Deja Vu

From 2010-2013, I was a Sprint subscriber. I switched over after just having had it with AT&T’s lackluster network (keep in mind this was when they were still being absolutely besieged by iPhone users). For a while, Sprint was okay. Hardly the best, but for the price I was paying (plus hefty corporate discount) it wasn’t bad at all.

Dealing with customer service, however, was a pain. Sprint had the most incompetent customer service known to man. There were a couple times I burned my upgrades on true duds of phones and needed to initiate a contract buyout to early upgrade. (This meant that you’d pay the ETF, but you wouldn’t cancel service. Thus effectively moving your upgrade date forward.)

The two times I needed to do that, the reps I got either had no idea what I was talking about (despite the process being well documented on Sprint’s site at the time) or outright lied to me about it and I had to escalate to retentions to get something done. On other issues it was a similar thing: Reps either lied, or didn’t know their own documentation. Massively infuriating, to say the least.

The service also kinda sucked, too. The network was fine…until 2011, when the iPhone 4S released. Suddenly the full onslaught of iPhone users was descending upon Sprint’s network, and Sprint being the only carrier that offered unlimited data at the time…it was all bad. The network went from okay to completely broken overnight.

(I know some might scream “but T-Mobile had unlimited, right?” At the time, T-Mobile had no iPhones, and their “unlimited” was still soft capped at 2GB. So it wasn’t “true” unlimited.)

Unfortunately I kind of had to plug along as is, because my house at the time was in a GSM dead zone, and both T-Mobile and AT&T would go completely dead the minute you walked indoors. 

It wasn’t until I left town for good and moved where I am now that things got truly bad. 5 bars of 3G on my iPhone 5 and absolutely unusable service. Couldn’t make calls. Couldn’t text. Couldn’t do anything. It was at this time that I took my girlfriend’s old Sidekick 4G, stuck a prepaid T-Mobile SIM in, and tried using it. It worked, and well surprisingly! It wasn’t the fastest thing on the planet, but it was usable, and that’s what mattered.

I tried to give Sprint the opportunity to fix things, but their solution was to just…tell me to move to a better city. Or closer to the freeway where their sole LTE tower was. Even offered to stick around if they’d unlock my phone. They told me in no uncertain terms to sod off, as they don’t believe in unlocking phones because they’re not in the business of selling phones, they’re in the business of selling service. Yeah, whatever.

I left for the greener pastures of T-Mobile, and thought that we were good.

T-Mobile primarily drew me in by way of the antics of John Legere, their CEO at the time. This guy looked like he read the assignment and was there to actually make customers’ lives better. (The actuality is that he was really there to just get T-Mobile back to a profitable place. As we can see now, T-Mobile has really stopped giving a damn about solving customer pain points. Yup.)

T-Mobile has never been good where we’re at. In fact I’ve made plenty a complaint about how they really need to take this area seriously. However, despite all that, the service has remained relatively usable even if slow. Until the reckoning. 

Sprint has always been this looming threat because in one way or another Sprint and T-Mobile have always been wanting to merge. First it was Sprint wanting to buy T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile’s overseas owners) wanting to exit the US cellular market so it almost seemed like it was bound to happen. Then silence for a bit, then a serious push at a merger where it was supposed to be T-Mobile buying Sprint!

Unfortunately, that last attempt was successful, and the companies have merged. Sockpuppet reddit accounts popped up everywhere telling us this merger was going to be good for everyone, the network would be amazing, so on and so forth.

It has been anything but. Remember how I said the network here was slow but usable? Throw all the Sprint customers at that and the network is now completely unusable. Ever since the ink dried on that merger, my phone is now a glorified glass and metal brick after 9am and until midnight. Sweet.

Worse yet, remember the customer service issues I mentioned earlier? It really feels like T-Mobile told their somewhat decent customer service reps to take a hike and replaced them all with Sprint reps, because now whenever I need something from T-Mobile, it’s more of the same: Reps not knowing their own documentation, or even outright lying to us about what they can do.

Case in point: T-Mobile’s payment system double charged us for our monthly bill, which cut into some money set aside for paying utilities. We tried to get this resolved with T-Mobile, multiple times. We were told they don’t issue refunds, and that it wouldn’t be a problem anyway because that means next month’s bill is already paid off!

Yeah, guys, I’m sure if I showed the power company my amazing credit balance with you guys they’d accept that as payment.

We had to keep trying and trying to find a rep who said yes, we can do refunds, let’s get that processed for you.

It never used to be like this. We never had to play rep roulette to get someone to fix our problems.

T-Mobile’s gloating about their 5G network almost feels akin to the Sprint WiMAX days. T-Mobile is gloating about their network (and its technological prowess) but shockingly? Verizon’s “inferior” 5G is running circles around them locally. Such that I actually had to jump ship to Visible (Verizon’s MVNO, kinda like Cricket and Metro) in order to make my phone more useful than a pretty and expensive glass brick.

When I jumped over to T-Mobile, I did it to get the hell away from Sprint because it was clear that Sprint had no idea what they were doing and their solution to get people to come back was to make some crazy incompatible flavor of LTE (Spark) and try to undercut everyone on pricing without really making their network more reliable.

But when I see T-Mobile gloating now, it almost feels like they’re dead set on making the same mistakes that brought Sprint to their fate. Gloating about speed tests in controlled environments. Gloating about how their 5G is technically superior to the competition. But not focusing on actual network reliability and moves to keep customers wanting to stick with them.

I don’t think T-Mobile will fail, necessarily. They’re too big to fail as of right now. But it just really feels like I’m back on Sprint again with where T-Mobile is currently headed, and I say that in the worst way possible.