Guest Author: Maurice Frank
When not checking the signal strength on his phone, Maurice can be found socializing with groups or individual friends, walking and hiking, playing pickleball and softball, or in a YMCA. He is the leader of the Fika tribe (aka Coffee Meetup group) and has done some heroic editing for Living With Ethel.
I didn’t want to change. Again.
Shortly after Wendy and I moved to Asheville in fall 2016 we began hiking often in the nearby Bent Creek trails. We noticed our T-Mobile cell service, which served us very well in Atlanta, wasn’t mobile enough to find us on the trails. We asked around and the answer was universally “Switch to Verizon”, so we did. Problem solved – we had bars in the backwoods. Not always the top-of-the-line 4G LTE service, but a signal, and it worked. Reliably. For a long time, until this spring, when it didn’t.
Have you ever told a long story on a phone call only to realize the other person was no longer there? Verizon’s dropped call rate swiftly went from rare to regular. Then I would check my phone, wondering why someone had not replied to my text, only to see a Text Not Sent alert with a nasty red exclamation point icon. That happened over and over, and not deep in the wilderness but in Wilderness Cove, my neighborhood, as well as downtown and even when I was so close to a cell tower my hair started frizzing. While calls kept dropping, my Verizon bill didn’t – that went up $10 a month to over $97.
I started asking friends if they used Verizon, and if they had similar problems. Alas, I was not alone. I dutifully reported the problem to Verizon only to find their inscrutable customer service text chat robot refused to even understand the problem. How dare you accuse us of poor service! Even calling customer service resulted in a text with a link to the unfriendly chat automaton. Then I found out I was really, really not alone.
I browsed to www.gethuman.com and there, at a the top of the first page, in prime web page real estate, was the Verizon number. Was it reading my mind, or was the entire western hemisphere hunting Verizon humans too? I called and a real human answered. A very friendly, casual person not reciting a customer service script at all. I explained my problem, we tried a few troubleshooting tactics to no avail, then she said “Let me check our Issues Database”. A moment later she says, and my imagination was not good enough to expect this, “Oh, it says here we have a state-wide issue in North Carolina.” Did I mention I was not alone? I thanked her and we said goodbye leaving me to wonder just how much incompetence it takes to screw up the cell service for an entire state, and we’re not talking Rhode Island here.
So, I reverted to my trusty problem-solving technique of asking my friends who their cell phone providers were, and several answered “switch to T-Mobile”. So that’s what I did, and I’ve lived to tell about it. But I had my doubts for a while.
Fall approached, and that meant time for a new iPhone. I endured a few more weeks of cell signal hide-and-seek until day one of iPhone 14 preorders, Friday September 9. That morning Wendy and I drove over to T-Mobile’s magenta mansion on Patton Avenue to switch our service and upgrade my five-year-old iPhone 8 Plus (actually, it was a centenarian in cell phone years).
We were promptly greeted by a nice young man who checked us in and introduced us to Alyssa, an even younger woman who sat us down at a table in the corner. We explained our mission and she entered our information into her iPad and outlined our alternatives. Good thing we’re geezers – we qualified for the 55 Plus discounted plan, and after hearing about the increasing benefits, we chose the MAX plan, not our usual frugal choice. The $90 cost for two lines seems slightly lower than Verizon, but it’s a flat rate with all taxes and fees (gotta watch them extras carefully, lookin at you Verizon), and unlimited everything compared to our 2 Gigabyte data plan at Big V. We always had some data carryover, but now I never hesitate to use data anywhere, anytime.
But top-line rates are not the bottom of the cost story. T-Mobile’s nickname seems to be “Here, take this too!”. First, T-Mobile gave us $200 each for switching our lines from Verizon, or $400 total. Wendy had received, just days before, an email from AAA with a discount code for $100 to switch to T-Mobile, and we got that too. I offered to trade in my five-year-old senile iPhone 8 Plus with its withered street value of about $100. T-Mobile said “We’ll give you $200, and up it to $400 if you agree to spread the cost of your new phone over 24 months. This used to be called a cell phone contract, now it’s a trade-in bonus. I agreed, recalling that when I bought the old phone it only cost me $500 after a $250 Walmart gift card reduced the list price of $750. So, dizzy with discounts, I ordered an iPhone 14 Pro Max, and added an extra slice of memory ($100) since my old iPhone had been kissing the top of its memory capacity for several months now. Mentally adding it all up, $1200 phone, $900 of discounts (so far, not done yet), that’s a net cost of $300 for a phone I’ll keep another four years. At this rate, I expect Apple will pay me a few hundred to trade up to an iPhone 99 or whatever comes later.
Now, for some comparisons, AT&T our home internet service provider throws in HBO Max ($10/month) for free. Verizon throws in … nothing. T-Mobile, AKA “Here, take this too!” must want us to watch TV instead of using our phones. That 55+ Magenta Max $90 flat rate also includes Netflix Standard ($10/month), Paramount Plus for one year ($5/month), Apple TV+ ($7/month), and if we were not already AAA members a free year of that service ($60/year). That $90 monthly rate now feels more like $63 per month, a lot lower than Verizon.
All these great numbers and plan benefits didn’t come without a few getting started glitches. Alyssa informed me a credit check is required because I’m spreading the phone payments out. “No, problem”, I said, “I have great credit!” But she could not know that because the credit check was rejected. “Your credit account is locked.”
“Which one should I unlock?”
“Unlock them all, we change constantly.”
So, I accessed my handy-dandy password file from my phone, achingly typed out the searches, found the passwords, logged in to the three credit bureaus, and unlocked all my credit accounts. Feeling a bit less safe, I asked her to try again, and still no “Yes, of course” from the credit gods. Finally, persistent Alyssa found a manager who used another computer to access secret T-Mobile programs, and that eventually worked. Whew! After signing various documents, we didn’t read at all, and a few more hoops to jump through, including the all-important number porting from Verizon to T-Mobile, we were functioning T-Mobile customers at last. Almost, but not quite.
We walked out two hours later happy and relieved, and with a serious need to relieve ourselves in a restroom at home. I didn’t ask if they had a restroom, and my aging bladder that used to be as a grapefruit but has now shriveled to a grape was not happy at all.
Of course, we tested our phones before leaving the store. Texts, voice calls and browsers all worked, or so we thought. Until they didn’t when we got home. We didn’t realize that T-Mobile assigned us both temporary 828 phone numbers, even though the number ports of our vintage early 2000s Atlanta numbers seemed to work. But they didn’t. After back and forth calls to both Verizon and T-Mobile, I realized I had placed number transfer blocks on both Verizon numbers, another anti-fraud protection that bit me badly. I removed those locks, T-Mobile’s helpful humans re-issued the port requests, and soon after our venerable 404 and 678 numbers known by thousands of others since the early 2000s worked, for real this time.
My new iPhone arrived on the actual release date, Friday Sept. 16, as promised. Having survived countless complex migrations to new computers and phones, I dreaded this unavoidable task because I expected it to take several days. I turned on the new iPhone and it asked me if I was replacing another iPhone. It told me to place them side by side, I made introductions, they shook hands, told me to wait, and sometime later announced it was done. Sure, I thought. But I started peeking around new iPhone and I swear it looked like a brain transplant happened. Apps copied, check. Data (contacts, calendar, notes, etc.), check. Settings, check. Passwords, check (most of them, I did have to login to a few). Unbelievable! Apple must like repeat customers.
Wendy and I were both enjoying 5G signals almost all the time, with no dropped calls or undelivered texts, and all seemed well. With some trepidation, I had to perform the ultimate test of whether this was a good idea. I drove over to Bent Creek curious to know how T-Mobile would fare five years after we abandoned them for lack of service where my life might depend on it. I parked at the Ledford trailhead, got out of my car, and checked my phone. Groan! SOS. No signal. No bars. Not much help when a bear wants me for lunch and I had to call Wendy. Nor do I have a ship to save.
Somewhat daunted, I figured I should at least hike my despair away. I wandered up the forest road to the first turn and, still curious, checked my phone. Whoa! An LTE signal. Feeling better, I wound my way up a few other trails heading for Five Points, a peak where several trails meet, often checking again along the way and was mildly shocked to see 5G signals as I hiked up higher and higher elevations. Whew, this was a relief, until I returned to my car to see another SOS signal. I then realized the signals were not reaching the lower elevations, but were picked up at higher elevations. Interesting, and understandable.
As I write this, two months after switching, I remain a happy T-Mobile customer, despite a few getting-started stumbles. I’ve learned a few lessons for next time: unfreeze credit reports, remove the cell provider transfer locks, and pee before the next marathon switch session.