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Old 07-28-2009, 12:01 AM   #1
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Sprint PCS 3G in Alaska

Prior to my vacation this year, I was interested in buying a Sprint PCS phone for my mother. Before investing my time and effort in getting my mother a phone, I wanted to know what kind of services she would be able to use on the phone. Unfortunately, I got conflicting information between the website, e-mail, and representatives by phone.

When I checked Sprint's website last year, it showed that there was no Sprint PCS coverage in Fairbanks or Anchorage, yet there was digital roaming. When I visited Alaska last year I was able to make/receive phone calls and texts in Fairbanks and Anchorage; however, neither vision nor PowerVision worked while I was up there.

When I re-visited the Sprint website this year on May 21, 2009, I clicked the "Plans" tab to re-confirm that Sprint PCS does not yet have plans for consumers/businesses in Alaska.

Next, I looked at Sprint Coverage Tool. When I typed my mother's address (in Fairbanks) to my surprise, I saw that most of the Fairbanks area- from just west of the University of Alaska, on east to just past Eielson Air Force Base, before Salcha- was green, which according to the legend meant that the phones can place and receive voice calls.

I clicked on "Compare Voice Coverage" and it showed 3 maps:
Sprint Devices: Sprint Coverage - Best to Good
Nextel Devices: No Voice Coverage- No Coverage
PowerSource Devices: Sprint Coverage- Best to Good

Then, I went back to click on "Data, Email and Multimedia", and all of the Fairbanks area was in Orange, meaning it was in the Sprint Mobile Broadband Network.

When I zoomed out to view Alaska, I saw the same coverage results/colorings for Anchorage.

After having spent over 40 hours from May through July either on the Sprint's website, at the Sprint PCS Store, on the phone with Activations, Customer Service, E-Care, and Tech Support, I came to the conclusion that Sprint/Nextel employees are not trained specifically to deal with questions concerning service in Alaska; thus, I have taken upon myself the task of testing and reporting my findings while venturing the Land of the Midnight Sun this year.

July 8 - 23, 2009: my bf and I visited Alaska, and drove a total of 1,700 miles and decided to test out Sprint PCS Service whenever we got the chance.

This year, we checked out what service capabilities existed there. I have the Samsung M510 and my bf has the Samsung Instinct.

Report Includes:
Make/Receive Phone Calls & Text Messaging.
SprintWeb, Send Pics, Send Video, Receive Pics, Receive Videos.
On Demand, Music, TV, Sprint Navigation, and tethering via bluetooth ("for testing purposes only"- it is against the service agreement to use the phone as a modem unless the device is specifically signed up on a phone-as-modem plan)

---------Our findings are noted below-----------

South Central Alaska:

Made and Received phone calls just fine.

The Highspeed Internet- including Sprint Navigation- browsing on the mobile web browser, and sending/receiving data, worked from Palmer on the Glenn Hwy to Wasilla on the Parks Hwy, on down to a few miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Hwy. Sprint Navigation came in handy when we were looking for an ammunition shop near Boniface and Northern Lights.

In the Kenai Penninsula Area, we mostly had roaming digital signal. We camped in Soldotna (no electricity or running water for 3 nights, except for the car chargers!!!) One night while fishing off the shore of a friend's cabin off of Funny River Road, we wanted to see what the salmon count was. We called a friend who said he'd look it up and get back to us. He never got back to us. Although my phone showed digital roaming, I am pleased to say that I was able to sit on the shore of the Kenai River at 11:30 pm with the sun still up (July 11th, 2009), pull out my laptop, connect the bluetooth device to my laptop, and use my measly Samsung M510 phone as a modem to not only look up the fish run count (we were fishing for Sockeye "Reds"), but to also look up the weather forecast. Testing its limitations, I was even more surprised that I was able to chat on yahoo and engage in live webcam broadcast. Although the phone said that it was connected at 115.5 kbps, it had downloading speeds from 20-30 kbps, if even that. I didn't test uploading speeds. The chat worked fine by itself; however, the webcam made video was choppy and would freeze the chat program occasionally).

I have to admit that Roadside Rescue works up in Alaska too. We locked the keys in the car, and although all my relatives were quick to offer assistance in getting the keys out- but no guarantee that the windows or doors on the rental would look the same when they recovered them- We decided to use Roadside Rescue. When we called them (#ROAD), they took a description of our location (in many parts of Alaska, like where we were- there isn't an address... you have to describe what the scenery and roads look like in relation to other points of interest), and we had our keys out of our vehicle within 45 minutes of hanging up with the #ROAD operator.

**************North of Anchorage.****************

Driving out of Anchorage on the Parks Hwy, Full Sprint PCS services (voice/data) were available until we were leaving Wasilla, entering Willow. After that, we had roaming until a brief encounter with a signal in Trapper Creek, where it was Sprint PCS for about a 2 mile stretch. We stayed a couple nights in some Cabins in Denali and we had a digital roam signal from just off of Mile 238 on the Parks Hwy. When entering Denali National Park via shuttle, the roaming signal was lost after about 10 minutes up the road (5 miles).

Even though our phones often showed we had roaming while driving the Alaskan Roadways, occasionally there were patches of no signal of any kind ("searching for service..."). I regret that this trip I failed to remember to record where all the signals worked and were lost, I was mostly concerned with Fairbanks.

After we checked out of our Cabins in Denali, we had spotty coverage up to Healy, at which we had digital voice, but no internet (not even slow speed). but past Healy, to Fairbanks, we had occasional signals (roaming/digital) until we approached the west side of town near the University of Fairbanks.

***************The Interior***************

Voice and Data worked- phones appeared to use Sprint PCS service, Data coverage has room for improvement

I stayed at the Westmark (off Noble and 10th), and we were able to use our phones for all voice/data, and highspeed internet services...listening to Sprint Music, and tethering the bluetooth to use the phone as a modem... all services worked without problems. Oddly though, in most other buildings including Wal-Mart, my parent's apartment (2nd floor), the doctor's office (1st Floor), and Taco Bell, none of the high speed internet services would work. The slow internet of the phone's browser didn't seem to really work most of the time while in a building.

For the Interior, it was a little too slow or impossible at times realistically send/receive video mail efficiently indoors. Outside or in the car, the high speed internet, including GPS and Sprint Navigation worked From Fairbanks, to North Pole, to Eielson Air Force Base.

**************East of the Interior****************

Just past Eielson AFB, we had digital roaming voice with spots of no coverage ("Searching for Service...") through Delta. We camped at Quartz Lake, and we had no signal ("Searching for service...), at the Glatfelder Cabin.

We had digital roaming voice in Delta/Delta Junction; however, going down the Richardson Hwy the next place with a strong digital roaming voice signal was in Summit Lake, Paxon, and Glennallen. The phones searched for service most of the 2 hour trip back to anchorage; however, we came around a side of a mountain near mile 46 and bam!, the phones showed Sprint PCS Voice and PowerVision, and sure enough it worked.

-+-+-+-+-+-+-+To sum up my experience:-+-+-+-+-+-+-+

Powervision with highspeed data (including GPS and Sprint Navigation), Sprint Music, and Sprint TV works in the Fairbanks and Anchorage Areas; however, the highspeed data in Fairbanks does not work indoors in most areas I visited.

Voice Coverage was available, digital and/or analog, along most of the 3 main corridors between Anchorage and Fairbanks (Parks Hwy, Richardson Hwy, Glenn Hwy).

Text Messaging worked in all areas that we received a voice signal.

And, backtracking to the weekend before my vacation, I spoke to a tech support rep who advised that although I can not add my mother with a Fairbanks, Alaska phone number (area code "907"...), I can add her with a Florida phone number to share minutes with my plan, and she can use it in the Fairbanks and Anchorage service areas, and we would not be breaking the contract (for her using 100% of her minutes in the Alaska, as long as the majority of her minutes are used in the Fairbanks/Anchorage service areas.

Having written all this, I hope it confirms or clears up any doubts or assumptions made by Sprint PCS employees may have given you over the phone, because in the 10 years of having Sprint PCS service, I've never talked to a Sprint PCS employee who have held a Sprint PCS device in their hand while also in Alaska, and can testify as to the functionality of their service without question.

PS... The last day of my vacation while I was in Anchorage, for about 5 hours I was not able to use the high-speed internet from my phone, nor was I able to use my phone as a modem via bluetooth; however, I tried it later when the sky started clearing up, and it worked for me, but it didn't work for my bf. Sorry that I don't have an explanation for that. Have fun in Alaska!
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Old 08-24-2010, 12:02 AM   #2
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Sprint PCS 3G in Alaska

Thanks for a very informative post. I live in Fairbanks and have an Evo. I am wondering about 4G availability. You were spot-on about the difference between customer rep knowledge and actual AK access and infrastructure to the Sprint network. Thanks again. Richard
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Old 08-24-2010, 01:59 AM   #3
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Glad this thread is still useful, a year later
My angel is now an angel in heaven. 5/25/2000 - 12/5/2010. Rest in peace Alaina.
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Old 01-14-2011, 01:39 PM   #4
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Samsung moment in Fairbanks

This thread is incredibly useful since I have had the exact same experience as described below. Sprint/Nextel is not trained to deal with AK related problems, and more people should be aware before moving to AK with a sprint phone. Long story short, none of the features advertised work here. Sometimes data will come through, but 80% of the time it does not. Frequently my phone will have zero bars while in downtown fairbanks and will become absolutely useless until I move into range of the next tower. I think the problems are because sprint must be renting local carrier airtime, which is overloaded with users. This experience is common everywhere I have traveled in ak (southeast, central, and anchorage). It's too bad sprint didn't test the system before offering the option to use their phones in Alaska. Previously I had an instinct before upgrading to a moment. Neither one works as advertised anywhere in Alaska. Hope this helps someone else!
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Old 01-15-2011, 08:18 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Dan View Post
Glad this thread is still useful, a year later
Should be a sticky, eh???
SU is slowly dying, and soon all things must come to an end.
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Old 08-14-2012, 06:17 AM   #6
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Thanks for the post!

Does anyone know if you can get a 907 Alaska prefix on their Sprint phone? I have two phones from Sprint, a personal and business one. I spend a lot of time in Sitka and have no reception problem at all with Sprint there (it roams on someones network) but I want a 907 number.

I went into the local Sprint store and they couldn't do it.
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Old 08-14-2012, 10:19 AM   #7
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From what I recall If they can't assign and looke up the zip code /city,state then there's probably no native sprint coverage so they can't assign it.

Maybe you can check the porting ability page on to find out if you can even port a Sitka number in?
used to work for sprint. now i just torment them. here to help and judge your posts

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Old 11-15-2012, 08:38 PM   #8
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From what I understand about Sprint in Alaska, they signed a network sharing deal around 2008 with Alaska Digitel, which is now part of GCI.

Sprint has spectrum for all of Alaska, and they needed to either "use it or lose it" per the FCC--so rather than build their own network, they made the agreement with Alaska Digitel: Alaska Digitel gets to use Sprint's spectrum (which doubled their usable spectrum from 10 to 20 mhz.) for their own customers, and in exchange provide Sprint customers the ability to use the Alaska Digitel network as Sprint native service when they are up there. Sprint provides native service using their spectrum which keeps the FCC happy, while not actually having to invest in a network--and Alaska Digitel gets to double their spectrum by using Sprint's for their own customers as well without having to pay or bid on more spectrum... it has always seemed like a win-win to me.

It's also the reason that although Sprint has native coverage in Alaska, they pretend to know nothing about it (they added the coverage to the maps only recently; for a few years various forum posts would say "I have native coverage on my phone in Alaska, but the map shows roaming--am I going to get dropped if I perma-roam?").

They don't offer local 907 numbers, nor are there any stores. They mainly do it to keep the spectrum, and as far as they are concerned, it's there to make the FCC happy--it's an added bonus to make customers in the lower 48 who are traveling or live seasonally up there happy since they don't have to worry about using too much roaming. You can live up there 100% of the time and it's counted just like native Sprint service--it's a modified affiliate deal, just like with NTelos in West Virginia--the other carrier gets to use Sprint's spectrum, Sprint doesn't have to build out there, but Sprint customers are allowed to have "native" service on the NTelos network, but NTelos sells their own service in those areas, under their own brand.

Now that GCI has bought out Alaska Digitel, they are primarily moving everyone to GSM and HSDPA+ -- although they keep the CDMA network in place (probably primarily for Sprint customers) and have actually increased the coverage quite a bit (which doesn't show on the Sprint maps) -- you can view their map here (click on CDMA):

I'd be curious to see if anyone is getting native service in all of the areas on the map above, or if they have limited it to the area on the Sprint maps (which is what it looked like years back when they first put it on the maps)--by the way Sprint avoids talking about it's Alaska coverage, I wouldn't be surprised if the entire area on the GCI map is available as native--Sprint has spectrum for the entire state.

I'm also curious since GCI is moving all of their customers to their GSM network, how the agreement with Sprint is progressing, or if it's in danger (when GCI aquired Digitel, they had a MUCH larger GSM network already--I can see why they want to move everyone to it). I could see them partnering on LTE in the future since Sprint also has their G block up there--all they need to keep up is a channel of CDMA 1x for Sprint customers on their existing CDMA equipment, and then share LTE on Sprint's spectrum and keep everything in place.

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