine, but in the boonies it might not have coverage.

AT&T or Verizon based Prepaid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340535)

They both have the largest 3g network in the US.

You can check their coverage maps at:
http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/CoverageLocatorController
http://www.wireless.att.com/coverageviewer/#?type=voice

use them only as a reference however as these towers may be set just at their range limits leading to extremely weak signals in between towers.

virginmobileusa.com (3, Informative)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340603)

They use the Sprint network..... no idea if it's the "best" but it's affordable. $50 for unlimited internet, and it works anywhere that a cellphone works. Plus no contract so you can use it 1 month and then done.

I have tried Wifi in my hotel, and it barely works at all (slow and drops connection frequently). I don't recommend that route.

Nobody (1)

qmaqdk (522323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340605)

If by best, you mean adequate, the answer would be nobody. But I guess AT&T would be least worst (at least when I was last there).

SF, LV & LA? (2)

PeanutButterBreath (1224570) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340613)

I hope you realize just how far apart these cities are and how little there is to be seen in between. I suppose 3G till take the edge off the many hours of drudgery.

At least consider taking 395 for the North-South portion.

Re:SF, LV & LA? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340775)

There is plenty to be seen between these points. There are three National Parks between SF and LV (Yosemite, King's Canyon and Death Valley). Between LA and SF there is the Pacific Coast Highway. The only boring stretch is LA to LV.

Why use a phone. (1, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340623)

You are on vacation. You should escape the ties to your phone. Bring your phone, keep it off except for an Emergency during the day. When you are at the hotel, use the Wi-Fi available.

While I am at the other End of country I found that most plans AT&T Verizon, sprint... Don't really care about you crossing into different states. And normally a Dead Zone for AT&T is a Dead zone for Verizon.

Re:Why use a phone. (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340719)

You are on vacation. You should escape the ties to your phone. Bring your phone, keep it off except for an Emergency during the day. When you are at the hotel, use the Wi-Fi available.

That's my thought too. When I'm on vactaion last thing I want is people being able to access me. There again, vacations are extremely rare for me- last time I took more than two consecutive days off was probably 4 or 5 years ago. (if you don't consider national-holidays as a day off- in which case I normally take a day off in addition to Xmas day each Xmas).

Re:Why use a phone. (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340785)

Strongly advise against. Need maps, restaurant and tourist trap recommendations... If poster is not 100% fluent in English you need inet access.
It just makes the trip easier and more fun.

Re:Why use a phone. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39341391)

Strongly advise against. Need maps, restaurant and tourist trap recommendations... If poster is not 100% fluent in English you need inet access.
It just makes the trip easier and more fun.

Nonsense. Maps are printed on paper and stumbling onto restaurants and tourist traps are part of the fun of traveling. I drove across the country 3 times without internet access (just a paper map) and somehow I made it each time. I drove from LA to SF on the PCH without internet access (or even a paper map) and it was a great experience. People were doing road trips long before smartphones came out.

Re:Why use a phone. (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 2 years ago | (#39343629)

Nonsense. Maps are printed on paper and stumbling onto restaurants and tourist traps are part of the fun of traveling. I drove across the country 3 times without internet access (just a paper map) and somehow I made it each time. I drove from LA to SF on the PCH without internet access (or even a paper map) and it was a great experience. People were doing road trips long before smartphones came out.

OMG... but how did people travel across the US before Cellphones?!?!?

Seriously, yes... paper maps are fine. And there are plenty of paper guides for areas, restaurant reviews, hotel reviews, etc. I recall AAA (the service) being really cool to use back in the day... maps, guides, etc all along the route you plan on taking or the area you want to visit.

Though using an electronic device has it's advantages.

- Are you stuck / lost / trapped / hurt / etc? You'll have more luck being rescued with a cellphone than a CB now-a-days.

- Did you manage to get completely lost and turned around? Google maps on a smart phone can LITERALLY be a life saver. Just in case.
It happens, if your spouse did a lousy job or you decided to let your kid help you out.

- Having trouble translating something using a pocket dictionary? There's an app for that; or at least a free website to translate the written text.

- A road under construction or something else requiring you to get off the planned route and get somewhere? Map website.
I had to find a big-and-tall store on a trip once before I got to my destination. I don't recommend Yellow Pages + Map if you can avoid it.

Re:Why use a phone. (2)

Zapotek (1032314) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341577)

Oh for f's sake someone asks a question regarding cell coverage and you reply with "Why bring a cell phone? I wouldn't!". Have you, by any chance, got any more personal, unsolicited and irrelevant life lessons for the rest of us simpletons? How will we ever survive without your offtopic input...

Verizon 4G LTE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340653)

I have a rooted hTC Rezound which I use as a hotspot, using Wireless Tether for Root Users. Alternatively, Clockworkmod has his Tether app for non-root phones, but is limited to USB tethering. If you have an Android phone, either of these are viable options and do not specifically require a tethering plan, though if you don't have unlimited data, tethering will chew through your line's data allowance.

As for coverage, I haven't gone on a road trip to 'Frisco or Vegas since I got my Rezound, but with my hTC Incredible (which I also had the aforementioned tether apps on) I had pretty solid coverage. The only problem areas were in the hills north of LA, and the pass over Spring Mountains to the west of Vegas.

Might not be a great idea (1)

hpj (26910) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340693)

Pretty much all the carriers have decent coverage in the metropolitan areas. And pretty much all the carriers have bad to no coverage outside the metropolitan areas.

Buying the device on eBay and then putting in any SIM card you can pretty much forget it since all the major carriers in the US have different and incompatible systems. Sprint & Verizon don't even use SIM cards at all. T-Mobile & AT&T are SIM based but they use different frequencies for their 3G network, 1700MHz for T-Mobile & 850/1900MHz for AT&T (Also notice neither of these are the same as the frequencies used in the rest of the world). In regards to LTE that's an even bigger mess and the coverage is really spotty regardless of what operator you choose so I would just ignore it.

In short it amazes me how bad the cell phone network in the US works compared to most of Europe (I originally come from Sweden where you have interoperability between operators and generally pretty good coverage even in rural areas.

Prepay (1, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340721)

Attention visitors.... Note that 99% of the advertising and marketing budget in the USA is oriented around "free device with minimum two year service contract" business model. Most of the civilian population does not know any other cellphone business model exists... Unless you're planning on your trip taking 2 years, you're best off with a prepay provider.

There are providers that are non-contract aka month-to-month who will helpfully automatically bill your CC every month until you find a way to stop them. I don't think you want the headache of making them "go away" after you return home. The prepay has a much lower risk, once the balance is depleted, they can't go after you if they have no idea who you are and/or no idea how to bill you.

Assume you're dealing with crooks and dishonest wheeler dealers. In the telco biz, often you are.

Also be careful with the power cords in the US. If you try hard enough you can probably curl your fingers underneath a charger and touch energized AC wall outlet contacts. Also our power plugs are not as heavy as the giant hockey puck UK ones (possibly AC power connectors are the only thing you'll find lighter weight in the states) but that doesn't mean you can swing them around in the air like a flail spiked ball and chain without hurting yourself. And for a good laugh ask to see your hosts "hot water heater tank" I am told we're the only country in the world that doesn't use tankless, its a trip, they're these giant closet sized steel tubes.

Re:Prepay (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340847)

Whoops almost forgot the other unique thing about the USA mobile market is unlike almost everywhere else, the devices and service are tied. Its Extremely Unusual to not get a device from your provider.

Re:Prepay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340973)

I am told we're the only country in the world that doesn't use tankless, its a trip, they're these giant closet sized steel tubes.

We don't have to buy our natural gas from Russia. Those tankless heaters are a poor ROI for people in the US.

As an aside, I was at a hotel once in Berlin, and they had a heater mounted directly on the showerhead. We laughed about it, but I'm sure it was reasonably safe (if not very warm).

Re:Prepay (1, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341103)

Those tankless heaters are a poor ROI for people in the US.

Disagree strongly.
1) Last time I was in the market, you could not buy a tankless with a guarantee less than 15 years, and you could not buy a tank with a guarantee over 7 years. You cannot compare the capital cost of one tank vs one tankless because you need to buy two tanks to get the lifetime of one tankless. Also water damage from the inevitable leakage means you'll pay twice as much for tank water damage (on my concrete floor, thats $0, but some people destroy hundreds of dollars of Pergo everytime they have a flood...)
2) Price delta at the time of install for me 7 or so years ago was remarkably only about $300. Instantly my summertime natgas consumption dropped $20. To a crude first approximation the payback time was 15 months.
3) Natgas price only goes up. Median income only goes down, making it even more sensitive. It seems utterly inevitable that I'll end up even further ahead than I already am.

Poor ROI or not, I don't care. Its a cheap luxury item not a for-profit investment. My hot shower water never, ever, runs cold. I simply have a slightly better home life than if I had a tank. Its rather like asking for the ROI on a new ipod, or the ROI on buying a new frying pan. Its nice that I save money, but if I didn't I'd still buy it anyway because its an easily affordable luxury for me.

Re:Prepay (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341619)

Much more then $300 price difference for me, but I got the Renai.

You also forgot to account for upgraded gas/power service and upgraded exhaust if you use gas.

Still worth it for the never ending hot showers.

Re:Prepay (1)

Orphaze (243436) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341751)

I'm a tentative fan of tankless technology, but I would like to point out that even cheap tanks can easily last 20-30 years with proper maintenance.

So, you ask, where does that 7 year warranty come from? That's about how long it takes for the tank's sacrificial anode rod to degrade, leaving the tank to rust in its place.

If you replace the rod every 4-5 years ($10-20?) the tank will easily last a decade or more. My mom's is about 23 years old now, and a recent inspection showed no signs of issues.

"Natgas price only goes up." (1)

alispguru (72689) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341857)

Not true [eia.gov] . Note that:

* Those prices are not adjusted for inflation
* The trend since 2005 has been down

Reasonable Question (1, Interesting)

erick99 (743982) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340723)

Come on, folks. It's a reasonable question. He is going to two large states and is asking about coverage. There is no need to ridicule him for his request. If you can't answer it or are not interested than move on. I doubt SlashDot would have posted it had they thought it wasn't a reasonable request.

Well... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340765)

I have lived in Vegas and San Francisco. I'm assuming you're going through central CA for your trip. As far as I'm concerned, Verizon (for me) had the best coverage in Vegas and SF. I've had clear reception all the way to Salinas- your mileage may vary beyond that. Those I knew that had AT&T hated it (poor reception).

T-Mobile isn't good in Vegas - I had it for a few years there and the coverage was bad.

Now, if you're driving through the middle of NV, then forget it. Your reception will drop off around Yerington and not return until you hit Indian Springs. You'll have to wait to upload the UFO pics you snap on the way.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39341835)

I have spent about 3 months of the year in vegas for the last 10 years (tradeshows). I travel throughout vegas running down this or that (IE, not just on the strip).
I am and have been a TMobile subscriber for about as long. Coverage in Vegas is great everywhere and I've never found a spot where I didn't have 3G coverage. Same goes for the drive from LA, though granted it's not like I'm streaming anything the entire time (because someone has to drive the truck).

Coverage is 95% complete up 395 from LA area to Mammoth too btw.

Re:Well... (-1, Offtopic)

vipas (2594627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39343411)

I have lived in Vegas and ad the best Mercurial 7 [footballchaussures.com] coverage in Vegas and SF. I've had clear reception all the way to Salinas- your mileage may vary beyond Mercurial vapor [footballchaussures.com] that. Those I knew that had AT&T hated it (poor reception). San Francisco. I'm assuming you're going through central CA for your trip. As far as I'm concerned, Verizon (for me) h

Verizon (1)

bigcmoney (535532) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340809)

Verizon.

L.A and San Francisco (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340813)

I live in L.A. and lived in Cupertino a year and half ago and went to San Francisco a lot. I have both AT&T and Verizon because I'm a mobile developer. I've used both iPhones and Android phones. AT&T SUCKS .. BAD. Verizon is great. I switched my iPhone from AT&T to Verizon when I moved to L.A. for this reason.

Las Vegas is not in Nevada (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39340823)

I've lived in Northern Nevada for a little over a year, and have been assured multiple times that Las Vegas is in fact, not in Nevada.

Reality check (3, Insightful)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | more than 2 years ago | (#39340889)

For 3 weeks, just learn to look for free WiFi hotspots.

Seriously.

It's 3 weeks. You'll survive if you can't tweet every 5 minutes. If you were talking about 3 months, I could see why it would be worth the trouble and expense to set this up but 3 weeks? No.

If you're set on it, go for pre-paid. You'll have to spend $50-100 on the device, possibly a setup fee of $35-50, and a month's service at $35-80 depending on the carrier. Last time I checked, Millenicom [millenicom.com] was offering 50 gig plans on Verizon's network (the best, most consistent data network IMHO) for $70 or so. It's far more data than you'll be able to push over Verizon's network for that price on any of Verizon's plans.

Seriously, tho, it's 3 weeks. Every hotel you stay in will have WiFi available for $0-10/night. Many businesses (especially restaurants) offer free WiFi.

one good way to find wifi cafes [Re:Reality check] (1)

nil0lab (94268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341313)

Wifi Cafe Finder is a cheap Android app that finds many of these for you without requiring internet access. Works for me even when one phone (Virgin Mobile Samsung Intercept) is in "Airplane Mode" or on a phone with no SIM (LG Optimus T).

correction (Re:one good way to find wifi cafes [Re (1)

nil0lab (94268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39344369)

"free wifi cafe spots" is the correct name.

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Verizon 4G SIM Card (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39341213)

Although the question was about 3G coverage, for those of you who made a blanket statement that Verizon doesn't use SIM cards, you forgot about their 4G SIM cards.

Re:Verizon 4G SIM Card (1)

Megane (129182) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341513)

It still doesn't matter if his existing Euro phone (which he is implying he wants to use) doesn't support the 4G frequency bands.

Virgin Mobile (virginmobileusa.com) (2)

nil0lab (94268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39341441)

Virgin Mobile ZTE Peel is a Mifi-like device with a value proposition that's hard to beat for lower-end users (500 MB for $20 for one month) and the device is like $30 IIRC. Perfect for Waze or Google Maps or e-mail checking or light web. Not good if you watch videos or skype or download podcasts. Sold with iPod touch original gen in mind but actually works as a universal wifi gateway. Plus it's non-contract. Coverage map is Sprint's- they don't do their own.

These devices are sold at Radio Shack and Best Buy in the SF Bay Area- I don't know about other states.

Verizon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39341571)

I actually use a 3g hotspot from Verizon in this exact area. I travel Northern California to Nevada and I live in LA.
I have great reception on this entire stretch except for dead land areas in Nevada when you are traveling from LA to Vegas, and a few spotty areas on the I5 freeway between San Francisco and LA...

ATT+VZW is the best option in CA (1)

stripes (3681) | more than 2 years ago | (#39342329)

CA is a mighty big place, and I haven't traveled all that much of it. However I do happen to have phones on ATT's 3G network that can act as hotspots, and USB networking devices for VZW and Sprint. I don't have T-Moble because the coverage map looked like it wasn't really useful. I also have an RV, and have left "major city areas" quite a bit. I don't currently have any 4G networking gear (unless you count all the 3G stuff the ITU reclassified, in which case I have 4G but no LTE).

In my experience there is a lot of coastline that has no service from anyone. There are some inland areas where hills or mountains block signal from everyone. Some places I can get ATT but not VZW. Some places I can get VZW and not ATT. Around the coast it was pretty even. In land VZW seems to have a little bit of an edge, but not a lot. Many places I could get VZW and/or ATT but not Sprint. I can't recall any places I could get Sprint but neither ATT or VZW, but looking at coverage maps there might be such places, I've just never attempted to get signal there. However there is no substitute for actually testing in your location. Everyone has said VZW has the best coverage for years, but for years my house had no VZW service, while it did have spotty ATT service (recently VZW started serving the area, and also around the same time ATT's service picked up a lot as well)

Most places where I could get ATT and VZW 3G the ATT was faster. Sometimes it was even faster if the device showed "fewer bars".

The "reasonable best option" I would see is to get one device on ATT and one on VZW, and ignore the rest. My VZW device came form http://www.millenicom.com/ [millenicom.com] I don't know if they still sell them or not. They use to have a $50/month plan for 10G. It looked like a no-contract plan, but the way it was set up when you stop paying the monthly fee they want the device back or hit you with a big disconnect fee (and they charge for the device up front), however even so it was still a bit cheaper then other VZW data devices, just not by as much as it first looked. Things may have changed since then, so look around, but make sure you give them a peek. My ATT device is an iPhone (was a 3GS, then a 4, now a 4S...my wife and I take turns getting a new one each year). Another option is the new iPad, they have large up front costs, but a month by month plan (no fee to cancel, no fee to restart). From what I have read on the net only the VZW one currently supports hotspot sharing, ATT still hasn't gotten their ducks in a row there. Depending on what you want to do with the internet you might be just fine only having access on the iPad anyway though.

I have no data for Nevada. Last time I was in Arizona I didn't have a VZW device, but ATT seemed fine pretty much everywhere.

Re:ATT+VZW is the best option in CA (1)

slashgrim (1247284) | more than 2 years ago | (#39343739)

CA is a mighty big place, and I haven't traveled all that much of it. However I do happen to have phones on ATT's 3G network that can act as hotspots, and USB networking devices for VZW and Sprint. I don't have T-Moble because the coverage map looked like it wasn't really useful.

I have no data for Nevada. Last time I was in Arizona I didn't have a VZW device, but ATT seemed fine pretty much everywhere.

If you want AT&T's network but don't like the price, H2OWireless uses ATTs network and has better prices than ATT prepaid...but don't bother calling tech support unless you have 3 hours to burn (hiring a single person for tech support calls must be how they keep costs low!).

... and as far as E-Bay is concerned (1)

vawarayer (1035638) | more than 2 years ago | (#39342573)

You can buy anything.

Based on personal experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39342677)

It all depends on your route. With most major highways you'll have excellent coverage with either of the big two (Verizon and AT&T), but once you get off those highways it will vary greatly. AT&T tends to have more areas with service (which is often mediocre) than Verizon outside of major cities. In San Francisco, in particular, AT&T is so over-sold that it's practically useless on most of the peninsula, but you also barely need service there since wifi hotspots are absolutely everywhere. In the other major cities you'll have good service with both. Once you're in those ultra-low-population areas in the central valley, AT&T has the edge on Verizon, with more remote areas with some level of service, but it's usually very mediocre (there have been some strange exceptions to both, though). Once in a city, any carrier (with the aforementioned exception) is pretty good. Sprint will have worse service in areas between cities than Verizon. All prepaid mifi devices I'm aware of are on AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon, with Sprint (Virgin uses the Sprint network, for example).

You need to think about where, when, and how you need internet service. If you are going to be in SF most of the time and don't want to use wifi hotspots, I'd go with Verizon. If you need continual service, don't care if it's slow, and can deal with wifi in SF, I'd go with AT&T. If you don't need internet access outside of cities, I'd probably go with Virgin Mobile (which uses Sprint's network). In the US wifi rarely has a surcharge except at 3-star-plus hotels, unlike most of the rest of the world. Every coffee shop, every McDonalds, every chain motel, every hotel through 2.5 stars, every Apple Store, the majority of malls, most chain casual-dining restaurants, and many other places have free wifi. Outside of the US and Canada, almost all wifi has a surcharge, which may come as a shock to many international visitors.

Also, to those that don't understand this: I've done used mifi devices like this in the UK. A prepaid mifi device with service cost far less than an international data plan with my carrier and gave me more data than I could use in that time. Not having ready use of the internet cripples you more than I think most of your realize.

Roam Mobility (1)

crazedmaniac (647278) | more than 2 years ago | (#39342993)

You could use Roam Mobility which is designed for cheap US pay-as-you go (6 cents per megabyte).

Experienced Traveler (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39343037)

I used to roll down I-5 from the bay area to LA on a near weekly basis and my sprint link worked well except for the pass between Gilroy to Los Banos. There were outages in the middle of I-5 because it's essentially empty space between the distant towns. Once upon a time I took my friend along who had a verizon link, his was much more consistent with only the pacheco pass causing any lack of service.

Verizon (1)

binary paladin (684759) | more than 2 years ago | (#39343545)

I live in Las Vegas and have made plenty of trips to Northern Nevada, and Northern and Southern California. While I am personally a T-Mobile subscriber, the people on the road trips that have the best and most consistant signal are the Verizon guys.

There's still a lot of dead space around here so... that's life.

BYOD (1)

slashgrim (1247284) | more than 2 years ago | (#39343651)

If you have a GSM device, just pickup a prepaid sim card when you get in the US. Either T-mobile Pre-paid or H2O Wireless (uses AT&T's network). Check which 3G frequency your device uses and save the $$$ from buying a new device. I've used both T-Mobile Monthly Pre-paid and H2OWireless and would recommend T-mobile for reliability, but both work well.

Definitely not Sprint. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39343779)

While it's only my experience, Sprint's coverage in San Francisco is horrible. When traveling it's not much better. Verizon is the most expensive, but the clear winner of the coverage sweepstakes.

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