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Mobile

The 411: Carrier woes

Every two weeks, Senior Associate Editor Nicole Lee answers your questions about cell phones, smartphones, and all things mobile.

Welcome to the 411, my column answering all your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories. I receive plenty of questions about these subjects via e-mail, so I figured many of you might have similar queries, too. At times, I might solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at nicole.lee@cnet.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.

As you know, Verizon has announced that starting July 7 they will discontinue unlimited data. I just switched to Verizon from AT&T...love the service so far. I'm using a Palm Pre, which I just bought it outright so I can update whenever. My question is, since Palm is on 3G when I upgrade my phone to a 4G phone (after July 7) will I still be able to keep my unlimited data plan and get 4G or since it was only unlimited on 3G I can't get the unlimited data on 4G phones? Please let me know if you know anything if it isn't I'm upgrading. -- Joao, via e-mail

As far as I know, there aren't any additional data charges for a 4G phone versus a 3G handset on Verizon Wireless. If you currently have a Verizon account, Verizon will let you grandfather your unlimited data to any future phone you purchase, so long as you don't change your plan in a significant way. We'll let you know if we hear differently.

I am eligible for an upgrade with T-Mobile and I was thinking about the Sensation 4G but here's my question. Should I wait for the merger with AT&T to get a new phone because the Sensation doesn't support AT&T 3G/4G bands? When I call customer service about my concern they just say don't worry, which just worries me. What do you think and I don't know if there is a phone that supports both ATT and T-Mobile. I have looked but I haven't found anything. Thanks for your input! -- VN, via e-mail

It's a legitimate concern, VN, as you're right that T-Mobile's 3G bands aren't compatible with AT&T's. There are some phones that might work with both T-Mobile and AT&T's 3G bands, but the Sensation 4G isn't one of them. Unfortunately, we can't get a straight answer about this from the carriers, so we don't know if they'll just shut the T-Mobile 3G bands off or keep them going. We think that the process of transitioning things will likely take a few years if the merger goes through, so you probably won't have to worry about it for a long time, by which you might want to get a different phone anyway. Of course, we're just speculating here, as we're not sure if the merger will even pass. If any of our readers have more information about this, let us know.

I was reading the question about the father wanting to get his daughter a cell phone for the year she's living in London, and your suggestions were great. My question is similar, but maybe a little more difficult. I'm going to Spain for 2 weeks. I have the T-Mobile Vibrant, so I know my phone will work on the European networks. I believe the easiest way to do this would be to get my unlock code from T-Mobile, and then buy a SIM card while I'm in Spain, which would allow me to use my cell phone to make calls (novel, I know) but I haven't been able to find much information on using data. I'd love to use Google Maps, etc. while sight-seeing, but everything I've found so far leads me to believe that my data would be under the data roaming fee from T-Mobile, which could cost a small fortune. Do you know if I can use data abroad, or how, cheaply? -- Jason, via e-mail

As you noted, you won't have any problems making calls or sending texts with a prepaid SIM card abroad, but you might run into some trouble with data. You likely won't have to worry about data roaming fees from T-Mobile if you use a foreign SIM, but data fees on prepaid SIMs are notoriously expensive--some are around $5 per MB. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with any prepaid data packages overseas--perhaps our readers might have a few tips for you, especially in Spain.

Otherwise, it might actually make more sense to buy an international data package from T-Mobile and watch your phone's data usage like a hawk. Also, note that if you're using Google Maps, that tends to gobble up a lot more data than just checking your e-mail. I would suggest downloading an app that will allow you to preload the map onto your phone instead, like a dedicated GPS app. If our readers have more suggestions, let us know.