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Frequently Asked Questions
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These are some of the more common questions received by email. If you have a question that you'd like answered then why not post it on GeckoBeachForums.com?

FAQ's: Index | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3
  1. Why does this web site exist?
  2. Which provider do you recommend?
  3. How does cellular work?
  4. There's so many handsets to choose from, so why do you only review a few?
  5. Do you have the service unlocking code for my phone?
  6. What's the difference between Mobile, Cellular, and Digital PCS phones?
  7. Can I choose an alternative long distance provider on my cell phone?
  8. What is a SP-lock?
  9. I purchased a phone on eBay. Why can't I use it?
  10. Why don't you provide rates or opinions on other Canadian or US providers?
  11. I travel between the USA and Canada several times during the year. What are my options for inexpensive roaming?
  12. What recommendations do you have to keep your cell phone bills down?
  13. I have unresolved issues with my provider. Where can I vent these?
  14. Just how many people visit this site?
  15. Can someone track where I am if my phone is on?
  16. Why make maps of transmission equipment locations?
  17. Why are there no maps for Montreal, Edmonton, Seattle, etc?
  18. My friend's cell phone works in a certain location but mine doesn't -- why?
  19. Will many more cellular towers be established in the near future?
  20. How do I use the Microcell tower locator numbers on the maps?
  21. How do I use the Debug Mode on my Telus Mobility Sony Phone?

Why does this web site exist?

This web site was created in early 1998 after I decided it was time for me to purchase a cell phone in late 1997. At that time I found the market very confusing with several service providers trying to get you to purchase their product. After a few months of Resource into which phone and service provider would be best for my needs, I purchased my first cell phone.

Not too long after that people starting asking me why I decided to go with a particular provider over another provider. In fact, I received many questions since people had known that I had done my Resource. Obviously I was not the only one greatly confused over the Canadian cell phone market and hence the creation of a web site that provides unbiased information on service providers and cell phones. This web site now not only provides information to Canadian visitors, but much of the information is also applicable to the many visitors from the US, Central and South America, Asia, and Australia.

The web site has now been running since early 1998, but the GeckoBeach name came into existence in July 1999. GeckoBeach is not related to any cellular provider company or cell phone manufacturer nor has the author ever worked for any of the cell phone service providers or phone manufactures. Funding and operation of the site is received in part from donations of web hosting services and the banner ads that appear on various pages. Information for this site is obtained from service provider pages, discussion boards and site visitors such as yourself.

Like what you see or have suggestions for improvements? Let me know. Also feel free to check out some of our sponsor ads found on the pages. Donations of handsets, cellular-related equipment, kayaks, plane tickets, SCUBA gear, and even carrot tops for my bunnies are also more than welcome.

Which provider do you recommend?

I can't recommend any one provider over another, since each caters to a slightly different clientele. You have to look at several different factors, such as costs, coverage areas, charges for extra features, service quality, etc.

Telus Mobility, Bell Mobility, and Rogers (including Fido) are the big players. They have excellent coverage across most of Canada. Other provincial Mobility companies offer services in their province of origin and have roaming agreements with the other Mobility providers in Canada.
Choose your provider carefully as the phones are not interchangeable between providers due to different technologies. Carefully consider the features of each phone that you actually need: Fido or Rogers may offer roaming overseas, which may be nice to have if you actually travel overseas several times a year. A choice of 35 ringer types on a phone may be nice if you actually plan to use any of them besides the standard ring. Will you really use those games on the handset? Is style important to you? And so on... It's kind of like buying a car based on the drink holders -- often you're unhappy after the purchase because you didn't spend your time doing a bit of homework before the purchase. Whatever you do, make sure you have gathered all the facts you need and never feel the pressure to buy on the spot!

Personally, I am with Telus Mobility. My choices of this provider are based primarily on their service level and their coverage across the province I live in.

How does cellular work?

To briefly answer this question, I will use the idea of the cordless phone that many of use have in our homes.

Cordless phones usually consist of two parts: the handset and the base unit. When a call is received over the landline connected to the base unit, the base unit causes the cordless phone to ring via a wireless connection (or radio frequency) between the base unit and cordless phone.
If you're like me, you have probably taken your cordless phone for a walk around the house and neighbourhood to just see how far away from the base unit you can get and still make and receive calls. We'll define the area in which you can make and receive calls with your cordless phone as the 'cell of coverage' or 'cell'. Beyond the cell your phone is useless and you must move back into the cell to make or receive calls. Now, you could improve your coverage area or cell range by moving the base station from your hallway table to on top of the roof of your house or building. This would minimize the interference from your base station to your cordless phone outside since the radio signal would travel though fewer walls and experience less interference. Let's say that the range of your cordless phone with the base station on the roof is 500 metres OR that the cell of coverage is 500 m in any direction from the base station.

Now say you had a friend who lived exactly 1 km (1000 m) away from you and he had the exact same cordless phone as you and he also put his base station on the roof and it had a range of 500 m. You would then have two areas of coverage adjacent to each other and in theory you could use your cordless phone in your cell area as well as in his and he could use his phone in his cell coverage area as well as yours. Each base station would provide a coverage area of up to 500 m from the station's location.

Cell phones work by locating the nearest base station or 'cell' within an area. Large cities may have hundreds of base stations located on building tops and towers located a certain distance away from each other. The term 'cellular' comes from the idea that mobile phones move between these cells of coverage and they can place and receive calls provided that they are able to communicate with a nearby base station.

Currently, the coverage of cellular sites is usually in the order of several km, but this varies on traffic through the area, interferences, and so on. I don't recommend sticking your cordless phone base station on your roof however, and the idea of using your friend's cordless phone won't work in reality due to the different channel assignments used by cordless phones.

If you'd like to learn more about how a wireless network works then check out the Establishing a Wireless Network article on this site. To find out where cell sites or base stations are in your neighbourhood then check out the cellular tower location maps.

There's so many handsets to choose from, so why do you only review a few?

Although I would like to review several more handsets, the fact remains that I can only get a hold of very few handsets to review. Some people might say that I have a bias towards Fido handsets, but the truth is that only this company offers a 30-day return policy. Within 30 days I can activate the handset, try it out, and return it without opening any of the documentation. Telus, Bell, and Rogers will not sell me a handset without a one year contract and therefore I am not willing to plunk down the money for both a handset and one year's worth of service (combined this would run me close to $500 for a cheap handset). Although I have tested various handsets on the Telus, Bell, and Rogers networks, these are usually from friends that are willing to loan me their handsets for a few hours. Using this method of testing doesn't really let me try out the handset in different environments or situations. Often these handsets have already been on the market for over a year and since so many people already have them, I really don't see a point in writing a detailed review of them since they will likely be discontinued within the next year.

I would like to review more handsets, but to do this requires some temporary 'donations' of both handsets and a few minutes of local calling airtime for a proper review when the handset is first released. This donation of a handset could come from one of the wireless service providers, a retailer that sells the product and its related accessories, or even an individual that has just purchased one. In return for the use of the handset the company or individual would receive a credit on the review page. One such retailer has done this so far and in return I know that several local readers of the review have gone to them to purchase the handset or some related accessories.

If you are interested in seeing more reviews on this site and are able to help me out with this problem then please drop me a note at Licorice at GeckoBeach dot com.

Do you have the service unlocking code for my phone?

Of all questions I receive by email, this has to be one of the most common. Service unlocking codes are unique to every phone and are tied to their serial number. When you first activate a new phone, often one must provide the serial number (often referred to either as the IMEI, International Mobile Equipment Identity number or the ESN, Electronic Serial Number) of their handset to the service provider and then a code may be given to program the phone. Once programming is complete the phone is ready to use on the service provider's network. If you attempt to enter the programming code again, more than likely the phone will tell you it is incorrect and turn itself off. This is because the service programming code changes after the first activation.

Most phones have two codes, the first is commonly referred to as the "Programming Code" and is entered either by the dealer or customer upon initial activation of a new handset. After this code is entered, the phone defaults to the second code, often referred to as the "Master Code". If you deactivate your handset and sell it to someone else who then re-activates it, the Master Code will be given to the dealer or customer to place new information into the handset. This code will never change, unless you can change it in the programming screens.

So does that mean that if I have the Master Code, I can go and change providers? Not necessarily. Many providers that are using tdMA, CDMA, or iDEN might arrange to have their handsets crippled in some other fashion in the firmware itself so that even with the Master Code you still couldn't go and switch providers. GSM phones are a slightly different story since there might be multiple codes that lock the phone and/or the SIM to the provider. See the SP-lock FAQ if you would like to know more about service provider handset locking.

Do you have the code for my phone anyways? No, I do not have any codes for any phones that relate to unlocking handsets. For phones that have field test screens, you can find some codes for activating these screens on the secrets page. This is not a hacking site and I do not have any unlocking codes for any handsets, so please don't email me asking for them. I will not respond to any emails asking me for either codes or where codes might be found.

What's the difference between Mobile, Cellular, and Digital PCS phones?

The short answer: Nothing

Mobile Coke machine in Sydney airport The longer answer: Cellular phones are based on the concept explained above regarding a phone moving between adjacent cellular tower sites. In the North American market, "Cellular" phones have existed since the mid 1980's. In the mid to late 1990's, newer digital technologies where introduced to replace the older analog technology. As a marketing ploy for newer technology, many service providers and phone companies promoted these newer phones as "Digital Personal Communication Service" or "PCS". Now that most of the market is using digital phones, the idea behind Digital PCS has faded and people once again default to "Cellular Phone".

The word "Mobile" is common in Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, Australia and most of Asia. The word "Cellular" is more common in the Americas, parts of Eastern Asia and Southern Africa. "Mobile" likely evolved as part of the GSM (Global System for Mobiles) sweep that occurred in most of the world over a decade ago. In the Americas, "Cellular" likely remained in place since initially there was only a few providers that offered GSM, and most continued to offer analog, tdMA, or the newer CDMA at the time.

So now when you are overseas, switch your vocabulary to either "Mobile" or "Cellular". In the Sydney airport you should tell the salesman that you wish to rent hire a cellular mobile phone so people can call ring you. Got it?

Ironically in Canada, two of the largest service providers are Telus Mobility and Bell Mobility, yet they still refer to their phones as Cellular and not Mobiles. Microcell (the parent company of Fido) refuses to use 'cellular' to describe their product, so they advertise their phones as 'mobile service' in Canada.

Can I choose an alternative long distance provider on my cell phone?

At present the answer is no. A few American cellular phone providers do allow you to choose your own long distance provider, but I do not expect Canadian cellular providers to allow this anytime in the near future. Their main reason may be the fact that long distance charges offset some of the costs of the cellular services.

There's nothing stopping you from using a calling card on your phone however. In this case you pay only the airtime for either the local or toll-free access number you dial to place your call. There may not be much of a savings here if the calling card has an initial network access fee with each call and most of your calls are of short duration.
Cellular providers both in Canada and the US generally also restrict calls from cell phones to alternative long distance providers advertising "10-10" or "10-15" plans (e.g., 10-15-566 plus the number you are dialing').

Some visitors to this site have told me that they subscribe to various long distance dial-up services to avoid the high cost of cellular long distance with many providers. This means you dial a local number, enter an access code and then dial your long distance number. You are still charged local airtime by your service provider and the third party long distance provider often charges a monthly network access fee of about $3-5. Some of these long distance dial-up providers include: XAS Telecom (Ontario service only), Comtel Canada, Vancouver Telephone Company, Wintel, ClearChannel, Primus, SelectCom, and Excel.

Another option to consider is if a majority of your long distance cellular calls are to one number (i.e., home), consider getting a 1-800 number for your home and then dial that number while traveling. 1-800 numbers offer relatively long distance and usually have a low monthly fee or minimum charge. Contact your local landline long distance provider for more information.

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