Not-So-Swell Cell

Went to switch plans at the cell company yesterday, and took the chance to air one of my long-standing complaints: despite being shown as in the home area on all the maps, there’s a big (~40-50mi) swath of I-80 outside Chicago that always puts my phone in “roaming” mode.

When I asked the salesperson to explain, she said to ignore the message, that I’m not going to be charged roaming. Which is great: now I know that the display that’s supposed to mean “Warning! You’ll pay more money if you call now!” is unreliable.

Then she suggested I update my phone’s tower definitions. “I do what now?” I asked. Dial xxx (some three-digit star code which I’ve already forgotten; think it’s 228), she said. I did, and was greeted with a recording and some Muzak whilst my phone was being updated. While this was happening, the rep advised me to do this every three months but only from my home area, lest my phone be flashed with some other carrier’s data.

So I got all that done, she did some keying around to change the plan, and we were out of there… only to discover, today, that in the process voicemail had been deactivated: my greeting obliterated, my PIN unrecognized.

I know it’s cliché to bitch about the cell carriers, but this still astounds me. We’re talking about a closed system, in which they control the hardware, the software, the transactions, everything. Done right, this sort of thing gives you an iPod+iTunes-level experience. Yet here I’m expected to dial some arbitrary phone number every 3 months, to complete a process which, despite the fact the phone has been locked by the carrier, is too stupid to know my home network? Indeed, a simple billing change can blow my (non-integrated) voicemail out of the water?

No wonder Mossberg calls them the Soviet ministries.

Hit Me With It