Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Open Letter to Sprint

To +Sprint:

I received an email from your office this week:

The email was generated in response to me transferring my Sprint phone number to +T-Mobile service, thus triggering the end of my Sprint contract. Let me explain why I made that decision.

I've been a Sprint customer for a very long time, in cellular phone terms. I first started a contract in 2002, I think. At the time, I didn't think I needed a cell phone; after all, I had a land-line phone at home! But my girlfriend at the time didn't like that she had to keep speaking to my parents in order to connect with me. So I started a contract.

I made a good deal of it, too. I purchased it from a Circuit City in Columbia, MO, which certainly dates this story. The cost of the phone with rebates and incentives was -$81.00. I made money right out of the box on my phone.

And a "phone" was pretty much all it was. Though there was this concept of "messages made of text," my phone didn't support it. My phone had "the Internet," but it was text-only on a screen that only displayed a couple of dozen characters at a time. Plus, browsing the Internet cost money per minute. This was before cameras in phones, at least at my price level. It was also before color screens. My screen did light up, though, leading to years of people referring to my IndiGlo phone.

It was years, too. I held on to that phone and its contract until 2010, when I upgraded to a smart phone. Sadly, I had to leave behind my beautiful plan of 300 minutes a month for $30. Instead, I got a plan that cost $90, but had 400 minutes and unlimited data and text messages.  I debated switching carriers at that time, but ultimately stuck with Sprint because there wasn't anything better. The signal was good enough where I lived, and all the other options seemed more expensive. I grumbled a bit at paying suddenly three times as much per month, but this new phone did do a lot more. Such as wake me in the dark of night when my boss would send emails at 4am. Ahh, the progress of technology.

But the technology wasn't all awesome. The 4G WIMAX in my old smartphone needed to be kept off to maintain a good battery life. And the 3G speed wasn't all that speedy, even compared to other carriers' 3G speeds. Two years later, when I upgraded my phone again, I signed another contract. This time the phone was 4G LTE, which worked better. But the signals were few and far between. Signal at my home was poor, but I had WiFi to fall back on. In much of the city, signals would indicate full strength, but be frustratingly slow.

The 4G signal in particular frustrated me. Most of the time, I would see the 4G logo briefly when I turned on the phone, but it would fall to 3G as soon as I began to use it. Even in locations where I knew 4G existed in suitable strength, it seemed reluctant to connect for very long. Is that the phone's manufacturer's fault -- perhaps some gremlins in the hardware? Perhaps, but it was also the Sprint flagship phone.

So for the last two or three months, I've been carrying two phones to a lot of places. I purchased a Nexus 5 from the +Google Play store for $450 or so. Into that, I placed a T-Mobile SIM. But not just any T-Mobile SIM! This one could only be purchased from WalMart. Regular T-Mobile stores don't know a thing about it, and it seems largely obscured from the online site. It offers unlimited texts, 100 minutes, and 5GB of data for $30 per month.

It's a good price. 100 minutes is fairly limiting, but I don't call anyone often. It's still more than enough minutes to chat with my mom, who's basically the only person I call nowadays. I'm halfway through this month, and I've used 21 so far.

But it looks like this plan has been killed. The kits are now unavailable from most WalMart locations, and the corporation is pushing a new plan for $40/month that provides unlimited minutes and texts, but only 2.5GB of data. No sale, guys. Data is what I use and going forward, it's what everyone will.

And after my months of try-out, I determined that T-Mobile would work. It has an LTE signal everywhere I want in the cities I visit, though every now and then I notice the same coverage holes that every carrier has. The signal isn't as robust in rural areas as I'd like -- it drops several times when crossing Missouri on the interstate, and it's practically unusable on the train ride through the countryside. But I don't spend a lot of time in the rural areas, so a compromise is necessary.

And I like that I can just pop the SIM out and use the phone if I go abroad. Now that a smart device is such an important part of traveling, that's a nice "feature" that is impossible with nearly all Sprint and Verizon phones today.

So to conclude, thank you for the years of mobile service, Sprint. I don't regard you with the pathological hatred that people often apply to the wireless carriers other than the one they use. You treated me acceptably at providing phone service, until it became unacceptable. I won't be averse to switching back, should the times and tides of wireless carriers mean that you have better and faster coverage for less -- a fact made all the easier because T-Mobile doesn't require contracts.

And welcome to T-Mobile. You've received a customer who values affordability and usability above other concerns, including any particular brand loyalty. You're in the ascendant right now, but things may change this year. Or in ten. I'm not using one of the plans you keep advertising about, so I'm definitely not going to be featured in any of your advertisements. I am a happy customer, though.

And I would tell AT&T and Verizon to keep trying, but they haven't even been attempting to win me over with usability and definitely not affordability. I'll keep checking every six months to see if your pricing has improved.


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