Posted tagged ‘AT&T’

Free Your Phone

January 30, 2009

In the cell phone market vendors in the US pride themselves on having the best handsets. Have you noticed that Verizon doesn’t have any of the phones that ATT does? There are many reasons for this, most likely is exclusive handset deals (iPhone being one of the biggest, but even the Moto Razr was exclusive when it was first released). As a result of these deals cell phone companies will lock down the product preventing you from taking the phone to another competitor. As part of this eco system most cell phones are made specifically for the cell provider (so the Moto Razr that ATT carries is different than Verizon). Cell phone carriers like to have full and ultimate control over the phones, what they can do, what can be added, who can do the adding. On the surface this isn’t always bad, if they allowed just any software or hardware on their network they open themselves up to problems which could ruin the customers experience (imagine if a virus started going around rendering every phone on a network dead, or if someone did something, by accident, that rendered the network useless). However, what is happening now is vendor lock-in or control that reaches beyond just safety and user experience. Note the EFF’s point from their new campaign called Free Your Phone:

* Apple uses software locks on the iPhone to censor ebooks and block mobile applications that would compete with Apple’s own software.
* T-Mobile’s software locks prevent owners from gaining root access to the Google Android G1 phone, needlessly limiting the phone’s bluetooth and other capabilities.
* And virtually every mobile device sold today is locked to a single telecommunications carrier.

Apple has given millions of users a virtually flawless user experience with thousands of apps and much functionality, but while all that is to be commended they also have a strict vendor lock-in and have become the gatekeepers to what is or isn’t allowed on your phone. Take Flash as an example. Thousands of websites use it and it certainly seems innocuous to allow Adobe to create an iPhone version, but Apple simply doesn’t allow it. Another example of Apple censorship was humorously noted by ars. In the article ars points out several apps that are lewd or even offensive that Apple allows and several that should clearly be fine that Apple mysteriously bans. In the end I think we should be able to make up our minds for ourselves.

Google shook the world when it announced its Android product. The world has been waiting for a truly open mobile phone. I for one would welcome it, but as you can see while Android may be open T-Mobile has purposefully limited it.

The United States needs to learn from other countries where cell networks are totally open. How do we shop for cell phones? We usually choose a carrier first and choose from their phones. In China, as well as most Asian countries, it is the exact opposite. You choose your phone first and worry about a carrier later. That is because it doesn’t matter over there. As long as the phone is compatible with the wireless company they’ll allow it on their network. And there there is no vendor lock-in: don’t like your carrier? switch all you have to do is change sim cards. It is not unlike how the internet or PC market is geared. With the internet as long as you have a network card and a valid IP address/gateway you are good to access the contents of the internet (it doesn’t matter who made it or where you purchased). In the PC market you are allowed to download and install any software you want, including some you may not want. Hopefully one day we will be there in the US, in the mean time head over to the EFF’s Free Your Phone website and sign the petition.

Lessons learned from a few calls to a major cell carrier

February 15, 2008

I usually don’t write about personal experiences on here; I think that this blog should primarily conglomerate material from others.  However, this one could help you out down the road.

Yesterday, I called my major cell carrier to cancel my wife’s cell service.  We got a land line from Bresnan and don’t want the cell anymore.  The rep was rather nice and didn’t try to get me not to cancel (remember canceling with AOL in the 90’s?  They used to give you a free month just for telling them you wanted to cancel!).  I explained that I have been very happy with Company X, but we decided to change service providers to save money by bundling Internet service with phone service.

This was all good to this point.  Then he told me “your phone will be disconnected at the end of your billing cycle.”  There are 28 days or so left in the cycle – we purposely did that to avoid prorated overage charges.  I have had the same situation with the same company before, and I know it’s how they do business.

Since I know this isn’t how they usually work, I am needless to say a little miffed.  But he did use the phrase “we always do this.”  Since I know they don’t always do it, I asked him to prorate it.  He said, “We always end service at the end of the cycle, but let me check.” 

Miraculously, in about 15 seconds, what they “always do” changed!  So he told me the service would end that day and I would see a credit for the rest of the month.  So we are OK – I realize that CS reps lie regularly.  Sometimes through lack of knowledge, sometimes a direct misrepresentation.  Not that I am stating that this situation was a deliberate lie, but I would be tempted to think so based on prior experience with the same company.

So then this morning, I tried calling the “cancelled” number.  Sure enough, it rings and I get the VM.  So I called Company X back.  As it happened, my miracle rep hadn’t changed the end of service date, so it still would have gone through with a disconnect at the end of the month!  I talked to the loyalty team and they canned the service as of today (they sent me a confirmation email this time). 

I still like this company and would check on their rates if I were getting another cell phone (I have the same company for my BlackBerry).  However, after this experience, I realized several things:

  1. You can’t trust cell company CS reps.
  2. Always check to make sure that they actually did what they said they did.
  3. As I provide customer service, I need to be truthful with the users, meet their needs, and follow through on a timely, effective solution.