From T-Mobile To AT&T: It Couldn't Have Been More Easy
Ever experience one of those situations where, afterward, you wonder why it took you so long to tackle the undertaking? That’s what I’m feeling right about now. And here’s why:
I snapped this screenshot from my iPhone 3G, sitting in my living room. Look at the upper left corner. That’s a full five bars’ worth of signal strength on AT&T, folks; count ‘em for yourself. In recent times, I would have been lucky to get two bars’ worth of reception on T-Mobile. And that ‘3G’ icon, signifying UMTS HSPA cellular data capabilities? With T-Mobile, it would have best-case been an ‘E’ for prior-generation EDGE services. And more often than not, it would have been an ‘o’ signifying even older, slower GPRS speeds.
In case it’s not already obvious to regular readers, I went ahead and converted the cellular service on my iPhone 3G from T-Mobile to AT&T prior to tomorrow night’s termination of the latter carrier’s $30/month unlimited data plan option. Given the poor reputation that AT&T has garnered with U.S. iPhone owners over the past three years, this is a step that I long resisted. But although there’s always the chance that my initial results may not be sustainable, so far I’m quite pleased with my decision.
The only negative aspect of the experience thus far, in fact, was that I had to drive 60 miles round-trip to have it; there’s no AT&T Wireless store in Truckee. When I walked in the door and announced to the representative who greeted me (and who ended up being the branch manager) that I had an iPhone I wanted to migrate from T-Mobile to AT&T, I got quite a double-take; she told me that this was the first time she’d encountered a carrier-unlocked handset. Nonetheless, she passed me along to to one of her salespersons, who had me set up in short order.
I’d been concerned that AT&T might insist that I wipe the jailbroken, carrier-unlocked iPhone and reprogram it with the official Apple firmware. Such a move would have not only forced me to re-jailbreak it and re-install the entire sanctioned-plus-Cydia-sourced application suite afterwards, but by putting the latest baseband code on it, would have rendered it unsuitable for future carrier unlocking by myself or anyone else I might pass it along to. My fears ended up being unfounded; in fact, my sales person was only (quite) curious to have me explain to her how I’d gotten the iPhone to work with T-Mobile in the first place.
She punched my contact information into her computer, including my phone number and T-Mobile account number. Then she powered off the handset, removed the T-Mobile SIM and replaced it with an AT&T successor, and restarted the iPhone. By the time the boot-up sequence completed a few minutes later, she had received notification that the port of my number from T-Mobile to AT&T had successfully completed; a quick phone call to the handset confirmed that indeed it had. And once I remembered to enable 3G services, the ‘3G’ icon popped up on-screen (ironically, my Verizon/Motorola Droid was only giving me archaic CDMA 1xRTT speeds at the time). 3G capability must be disabled on the iPhone in order to successfully carrier-unlock it to T-Mobile using ultrasn0w, and anyway it makes no sense to have the battery-draining setting enabled with T-Mobile since the iPhone isn’t compatible with that carrier’s 1900 MHz UMTS HSPA requirement.
My new AT&T plan is less expensive than I’d originally feared, although the $36 one-time activation fee was a bit of a surprise. I don’t currently spend a lot of time talking on the phone (don’t worry, the irony of that statement isn’t lost on me); mostly I’m surfing, emailing, Twittering, and doing other data-centric stuff. So I went with the $39.99 Nation 450 voice plan, which gives me 450 roll-over ‘anytime’ minutes and 5,000 overnight-and-weekend minutes per month. I also cringed and dropped $5/month on a 200-text-message plan, given that I have friends and relatives who can’t resist the urge to periodically SMS me, and given that the no-plan alternative was a 20 cent/message charge. I’ve confirmed with AT&T that should I decide to migrate to a more-minutes voice plan in the future, my $30/month unlimited data plan will remain active.
Since I hadn’t needed to uninstall any of my existing software, the MyWi-hacked Bluetooth and USB tethering capabilities to my laptop remain active on AT&T, at no extra charge. Here’s an AT&T UMTS HSPA bandwidth test result using a Bluetooth connection to my MacBook Air:
For comparison sake, here’s the same setup but with 3G disabled in the handset, thereby only leveraging prior-generation EDGE cellular data technology:
Point made? Interestingly, in watching the signal strength and data services icons as I use the phone in various upstairs and downstairs locations of my diminutive dwelling, the iPhone seems to be variously connecting to three different AT&T towers. They’re all to the southeast of me; the 3G-capable one shown above (whose location comes courtesy of the cellular-augmented hybrid positioning capabilities of the handset’s A-GPS subsystem) is approximately 8 miles away from me ‘as the crow flies’. Only a few blocks from it is another 3G-supportive tower, albeit (judging from the relative signal strength) with lower broadcast power than its nearby neighbor:
And only about three miles away from me is another AT&T tower, also low-power in broadcast strength and this one delivering only EDGE speeds:
Unfortunately, I didn’t think to grab a T-Mobile tower location screenshot from the iPhone before my account was disabled, but I recall that it’s on the summit of Mount Watson. As you can see, it’s 2-3x further from me than the farthest AT&T tower I’m currently tapping into from the home office, thereby explaining my past poor reception:
By the way, I also recently upgraded my iPad 3G to the $30/month unlimited plan prior to Sunday night’s termination by AT&T. If I decide to jailbreak it, and if I subsequently can get MyWi to work on it, its substantial battery pack allocation will make it a nice cellular hotspot for my other mobile gear. And speaking of hotspots, my Novatel Wireless/Verizon MiFi 2200 review unit arrived the other day. I’ve only begun to play with it; here’s a bandwidth test from my couch, the same place I took the earlier AT&T UMTS/HSPA measurement:
I’ll be in S. California in a few days, and I’ll re-run my AT&T and Verizon bandwidth tests there. Stay tuned.