Monthly Archives: May 2013

Everyone needs a little help sometimes

Everyone needs a little backup now and again.

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Backup Comm Devices

We all prattle on endlessly about our EDC.  Our pistols (G19), knives (CQC-7V), watches (SKX031), and all the other assorted crap we carry day in and day out.  When we get tired of that, we start debating the merits of the best BOB/GHB and the necessity of the contents therein.  One item I think is vastly overlooked in all of these discussions is the absolute need forbackup mobile communications devices.  We all carry cell phones.  Most of us only carry one. What happens when there is a natural disaster or other event in your area and your provider goes down?  Now you’re unable to call 911, call your loved ones, or call your buddies to come get you out of whatever mess you’ve gone and got yourself in.  Wouldn’t it be a smart idea to have a backup phone on another carrier that would hopefully be ready to go at a moments
notice?  In this article I’m going to explore a few of the different options for backup devices that we have in the United States.  I can’t speak to OCONUS work as I’ve never done that and it’s better left to those that have.

First, we need to look at our specific areas.  In my AO Verizon is BY FAR the best carrier.  They are head and shoulders above the rest.  AT&T is second and T-Mobile and Sprint are so terrible they don’t even merit a mention in this guide.  My primary phone is an iPhone 5.  I couldn’t live without this thing.  I use it daily for navigation, traffic, email, browsing, messaging, and anything else I want to do.  Verizon is normally a very robust network but things happen and that’s why we always need to be prepared with a backup.  The iPhone also isn’t the toughest phone made. They break and having them go down on us in an emergency would be less than ideal.

The proliferation of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), especially on the GSM networks, has made it much easier for us to pick and choose plans that work the best for our needs. Let’s look at a couple of our options here.

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Option 1 – VZW Primary/AT&T Backup

The best MVNO I’ve found on the AT&T network after extensive research is H2O Wireless. You pay $100 for 2000 minutes and it’s good for a year.  You stick the SIM in your phone and the phone in your pack or your car (turned off with a full charge) and you’re ready to rock when you need it.  The problem with buying a smaller amount of minutes, I’ve found, is that while it is cheaper in the short term a lot of plans don’t allow for rollover and you have to remember to reup the minutes every month or you lose what you have.  It’s an easy thing to forget to do when you’re never
using the phone.  I’ve done that a couple times and just end up wasting money.

If you’d rather pay $10 a month and have your phone ready to go and pay by the minute, you can always go with a quality no contract provider like Consumer Cellular.  I’ve used them in the past and their customer service is great.  You pay $10 a month and you have your number with no worrying about having to re-up as it can be automatically billed.  No minutes are included in this deal but they’re reasonably priced if and when you do need to use the phone.

Option 2 – AT&T Primary/VZW Backup

There are 15 MVNO’s in the USA that use the VZW network.  I’ve not done as much research on them as I’ve not needed to use one but one I’ve seen get very good reviews is PagePlus. Also, certain phones on the old standby TracFone run on the VZW network but not all of them – you’ll need to verify to be sure.

The second thing we really need to look at is what kind of phone we’re going to use as our backup.  We need something, if we’re going with a GSM MVNO, that is quad band and unlocked.  If you’re going to use a VZW MVNO you’re going to probably need to buy a device from the carrier. It’s not as simple as dropping a SIM card in these phones.  We don’t want a fragile phone so the iPhone and most of the Android phones are out.  We don’t want something that is going to suck up battery power like a hoover so we’re going to be looking for basic dumb phones.  All we need to do with this device is talk and text. I looked around a while because that’s what I enjoy doing and after looking at a ton of basic phones I settled on the Nokia C2-1.5. I was looking specifically for a Nokia device after I read this article but don’t feel constrained to that one manufacturer.  The C2-1.5 is a great phone.  It does everything I need and nothing I don’t.  The battery lasts for days and the sound quality is great.  There are a bunch of options out there for GSM phones that will work in the USA, make sure the one you get will work on at LEAST the 850/1900 networks.  Quadband phones are better so you can use them worldwide but sometimes they’re not as available.

The third item that would be good to have is a portable power device or a second battery. There are quite a few options out there including battery powered ones by Duracell and Energizer and solar powered ones by Solio.  Wouldn’t it suck to go to use your phone and have the battery be dead?  Make sure that’s not a problem with prior preperation.

Fourth, make sure you have all your important numbers pre-programmed into your phone.  I don’t remember half the numbers I call on a regular basis.  When all you’re doing is scrolling down the phonebook to a person’s name why would you remember the number?

Quick recap on the features and accessories you’re looking for in a backup phone –

1)  Durable, unlocked, Quadband GSM device
2)  Good MVNO provider
3)  A full second battery or charger
4)  Pre-Programmed contacts list

Another side benefit of rocking one of these phones as a secondary device is so that you don’t have to give out your primary phone number to people you’re doing deals or meetups with.  I don’t have a landline anymore.  I’m sure a lot of you don’t, either.  I, for one, would rather not have every person I do a craigslist deal with know the same number that I give to jobs and family. If you have a plan with enough minutes on it, it’s great to be able to give that phone to Jimmy Jack that you’re meeting to sell a backpack too.  If you need to use a new phone number for whatever reason, just pop in a SIM card from another company and you have a built in burner.  There are tons of reasons that people would use a second cell phone.

For more information on prepaid MVNO networks check out http://www.prepaidmvno.com and for an information overload on cell phones check out HowardForums.


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