Simple Mobile: What’s Up?

Short Story:

My Simple Mobile service is barely functional at the moment: phone calls drop, SMS/MMS partially works, no LTE/4G/3G/2G service at all. Get in touch with me with answers and/or a fix.

 

Long Story:

I heard about Simple Mobile about 18 months ago when I was looking for a contract free phone service. I’m not writing this article to complain about other networks, or my previous cell phone problems, though I would love to rant on that. I loved the option to provide my own phone rather than having to pay for it as part of a monthly bill. In August, 2013, I bought a LG/Google Nexus 4 to give Simple a try, and I liked what I saw: the service was consistently available everywhere in the Detroit area, unlimited text messaging and minutes, and reliable 4G service for about $50/month, literally half of what I had been paying. So I decided that once my contract terminated at the start of this year, I would make the switch official, and I did.

Porting my phone number over was flawless and quick, and I eventually purchased a nice new LG/Google Nexus 5 from the Google Play Store, and I have been happy ever since.

Until this weekend.

On Friday, I paid for my monthly service a couple days before my service would have expired, and I noticed on Saturday that my internet status indicator was flickering between 4G, 3G, H and just the phone signal strength bars which indicate no internet connection. As I was out and about, I didn’t think anything of it: I don’t expect perfect coverage everywhere, even on T-Mobile’s network. (For the uninformed, Simple Mobile operates on T-Mobile’s networks.) On Sunday, while out shopping, I needed to make a call to confirm some items on my shopping list, and the call dropped. Two attempts to call back failed; the call would drop within a few seconds of the ring tones, and the person I had been speaking with was only able to get to voice mail. I again noticed that the internet connection indicators were flickering at best, more frequently than not, the phone was indicating no service at all.

When I got home, I decided to try a live chat with Simple Mobile’s technical support department to see if there was a local problem. Although it’s rare, cell phone networks do occasionally have outages that could be caused by any number of things. The representative that I was chatting with confirmed that there were outages in several other states, but that there were none in Michigan at the time. Initially, the chat was courteous enough that I wasn’t particularly bothered by he implication that it was either a network capacity problem or a problem with my phone. Perhaps my phone needed to be restarted, I decided. The rep asked for a moment while he took a look at something; I have no idea what he might have been looking at because about 30 seconds later, he sent a canned answer that suggested that the problem was either network capacity at the time, my phone, or that there could be a problem with my service plan and that I should contact customer service. Before I could even read through the text, the rep left the chat so I didn’t even have the opportunity to ask any additional questions or provide any more information after I restarted my phone.

Being a technical support representative myself, I cut the guy some slack, didn’t get pissed off, and just restarted my phone, seeing that the problem didn’t go away. I decided that I would give it another day or two to see if the problem corrects itself, and kept an eye on my phone for the next 36 hours without complaint.

This morning, Tuesday, October 7, 2014, when the problem still wasn’t resolved, I called Simple Mobile to get some assistance *AFTER* going through the Simple Mobile Programming Guide and configuring the APN as instructed, just in case. My last attempt at fixing the issue myself failed, and I advised the telephone rep of the situation and that I had attempted to reprogram the APN without success. Despite my own impatience and hatred of following a scripted procedure to troubleshoot and fix technical problems, I listened to what she told me to do, and performed the steps as she requested them.  As my Nexus 5 is on Android 4.4.4 and the Simple Mobile instructions only cover up to Android 4.2, there were some minor differences in labeling of menu items, but we got through them, and I presume I was giving her the correct responses, even though my service continued to not function properly. Finally, it got to a point where she sent some commands to my phone, telling me that they should come in as SMS messages with instructions.

The problem is, as I originally mentioned, my SMS messages aren’t working 100% properly; I didn’t receive the first message or the second when she resent it. When I informed her that I still didn’t receive them, she grew a bit frustrated and told me that I should put my SIM in another phone to see if it works, and/or to buy a new SIM and have my service and number transferred over to it. She was completely out of troubleshooting steps and advice.

As I had loaned my Nexus 4 to a family member to see if she wanted to move into a smartphone (she’s been a hold-out for years), it was unavailable for me to test with, so I followed the latter advice and purchased a new SIM, and called to have my service moved over to it.

In the 5 hours since purchasing and activating that new SIM, I’ve continued to experience the exact same problem, even after turning the phone off and on multiple times, and checking the settings repeatedly. So, problem solved? It’s my Nexus 5, right? Wrong. A short time ago, I caught up with that family member and put the new SIM into the Nexus 4 and got the exact same thing with it: although the Nexus 4 doesn’t support LTE, it does support HSPA+ 4G, 3G, and 2G service, so if the SIM and service were in perfect condition, I should have had internet service on it even if the Nexus 5 was damaged. But I didn’t. This means that both phones are in proper working order; the problem is with either the SIMs, or more likely, the service.

Now, considering that I have ruled out the phone and the SIM (by purchasing a new SIM and getting the same result), I need Simple Mobile to get this fixed. I need answers, people. I’ve been patient, I’ve been open, and I need a working phone. If I can’t get that from Simple Mobile, and I really do want to stick with Simple, then I’m going to have to move on to another service, possibly back into a contract service. If I have to move on, Simple, I’m going to need a refund of the $53 dollars or so I paid last week for my service.

The ball is in your court, Simple Mobile. I’m following @SimpleMobile on Twitter, so send me a direct message if you’re interested in helping get this resolved,  AND SOON.

End of the Story (November 1, 2014):

Roughly two weeks ago, I called their tech support line yet again after calling them out on Twitter met with limited success. I got their attention enough to get a tech to pay more attention to my situation than they previously had, and the guy determined that there was “something” suspended on my account and he was going to email his supervisor about it and I should hear back within 24-48 hours, the same fucking thing I’d been told again and again. I said “fine,” and when I got done with the call, filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau about this whole situation. The 48 hour window elapsed without so much as a call and I called back again, and got the same party line, but this time I had additional information for them… I’ve had a mobile hotspot since roughly May of this year, and I used my original SIM that I experimented with Simple Mobile with it; I paid for 30 days worth of service on it, and confirmed that it was getting internet service, then I put that SIM in my phone. Voila! Internet access, though it was the wrong phone number, so I couldn’t just leave it that way. So when I told them about that, I again got the 24-48 hour party answer. After that period went by, I received a call from a woman named Heather stating that she’d received my BBB complaint and would be handling the situation; I responded to her voice mail with one of my own, giving her all the various tracking numbers  I’d been assigned.

I can’t say that she snapped her fingers and made the whole thing go away, though I also don’t want to say she was completely ineffective. The next day, while going through the troubleshooting procedures *YET AGAIN*, she decided that based on her information that the APN MMSC as seen on the Simple Mobile Phone Programming page was incorrect; her information listed “http://smpl.mms.msg.eng.t-mob…” (ellipsis included) as the URL, which I advised her appeared to be incomplete, but she insisted that it was correct. Because I was too irritated by the whole situation to argue, I complied and updated the MMSC to that and rebooted my phone. Suddenly, I had internet access on my phone again. Now, before you go changing your MMSC to match that, be aware that she had also had her people and the carrier digging into the situation again, and they were supposedly resetting things and sending signals to my phone. As you’ll see, it’s probably not the MMSC change that got things working. While I had LTE, 3G, and 2G internet on my phone again, my SMS and MMS messages weren’t working , and she and I decided that it might just be too soon after making the MMSC setting change (and other things going on) for it to have started working completely, so we decided to leave the BBB ticket open until this past Monday to see how things went.

Last Saturday, after still not being able to send or receive SMS and MMS messages, I received an email from Heather indicating that I was correct, the MMSC URL that she gave me was wrong, and the documentation throughout Simple Mobile’s site and Android app showed the correct MMSC. I immediately set the correct URL again and returned my “APN Type” field back to the setting I’d had it on since I switched to Simple Mobile: “default,supl,mms,admin”.  Suddenly, everything started working perfectly. So in summary, my phone’s configuration was right back to what it started out as when this whole situation began, and my service was once again working. So I told her as much.

I have just accepted the resolution of this matter with the BBB indicating that as long as the extension of my service is honored and this does not reoccur.

A Possible Sequel?

That remains to be seen. The bottom line is I switched to Simple Mobile to get the hell away from the carrier’s contracts, but at the same time, this kind of support makes me want to go running back to them. My last few cellphones have all been in the Google Nexus series, which just started doing pre-orders on the Nexus 6. As I intend to get that phone, I’m currently weighing spending $650-$700 for the unlocked phone, which is an exceptionally high cost for me, or going back to the carriers where I can probably get it for about $200 or so for a two year contract. If I do go back with the carriers, it’ll probably be with T-Mobile… I have no desire to go back to Verizon after the bullshit they pulled with the Galaxy Nexus, I don’t like AT&T, and I like the idea of GSM service enough to eliminate Sprint. I have issues with T-Mobile, but they seem to be the best option at this point… But we’ll see what happens later this month (November), and I’ll make my decision then.