View Full Version : Phone Service

01-01-2015, 23:22
I was just wondering how phone service from T-Mobile was on the trail. I obviously don't plan on being on my phone a whole lot, but have some bars to call my mom or share a photo here and there during my thru-hike might be nice.

I live in Pennsylvania and hike the AT close to my house pretty often, and I am usually out of luck on any service. Is this a problem throughout the trail or just in PA?

01-02-2015, 00:31
Verizon, or att.
Basically forget about the rest
On the southern AT, verizon is tops by far.

Some of the walmart type plans like straight talk use verizon or att, they buy minutes from those carriers, but their service is secondary to the main carrier traffic. You can tell which network a phone will use by a prefix on the box. Some people have luck with these.

After having almost no service with att, i ended up with a $25 verizon prepaid phone, excellent coverage.

01-02-2015, 08:18
FWIW I had the ability to stream music in many places from PA to MA with Verizon while many could not get any service in large stretches of this section. Other sections, such as inside the greater NYC commuting zone almost everything works - perhaps not solid coverage but 'can get a signal somewhere along the way coverage.

01-02-2015, 09:14
We have T-Mobile. It's pretty bad here in central north Carolina, and basically does not work at all on the trail. If I were going to thru-hike, I would go to Wal-Mart and get them to set me up with an AT&T sim card for my phone, and get their $45/mo service. Heck, we're planning to do that anyway.

Edit: on our LT thru this past summer I got pre-paid Verizon service for an old iPhone 4 and it worked fine through most of Vermont. My wife had her T-Mobile phone and got occasional phone/text service in towns through AT&T (partner service) but zero data and no service on the trail at all.

01-02-2015, 09:48
We have tMobile also and I'd have to say as from NY through MA, service is generally intermittent and unpredictable, although it was present maybe 40% of the time. However, there was a long, long gap between Kent CT and the state line where there was no service at all (although I think that's also the case for other plans, I'm not sure).


01-02-2015, 09:56
I use Republic Wireless which purchases airtime on the Sprint network, supposedly with Verizon as a roaming partner when Sprint towers are not accessible. I have experienced limited service levels on the AT in SNP and Northern Virginia on the Sprint network with service mainly available only in places like ridges where there is a clear line of sight to either the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the Virginia Piedmont to the east. I believe that the service must have a pretty limited "fallback" on Verizon since I do not experience the great service that others report. Still, it is adequate for my purposes.

Not on the AT, but trail related, I had zero service on the Colorado Trail for several days at the start of the hike almost until I reached Breckenridge and service was again spotty in many spots even with great line of sight to populated areas. In fact, I didn't even have service in some trail towns like Lake City and Salida (that was a big surprise).

One mitigating feature of Republic Wireless is the fact that phone calls can be made over wifi seamlessly. If you are on a wifi network even in an area with no cell coverage, you can make calls. That saved me in Colorado and could also work very well along the AT if there are plans to stop in trail towns frequently. However, I would not rely on it to make calls from the trail to call shuttles, etc. I love the $10/month plan but those needing more robust service probably have to go with the dreaded Verizon. I used to have a Verizon phone and while service was good customer service is beneath abysmal.

01-02-2015, 10:13
I have hiked all of PA with T-Mobile. In general, reception is better north of the Susquehanna than south of the Susquehanna, and better from the high ground vs. the low areas. Suggest you keep your phone turned off until you really need it to increase battery life.

01-02-2015, 10:45
Along the lines of what Coffee said:

Install an app on your smartphone to make free VOIP calls as well. Then in towns or places where you may not have service, but do have wifi, you can still make calls. Some rural hotels may have weak/no cell service but they get satellite internet

I do this all the time. I have a ATT phone, but virtually no ATT service in a small town where I work a lot of the time. But we have wifi everywhere, so I just make calls from work to home or hotel to home using VOIP, the free app I use is voicegroove I think. My voip has a separate number. Also can port your voicemail to something like googlevoice so you can get voicemail messages people leave even when dont have any cell service.

Had to do this outside of Yosemite as well at a hostel I stayed in, no ATT service. Several other small town mountain areas too.

Leaving a phone on when it has no/weak signal runs battery down extremely quickly. It tries to amplify the weak signals Im told. My experience is this is probably true.

01-02-2015, 11:33
If there is a high need for a reliable cellular phone connection at specific times or in specific areas, a satellite phone may be the best option overall. At about $500 for the phone and a base plan of $35 per month for basic service, it may fill that niche need very well. Thats fairly competitive with standard tower cell service but has the advantage of connection whenever there is line of sight to the satellite.