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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Getting to the other side....


From Randi Art

For the past two hours I've been on the phone with the nice folks from Cingular Wireless attempting to get my accounts straightened out. About a year or so go, Cingular bought out AT&T Wireless and the transition has been interesting to say the least. It just so happens that I have three cell phone numbers with AT&TWS, and because the various types of phones and rate plans involved, my efforts to 'transition' over to Cingular has been a real problem for them -- and of course, for me. It seems that everytime I make a visit back to the US I spend several hours on the phone with customer care....

My experience with the cell phone business in the US (as compared with the UK) indicates to me that this is a sector run by incompetents -- or at least, by folks at or near the top who fail to think, or else just don't care about the customer. It is also an area that reflects both the arrogance and poor planning of those in charge of what should be America's most innovative business area.

The first thing to notice is that the companies involved have been so obsessed with protecting the proprietary nature of the wireless business that they failed to see the benefits that a more open and continuously progessing technology does to such strategies. The details are outrageously boring, but the bottom line is that they have been catching up with the technological driving forces of the market since day one -- and they still just don't seem to get it.

An example: Last September Randi was shopping for a phone upgrade and settled for a nice little unit -- the Nokia 6820 -- that was available through AT&TWS (which by then was already in the process of phasing into its integration into Cingular). They (ATTWS as Cingular) sold us this unit under a two-year contract, and at the time it was taken for granted (by both the person on the phone who sold us the unit and ourselves) that the unit would transition easily over to Cingular at the appropriate time.

Well, as it happens (and as we just found out), if and when we are required to transition over to Cingular (which is likely to be over the next few months), Randi will have to replace the 6820 since it is locked into the AT&TWS service which is not compatible with Cingular.

Now, anyone who has played around in this area knows that this is a very simple problem to resolve, for you can simply have the phone 'unlocked' and thus made compatible with the new service provider -- something that can be done now by paying for the unlock code ($10 on the internet), although no company wants you to know that.

That said, it is true that once a unit is unlocked, it cannot (as far as I know) be re-locked onto the new service -- which is why they don't want to let you know about this, nor do they even offer it as an option.... (Have I lost you yet?)

Instead, Cingular tells you that you have to get a new phone, one that is in locked compatibility with their service. So, even though they knew that would be the case at the time they sold us this 6820 (well, maybe the person who was selling it to us on the phone honestly didn't know this), they still got us obligated for a 2-year contract (in order to obtain the phone), but in mid-contract they are telling us our phone will no longer be compatible and has to be replaced.

With what, you might ask? Well, not with another 6820, for they have discontinued it (just at a time when the unit is showing up as the hot new item for Vodaphone and other companies in the UK -- it really is a very nice phone!).

But Randi loves her 6820 and is unwilling to give it up. So what will Cingular do? Actually, nothing from what we can tell. The nice folks at customer service are as clueless as we are, and all agree that this situation was so obvious from the get go that everyone is stunned that they they did not have plan for dealing with the issue -- even if nothing more than informing the customer that this will happen.

To make things worse, the 6820 is so nice, that I would really want to get my own -- but now there is no way to do that unless I get one from eBay or via Amazon with new service sign up -- on AT&T!

OK -- even I am confused now...

It is really too bad that there seem to be so many brain dead folks in the US telecom business -- what a waste.

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