Review: Wing Alpha (MVNO)

Introduction

Let’s face it. Cell phone carriers have gotten pretty bad over the years. Many familes today spend huge portions of their monthly income to have mobile telecommunications devices and service–and I’m not even talking about getting the latest iPhone or whatever. I’m just talking about an average phone with your average plan (including some amount of data, of course). But beyond that, there have always been folks looking to save a buck or two.

These types of people have spawned a demand for a slew of Mobile Virtual Network Operators who lease space from the primary wireless carriers (such as Verizon, AT&T, etc.) and resell it under a different name for a lower price. Some of the oldest and most popular MVNOs include Tracfone and metroPCS. But with an uptick in the demand for more affordable cell service, many other options have come into existence. You may have heard of MVNOs such as Ting, Tello, Mint, PureTalk, Twigby, h2o Wireless, Reach Mobile, Cricket, US Mobile, Red Pocket Mobile, Xfinity Mobile, and so many more.

Like many other people, I went looking for a MVNO due to the cost savings. I decided to give Wing Mobile (also known as Wing Alpha or Wing Tel) a try. I had seen their advertisements online quite a bit, and the comments on their posts were always highly positive with very few negative comments. I figured it was worth a shot. Let’s have a look at my experience! If you’re just looking for a quick thumbs up or thumbs down for Wing, scroll to the end of the article.

Signing Up

Signing up with Wing was incredibly easy. I headed over to their website and started a chat session with one of their representatives after looking around for a bit. I explained that I wanted to see about signing up to try their service, that I was currently with Verizon, and that I would want to keep my existing phone number and bring my device. I also explained that I would need a Verizon-based plan as they’re the only infrastructure in our area of rural Nevada that has good coverage. While AT&T is also in the area, they do not have adequate coverage for where I live and where I travel.

The representative was friendly and helpful. After providing the IMEI of my device so they could check for compatibility, the representative confirmed that my device would be compatible with their Verizon-based network and that they would be able to port my existing phone number in. They even said if I had remaining device payments I could submit the final bill for the device to them and they’d take over the payments, and the amount would simply be added to my monthly amount due for their service. It sounded pretty good. Maybe too good, but I’d have to wait and see.

The next thing I know, I get a notification from Verizon that another carrier was porting my phone number in. The representative said that I would receive my free SIM card in the mail within a week and when it arrived to contact them via chat or phone again and they would help me get activated. All in all, signing up took less than 10 minutes, even with me asking questions along the way.

Week 1

Alright. The SIM card arrived with a nice little welcome card. Not bad. I chatted back into their website and provided my information and said I had a SIM card I needed to activate. The representative walked me through providing them the ICCID (or SIM card number), powering off the device, putting the new SIM card in, and powering on the device.

I was able to make a phone call, and receive text messages. All seemed well. Activation only took 5 minutes! Our chat session disconnected and I went about my day. It wasn’t long before I realized I did not have 4G data–or data at all, for that matter. A new chat session was opened and I was directed to call a phone number for customer support. When I called, I got the technical support for Clearway–an entirely different MVNO. Okay…that’s odd. Is Wing a reseller of a reseller or something? I never got an answer on that. Anyway, the Clearway representative got my data working by adding an APN (Access Point Name) in my mobile network settings. Things seemed alright for a bit.

I’m a member of several group texts (a friends one, a family one, etc.). On the evening of the first day, it became apparent that I was missing some messages, receiving others, and could not send or receive picture messages (MMS messages) at all. I called the Clearway number back and was told that they could not support me because I was not a Clearway customer; I’d need to contact Wing. Huh. That’s weird. So after some digging I find the customer support phone number for Wing and give them a call. Cue me spending the next couple of hours on the phone being transferred between multiple representatives, getting disconnected a few times, etc. After a long and frustrating support session, I finally am able to call, text, use data, and send/receive picture messages. Whew. I chalked the issues up to being with an “off brand” carrier, rather than paying for the convenience of a “name brand” carrier, and went about my business.

Week 2

Week 2 was worse than Week 1. At the beginning of the week, I suddenly couldn’t do anything. No calls. No texts. No data. Of course, this also happened to be the week that I had some very important calls coming in. Over the course of the next five (5) days, I would spend nearly 20 hours on the phone or in chat sessions with Wing representatives, trying to get my phone service situation sorted out.

I should make it clear that I have never felt more/true rage than when dealing with Wing during my second week of “having their service” (which I didn’t really have, because I couldn’t use it).

After spending the equivalent of a part-time employee’s work week on the phone with more than 10 Wing representatives–who each told me an entirely different story/excuse for the situation–I finally got a representative who checked a couple of different things and then told me that my phone was not compatible with their Verizon network. What? I explained that when I signed up they checked my IMEI and make/model and verified that it was compatible with their Verizon-based network. The representative said “I’m not sure why they would tell you that. We don’t offer CDMA-based Verizon service in your area. You’d need to be on our AT&T service if you want to keep the phone you have.” To which my response was frustrated and direct. I re-explained that I could only have Verizon service where I lived due to the coverage and the representative then tried to sell me a phone that I already said I didn’t want to buy.

After another hour it was clear that I wasn’t going to be getting anywhere, so I told them I would need to be put in contact with whomever could cancel my service, port my number back out to Verizon, and who I could talk to about refunding my first month’s payment since I was unable to use their service due to their dishonesty.

Luckily, they were immediately able to port my number so I could go back to Verizon. Unfortunately, they refused to refund my payment as “it’s a prepaid service, so we don’t do refunds.” While I understand the concept of prepaid accounts, I prepaid for service. Service I couldn’t use due to their dishonesty. So to me, it felt like they not only lied to me, but stole from me as well.

Oh well. Whatever. I was done. With my number ported out, I opened a Verizon account again and got phone service back, putting my attempt to work with Wing to bed and leaving the bad experience in the dust.

Or so I thought.

1 Month Later

Much to my surprise, a month after I had cancelled my service with Wing and gotten back on Verizon, Wing bills my debit card $55 for monthly service. Monthly service I no longer had (not like I ever had it anyway).

I spent an hour on the phone between two different representatives to get to the bottom of why they were still stealing money from me.

The representative explained, “Well, it looks like we billed you because you had AutoPay enabled on your account.” To which I explained that I shouldn’t have an account and that I cancelled my service a month ago. She had me log into my online account and lo and behold, there’s my debit card number with “AutoPay” next to it. Interestingly enough, there was no way to remove my debit card number from my account/profile.

I eventually got the representative to remove the method of payment from my account on their end–but they only did that once I asked for a contact in their legal department. I logged into the online account to verify the method of payment was gone (and it was). With that, I told them to be sure they closed my account this time, and laid the issue to rest.

Pros

Quick and easy sign-up

Quick and easy activation

Cost savings–theoretically

Cons

Poor communication

Dishonest representatives

Snake-oil sales tactics

No way to remove your payment information from your account

Conclusion

Was it worth it trying to save a few bucks by switching from Verizon to Wing? Absolutely not. I regret it tremendously and could not recommend Wing/Wing Alpha/Wing Tel/Wing Mobile to anybody in good conscience. That is, unless you want to be exceedingly frustrated, lied to, stolen from, and not have mobile phone service. Despite no longer having their service, I keep receiving sponsered ads and posts from them on Facebook. I often left a short, honest feedback about my story (a couple sentences), until they blocked me from commenting on their content. Apparently that’s how they keep up their appearance of being “highly recommended.” Yikes.

Have you tried a MVNO? How was your experience? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Internet in Elko, NV

Each of the main providers has ups and downs, but in general, we have had a good experience with Rise Broadband and Zito Media. I do not recommend Frontier Communications. That said, here is what I recommend considering if you’re looking for internet service in Elko

Do you live in Elko (or or the surrounding areas)? Then you likely know well the plague that is bad internet service providers. We’ve all been in a situation where we are trying to download something, stream a movie with our family, play a game, participate in a work video call, etc and suddenly the internet drops. You call your ISP and they say they can send someone–but it won’t be until next week. And now you’re stuck.

Why is it that internet in Elko…well…sucks? Who is the best provider? In this blog post I want to explore some of the reasons that we can’t seem to get good internet and provide some insight to my experience with each of the three primary providers.

This is a longer post, so if you’re just looking for the “too-long-didn’t-read” (TL;DR) version, scroll down to the Conclusion section.

Why is internet in Elko “bad?”

I believe there are a number of factors that contribute to the overall negative experience with internet service here in Elko.

First and foremost, I have to at least mention complacency. Take a look at the state of Frontier Communications’ copper/Ethernet network in Elko. It’s not good. Too long have their data lines been neglected. You can have the best equipment and the most efficient configurations, but if you put a crappy connection between all that technology and the user’s house, their experience is only going to be what the crappy connection can provide. Through various news articles and town meeting minutes, we have learned of the complacency of Frontier as an internet service provider.

Complacency stems from another one of the reasons internet in Elko is so bad. There isn’t any competition. When a primary or sole provider of a service doesn’t have to compete with another provider to offer the “best” service and win over customers, they tend to get lazy. It doesn’t matter what they do because people will just use them anyway. While a poor business mentality, when the number-crunchers look at the big picture, going above and beyond to maintain the same number of customers that would already be there while doing less isn’t going to look like a return on investment to them.

Lastly and unfortunately, we are a rural/remote town, which means that a link from us to the internet has to travel quite some way. With a limited amount of fiber running into Elko, new providers wanting to come in often would have to bury/bore their own fiber from their nearest hub–like Boise, ID or Salt Lake City, UT. With that limited amount of existing fiber to support Elko, issues have been inevitable.

The issues with Elko’s primary internet service provider–Frontier Communications–have frustrated residents and customers for at least 15 years. But it’s not just the residents who are fed up. The Elko City Council also decided that it was time for Frontier to get their house in order if they wished to continue serving members of the community. In a special city council meeting, Frontier representative(s) heard and anwered questions and complaints from the Countil on behalf of residents of Elko County. When little to no improvement was seen, the City approved a fee break in franchising fees to providers interested in coming to the area to encourage more providers to compete with Frontier. See additional reading at the end of the post.

Why are the prices so high?

Again, we see lack of competition as a cause of problems. Frontier Communications being the largest provider of internet services in Elko coupled with restrictions and red tape preventing (or at least making it difficult) for new providers to enter the market, there is very little competition to drive rates down for internet service.

But wait! You only pay $40/mo for your 25 Mbps Down / 5 Mbps Up plan? That might not seem bad to us here in Elko, but in larger cities you can spend that same money and get gigabit service (1000 Mbps Down / X Mbps Up). That’s 40x the bandwidth for the same price. So here in Elko, we pay more–for less. So what exactly does our over-expenditure get us? Let’s take a look…

Review of Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Frontier Communications

For the first year that my wife and I were married, we had internet from Frontier Communications. Frontier offers DSL internet, which is an internet connection carried into the home via a phone line. We had an “up-to” connection with a cap of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload; there was no data cap. At the time, that plan on a promotional rate was $43/month. After the promotional period, the price would go up $20 putting it in the $60-65/month range. You can save roughly $10/month if you purchase your own modem/router combo instead of renting theirs. I’m sure they offered a static IP address, but never inquired about the pricing for one.

Frontier’s customer service was nothing to praise. If you ever called for technical help, they’d run you through their script and then inevitably say they need to send a technician out to fix the issue. Their scheduling availability could be next week, or next month. And when they did schedule you for a day, they would only say “they’ll be there between 8 AM and 5 PM, so make sure someone is home.”

Well,that doesn’t matter too much, because the technicians typically miss the first appointment. One time we had a scheduled appointment. I popped over to our neighborhood convenience store one block over while my wife was at home waiting for the technician. As I was walking up to our property, I saw the Frontier technician sitting in his truck. When I got to our front door, there was a note stating they tried to contact us but nobody was available. I went to talked to the guy and got him to perform the service call. Once he left, my wife said that she never heard a knock, and was sitting in the living by the front door the whole time. The guy didn’t even try. What a shining example of Frontier’s care for their customers. Once you do get someone to help you, their “fix” for whatever your issue is, will likely be simply replacing your router. Over and over again.

Another example of their customer care shows in one of my wife’s attempts to pay our internet bill. Due to having some banking security issues, we had to have new cards issued and could not electronically pay our bill as usual. She called the local Frontier office repeatedly for more than a day trying to pay over the phone. After failing to reach anyone, she drove down to the office and spoke to a representative there. During their conversation, the phone rang and rang and rang. My wife said, “If you need to you can get that, I’m in no rush!” The lady just said “Oh, I don’t make enough money to deal with that, so I just ignore it.” Hm. Not going to say any more on their customer service after that one.

In terms of actual internet, we usually got about 12 Mbps download / 2 Mbps upload (that’s 48% of the advertised “up-to” speed). Most internet service providers will guarantee 60% of the advertised “up-to” speed, so this fell far below our expectations. I guess the bright side was that they offered 24/7/365 phone support, so you could always reach someone to at least generate your trouble ticket.

For you gamers out there, the ping/latency was not consistent at all, but typically lived in the 90-200ms range. Playable at 90ms, but a bit frustrating at 200ms or higher when it would spike.

Our connection would go completely down/out quite frequently. I would say over the course of a year, we were up 80-85% of the time. Now while that might sound like an okay range, 80% means that 73 days of the year, we didn’t have internet. That’s a little more than 2 months! Ultimately, the combination of poor customer service and the connection being down so often led us to leave Frontier Communications.

Rise Broadband

We have had Rise Broadband for two years. Rise Broadband services customers via fixed wireless. This is where you have a small radio dish installed atop your roof or on the side of your residence. This radio points at a tower on a mountain-top and you wirelessly link to their system with that hardware and a normal Ethernet cable runs into your router. It is important to note that we have business-class service, not residential. On a promotional rate, we paid $89/month for “up-to” 25 Mbps download / 4 Mbps upload with no data cap. After the promotional period the rate would be in the $100-110/month range. In our case, we had to provide our own router (which was totally fine with me). A static IP address was available for $20/month.

Rise Broadband’s customer service was great when you could get a hold of someone. For whatever reason, the support call center is only open for typical office hours and is not available in the evening or at night at all. Seeing as how the few times our internet did go down it was exclusively in the evening, this was a problem for us. Representatives were generally friendly and helpful, though, so working with them wasn’t too much of a pain.

The one time we did have to have a technician come out, they arrived within the predetermined service window and were friendly and knowledgeable.

In terms of actual internet, we usually got about 17 Mbps download / 4 Mbps upload (that’s 68% of the advertised “up-to” speed). Most internet service providers will guarantee 60% of the advertised “up-to” speed, so while this didn’t quite meet my standards, it certainly fell within the normal/expected range of bandwidth for our account.

For you gamers out there, the ping/latency was ultra stable at 28-33ms. That’s pretty dang good.

Overall, our connection rarely went down. I would say over the course of two years we maybe spent a total of a week without internet. That’s a 99.98% up-time. Not too shabby. While we loved Rise Broadband, the high cost and hard-to-contact support led us to explore other options.

Zito Media

Take this section with a grain of salt, as we’ve only had Zito Media (formerly SatView) for a little over a month. Zito Media is a cable internet provider. They bring internet into your residence via coaxial cable (like you’d use for your television), then install a modem to which you connect your router. We pay a promotional rate of $60/month for an “up-to” 100 Mbps download / 10 Mbps upload connection. After the promo period, if not locked into a contract, the price increases to $80/month. You can save roughly $10/month if you purchase your own modem/router combo instead of renting theirs. A static IP address is available for an additional $10/month.

Zito Media’s customer service seems to be pretty good. The 24/7/365 support call center is easy to contact, though has longer than desirable wait times. Representatives are friendly and generally knowledgeable. I’ve contacted them twice this month–one call to finish up the install/turn-up of our new internet service and one call with a quick question about the first bill. Both were handled quickly and adequately. The install technician arrived within the 2 hour service window and was friendly and helpful.

In terms of actual internet, we are getting an average of about 92 Mbps download / 9 Mbps upload (that’s 92% of the advertised “up-to” speed). Most internet service providers will guarantee 60% of the advertised “up-to” speed, so this not only meets my expectations of coming within 10% of advertised speed, but also is well above the industry “standard.” I’ve had peaks of connection around 120 Mbps download. Around 5 PM to 7 PM, I have noticed that the connection does slow down to about 20 Mbps download speed or slightly less. This is due to the nature of how cable internet works. The more people sharing the same tap/hub, the more everyone sharing the connection slows down. Given that 5 PM is when lots of folks get off work and come home to start using their internet, this makes sense. It’s typically not a huge issue.

For you gamers out there, the ping is pretty stable at 80-90ms. It’s higher than I prefer, and definitely more delayed than our Rise Broadband connection was, but it’s still absolutely playable. Most games consider under 100ms to be “good” ping.

In the month that we have had Zito Media’s internet service, we have experienced 100% up time (though it’s a very small sample size). The combination of good customer support, faster/as-advertised internet, and the lower price has us thinking we might just stay with Zito for a while. While this sounds great, also keep in mind that as with any ISP, your mileage may vary. With technologies such as cable internet and DSL, distance from the hub and how many other users with which you share the bandwidth are crucial and can be the difference between a great experience, and a horrendous one. I have had friends and associates with Zito internet in different parts of town who have had polar opposite experiences–including two friends who didn’t have internet for an entire three months.

Other Options

There are multiple other options from smaller providers such as White Cloud, Choice Broadband, and satellite internet providers such as HughesNet and ViaSat. I’ve not tested any of these, but in general their pricing seems similar to the three main providers, but with less bandwidth and possible data caps. Do note that satellite internet connections are entirely unusable for gaming or timeout-sensitive activities (such as working from home over VPN).

Better options are coming, however. Southwest Gas has been creating a trench for their gas conduit and concurrently, fiber optic cable is being laid as well for CC Communications’ project “Fiber to the Home.” In 2021 and 2022, Elko residents can expect new internet service to be available with significantly higher speeds and much more realiable service than the copper- and wireless-based solutions which the majority of residents currently attempt to use.

Bringing it all together

Getting internet in Elko can be rough. The three main providers have their share of issues, and smaller new providers have trouble creeping into the market. The rural location and lack of real competition cause further trouble for residents just wanting to stream their Netflix, game, work from home, video call loved ones, etc. Each of the main providers has ups and downs, but in general, we have had a good experience with Rise Broadband and Zito Media. I do not recommend Frontier Communications. That said, here is what I recommend considering if you’re looking for internet service in Elko;

  • What is it that you need to accomplish? Stream Netflix? Work from home over a VPN? Make video calls? Game?
  • How many users will be using your internet simultaneously?
  • What is most important to you–price, speed, or stability? You’ll have to compromise.
  • Check with neighbors and friends who live near you, as their opinion of the service is really all that matters, as it will be similar to what you could expect. Keep in mind that location/distance matter as mentioned earlier.

With these things in mind, I hope you’ll be able to make the choice and settling on an internet provider that will connect you and your family with the world wide web in an adequate manner.

What have your experiences been with internet in Elko? What do you think about the lack of competition in the area? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


Additional Reading

Elko Daily Free Press – In the trenches: Internet expanding to Elko, Spring Creek customers

Elko Daily Free Press – Frontier hears Elko council’s internet questions

Elko Daily Free Press – Bring in the Internet: City OKs fee break