Friday, June 10, 2016


I am a technically minded person, though I don't consider myself a geek.  My wife is a technically minded person.  Both of us are comfortable with technology, though perhaps not as comfortable as someone twenty years younger. We wanted to buy a new tablet, and we were both surprised.

For our trip, and for general use in the US, we wanted a lightweight laptop or tablet that had the ability to connect to the internet via either WiFi or a cellular network, so that you could connect to the internet while stationary (at home, in a coffee shop) or while moving.  The Wifi part is standard, but the cellular connectivity is a bit unusual.

(Cellular capability appears to have multiple names, including 'cellular ready', 'LTE', and xG, like 3G and 4G.It appears that 3G and 4G are shorthand for 'third generation' and 'fourth generation' mobile technology.  Each 'generation'  introduces new capabilities while incorporating the capabilities that already exist.  'LTE' stands for 'Long Term Evolution', which seems to be a way of saying 'better than 3G, not quite as good as 4G, though we hope to get there soon." So 4G LTE isn't really 4G.... but it's close.)

We have cellular service with Verizon, so we  checked with a local Verizon rep to see if they sold the Surface 3, but were told that they did not. "AT&T and T-Mobile do", he said.  I asked if this had anything to do with the fact that Verizon is a CDMA network, while AT&T were GSM, and he agreed.   "If you get one", he said, "make sure that the box has the Verizon symbol, meaning that it is compatible with our network, and also that it has a phrase like 'cellular ready' "  As it turned out, this was correct but not complete.  As a precaution, I did a chat with a Microsoft rep, who confirmed.  Microsoft Surface 3 - none of the other Surface models - had cellular capability. 

Verizon didn't have it, and AT&T would want a new contract to sell the service.  At this point, I said well, the hell with this, I'm ordering it from Amazon. And two days later, a thin box showed up with a plain white box inside that had the Microsoft Surface logo and very little else.  Remembering what the Verizon guy had said, we checked the box before opening it (and I was hot to do that!).  No Verizon logo.  In fact, nothing about cellular connectivity capability at all.  This was a Surface 3 without the ability to connect to a cellular network.What?

I went back to a transcript of my conversation with the Microsoft rep.  Yep, that was what they said.  Surface has got it.  But the box didn't show it. WTF?  So my wife looked at a Microsoft site. Yes, the site said, the Surface 3 has cellular connectivity -- to AT&T, T-Mobile, and some other networks. Not Verizon.

At this point, we came to a realization. The Microsoft site did not say that every Surface 3 had cellular capability.  It said that cellular capability was available with the Surface 3.  In other words, if you don't ask for it, you don't get it.  You don't order 'Surface 3', you order 'Surface 3 with LTE'.  Otherwise, you get what we got.

And we realized something else. A Surface 3 which included cellular capability that worked in the United States would have to have connectivity to either CDMA or GSM networks, which are the only two kinds available here. Well, mainly. (CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access; GSM stands for Global System for Mobiles.  They are incompatible.  A phone, or a laptop cellular connection, that works with one will not work with the other. ) If the Surface box did have the Verizon symbol, indicating compatibility to a CDMA network, it would not have worked with GSM networks (which is what France has;  no CDMA networks there); if it had compatibility with a GSM network, it would have worked there, but not with Verizon here (though it would work with an AT&T or T-Mobile network). 

So we said screw it.  We mailed it all back to Amazon.  And we cursed the network weenies who can't merge the two network protocols. 

Boy, that was fun.

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