3G Data coverage maps of Iowa

As I’m in the market for a new cell phone and carrier, after being with Sprint (disclosure: I’m a Sprint shareholder) for 9.5 years, I did some comparison of the various 3G coverage maps of Iowa, and here they are.  You can click on the maps for larger versions of many of them:

First up, iWireless.  Formerly known as Iowa Wireless, they’re the closest thing we have to T-Mobile here in Iowa.  Their 3G coverage is pretty weak, and is represented by the pink color on the map.  Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls/Waterloo, Des Moines, Ames, Council Bluffs, and Iowa City are covered, and really nowhere else..  Their service prices are good, but their phone selection tends to lag T-Mobile proper by quite a bit, and if you venture outside those cities, you’re going to be on Edge or even worse, GPRS a lot of the time…


Next up is AT&T.  I have two maps for them, the first is their current map, the second is the coverage they plan to have on 3G by the end of March.  Cedar Falls & Waterloo went live on 3G sometime yesterday, so the map appears to be coming true.  On the first map, 3G is the dark blue.  On the second (future) map, current 3G is dark blue, future 3G is light blue, sorry it’s so tiny!



Third is Sprint.  As I mentioned, they’re my current carrier, and cover most of the major metropolitan areas with 3G (the dark orange), though for some reason they continue to ignore Fort Dodge and Mason City, among others, as well as the I-35 corridor:


Fourth is Verizon.  They cover most of the state with their 3G (red) coverage, though that salmon color shows they have some holes in the northwest & southwest corners.  I, personally, never go there, so it doesn’t really bother me, but I wish there was a little better coverage on US 63 north from Waterloo to Rochester, MN.


Fifth, and best, in my opinion, is regional carrier US Cellular.  They cover almost all of the state with 3G as represented by the sickly green color, and when you’re not on their network, you’ll roam onto Verizon’s 3G network in most of the country.  For some reason, the bottom tier of Minnesota seems to be non-3G coverage in their maps, however.


So what’s an Iowan to do?  Clearly if you’re a heavy smartphone user, and you travel outside major cities, CDMA is your only real option for technology, and the best choices are Verizon & US Cellular.  Sprint isn’t bad in Eastern Iowa, but really degrades elsewhere, and in rural areas.  The GSM carriers, iWireless and AT&T, are really only great in the major cities, over 100,000 people, but if you don’t spend any time out in little places like Ventura, Manson, or Hanlontown, Iowa, they’d be fine.  Unfortunately, I spend time in those places, and even some bigger ones, like Mason City and Fort Dodge, and I think I want 3G coverage in all of them for my next phone…

Installing BlackBerry OS 5 on Sprint Blackberry 8330

I took the plunge earlier this week and installed the new BlackBerry operating system on my Sprint BlackBerry 8330 phone.  I’ve had really good luck with it, it’s been stable, and the improvements to the browser and messaging portions of the operating system have been well worth the time I spent getting it working.  In order to save others some time, here’s the procedure I used.  The only downsides I encountered were that I had less memory available afterwards in the phone (the new OS is larger) and I had to tweak permissions for some of the Google Apps to get them working.

Disclaimer:  This is unsupported by Sprint.  You may kill your phone doing this.  You may lose data.  You may trigger the apocalypse.  If you do so, it’s not my fault.  This worked for me, but you have been warned.  This very well may work on Verizon and U.S. Cellular 8330 phones as well, but I haven’t tested it.


Step 1. Plug your BlackBerry into your PC via USB and back up all your data via Desktop Manager.  I sync my contacts to Gmail using Google Sync, so it was easy for me to restore them back into the phone once I was done, but you’ll want to back up all the data on your phone before you start this.

Step 2. Download the Boost Mobile version of the OS from this site. Install it on your PC.

Step 3. Download version 1.7 (or newer) of BBSAK from this site, you’ll need to register for a free account to access the download.  Install it on your PC.

Step 4. Make sure your backups are good before going any farther.  Launch BBSAK, (your password is probably blank).  Select “Wipe Device” and BBSAK will nuke your BlackBerry.  It’ll take a few minutes, and will automatically reboot, then give you an error message on the screen, indicating that your OS is gone. This is normal.

Step 5. Click the Load OS button in BBSAK.  This will now let you load OS 5 onto your phone.  You can select or deselect a few optional components that you want to load onto the phone, then wait as it copies the OS over, and reboots.

Step 6. Wait.  Be patient, seriously.  A progress bar will pop up on the phone as it boots for the first time.  It’ll appear to hang at around the 60% mark, but it’s not frozen.  Go find something else to do for 10-20 minutes, and it’ll be done by the time you come back.

Step 7. Start reinstalling all your data and apps.  It should now be up and running.  Performance may be lousy at first, as it re-downloads all the shortcuts from Sprint for things like Sprint Navigation, the IM clients, the software store, etc.  You’ll want to reinstall the pieces you use on the phone, then start adding in the third party software pieces you use, including BlackBerry App World.  I had to modify the permissions for some of the Google Applications, which you can do in Options –> Applications in the phone.  Google Sync refused to install properly using the installer that installs all Google applications, but going to the Google Sync web site with my BlackBerry directly and installing just that piece worked fine.

Step 8. Enjoy!  You’re now the first kid on the block with BlackBerry OS 5 on your 8330!  Performance will improve after the OS settles down from that initial boot, and I’ve had no issues with lockups or memory leaks, but as always, your mileage may vary!

My first gamble

I made my first stock purchase today (not counting all the stuff in my retirement account, but I don't really pick those). I decided to toss a very small amount of money at Sprint, because I think they're undervalued now, and ripe for a takeover/buyout. I know there are fears of bankruptcy, but they have very real assets (spectrum & customers) that are worth real dollars. So, I risked a small amount of money (less than my last video game system) on some of their stock, now to see if it pays off...