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.

Verizon Wireless and the Galaxy Nexus Saga

I haven’t posted on this subject yet because it hadn’t been a big enough pain in the ass to make it worthwhile and I was too busy writing papers for the classes I took this semester… But things have changed. I’m now out of school for the rest of the year, and though I thought I’d have been the hell off of T-Mobile’s crappy network by now, Verizon Wireless has become a major pain in my ass.

I suppose I should back up a bit and give you a little background information.

Until January, 2009, I had been a Verizon Wireless customer, but since they hadn’t announced any plans to allow Android based phones on their network at the time and my contract had just expired, I went to the only company that was offering Android phones: T-Mobile. From day 1, I wasn’t happy with T-Mobile, but I had little choice. The main reason I was dissatisfied with them was that I could sit completely still in my house in Detroit, Michigan, and watch my signal come and go for both voice and data. While I was (and believe it or not still am) reasonably happy with the G1 hardware and software T-Mobile’s service was and still is shit.

Fast forward a year and a lot of developments and improvements on Android, a lot of new models were released, including the first long rumored “Google Phone”: the Nexus One. I tried to get T-Mobile to give me an early upgrade in exchange for extending my contract another two years, but being the shitheads I think they are, they refused. So, I canceled my G1 contract, paying the early termination fee, and ordered the Nexus One which I’m still in love with to this day. Sadly, in the three years that I’ve been a T-Mobile customer, their service hasn’t improved here in the slightest, so I’ve been planning to go back to Verizon or maybe even switch to Sprint pretty much all year. My destination depended on one thing: who would be carrying the next Nexus.

Back before the the Galaxy Nexus was officially announced, it was rumored to be exclusive to T-Mobile or Sprint and eventually, and accurately, Verizon, at least for a limited time. Given the service that I had gotten from Verizon in the past, I was really hoping for them to get it at just the right time to allow me to switch back when my T-Mobile contract expired, or perhaps even a month or two before. The only thing that was negative in my mind at all was that Verizon had just killed their unlimited data packages. In all honesty, I considered signing up with them in early July to get “grandfathered” into their unlimited data plans, but I decided to wait and see how things played out: after all, it was possible that Verizon wouldn’t get the new Nexus at all, let alone as any kind of exclusive. After all, if Sprint picked it up, I could probably get unlimited data for less than I could get 2 GB/month from Verizon. Don’t get me wrong, I really wanted Verizon, but I wanted to be smart about this…

October 18th rolled around, the Galaxy Nexus was officially announced, but was not confirmed for any U.S. carrier. Rumor held, however, and appeared to be verified shortly thereafter that the phone would have a limited time exclusivity deal with Verizon! This was great news for me! Better yet, rumor held that the release date was only a few weeks away, November 10th to be exact! Perfect! But Verizon never said anything.

In fact, they still haven’t said anything about it. While there’s an ad for the Galaxy Nexus running on the Verizon Wireless site whenever you search for “Galaxy Nexus”, there’s no official information, no announcement, barely any references to the phone at all.

The rumors started flying, of course, especially with release dates. For the last month, the release date was always just another few days away, and Verizon said nothing. People blamed Google, thought that there must be flaws in the software that prevented the release, but Google said nothing as well. I think my theory probably is the most valid for the delay for all of November: Google had just released the Motorola Droid Razr during the week that we suspected the GNex would come our way, so it seemed and seems probable to me that they delayed the GNex so that the Razr would have some reasonable chance at selling considering it’s coming with a older version of Android than the new Nexus. (Android 2.3.x versus 4.x on the Nexus.)

The Razr is a nice phone I’m sure, but without some of the key features in the Nexus line (NFC in particular since the Nexus S came out last year, and of course the new version of Android) it would’ve been buried by the Galaxy Nexus. As much as I hate bullshit like that, I accepted it because it made sense from an economic viewpoint for Verizon. Besides, if they had a 2 month exclusivity deal with Google, they could hold back the Galaxy Nexus a month to get sales of the Razr, then still sell the Galaxy Nexus as an exclusive for a month.

And this seemed to be exactly what Verizon was doing… As December 9th approached, there seemed to be more and more activity going on with the Galaxy Nexus at Verizon. The number of leaked emails and information started to skyrocket, there were even photos of the phones being stocked at Verizon Wireless and Best Buy stores in preparation for a launch today…  Most of us didn’t care a whole hell of a lot that Verizon got their way with the phone a bit to add some of their software. I prefer plain vanilla Android, but I can tolerate two unobtrusive apps being added to the phone’s image, but apparently Verizon decided to fuck around a bit more than that…

Despite the fact that Google Wallet has been around for months, and is installed by default on the Sprint version of the Nexus S, and also the fact that Verizon execs have had God knows how many builds of Android 4.0 on various Galaxy Nexus sample units, they decided in their infinite fucking wisdom to wait until the launch was imminent to tell Google to pull Wallet. Never mind that the firmware image was already updated to fix some bugs before the release here in the United States, at which point they could have told Google to pull Wallet, but they decided to wait until the proverbial last second to start causing some problems over Wallet.

So what’s the big deal? Well, Verizon is claiming that Google Wallet will require additional hardware in the phone as well as infrastructure changes that they aren’t prepared for in order to properly handle security and secure transactions with Google Wallet, and thus they want it pulled from the phone. The problem with that request is that it’s software based: data encryption is already being done between the app and Google’s servers where I’m sure the actual credit card information is being stored. There’s no need to have any additional hardware in the phone, but for the sake of argument, let’s say there was. Doesn’t Verizon think that Google and Samsung would’ve already thought of this considering the Samsung Nexus S on Sprint’s network has the very same NFC technology and the very same application? Does Verizon think that Google and Samsung missed something?

I seriously doubt it. You see, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are partners in a mobile payments software company called Isis, which will be making a product that pretty much competes directly with Google Wallet using NFC to initiate the transactions. The problem? Isis isn’t complete yet, and rumor has it they won’t have their software ready for nearly a year. So rather than give Google Wallet a full year to establish itself on the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon’s networks, Verizon is digging up technical mumbo jumbo bullshit to say that the phone isn’t properly secure for this purpose nor do they have the infrastructure. This is bullshit because if they can transmit and receive data to and from the phone, then they have the infrastructure; Google is already handling the encryption and security for the transactions.

Why am I saying this instead of Google? Well, they’re just too fucking polite to state the obvious, but I think I know a few engineers over there would be screaming “fuck yeah!” if they ever read this. Google has to maintain a cordial relationship with the carriers in order to get their phones on to their networks. If Google had already put out 20 different phones, that sold millions on the release date, Verizon wouldn’t be trying to push them around. The Nexus phones aren’t iPhones, even if me and half million other buyers think they’re better… Apple sure as hell wouldn’t be getting this kind of treatment from Verizon…

So what’s the logical answer given this hubbub? I say Verizon should NOT block Google Wallet in any way shape or form, and Google shouldn’t pre-install it either. Google should put Wallet in the Market and make it available for download for phones with NFC. Why? So that we the users, the people paying or will be paying Verizon a monthly bill have the choice. This should be our choice because we’re the ones that may or may not use Wallet or Isis. It should be up to us to decide who we trust and how we pay for goods, not Verizon.

So another rumored release date has come and gone, this time with the phones in stock at retailers… They’re not allowed to sell the phones yet because Verizon is apparently waiting for Google to pull Wallet… Well, Google, I hope one of your managers reads this blog entry… Pull Wallet exactly as the fuckers at Verizon want you to do… Then release it in Android Market once the phone has gone on sale exactly as I suggested above… You’re the application developer, and Verizon claims that they don’t block any app… So, do what you want to do… Grow some balls, and do what’s right for your customers… If Verizon wants to be a whiny baby and decide not to carry the next Nexus after this one, fine… fuck them. You’ve got Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile customers drooling over your phones already, and I’m sure that if necessary, I’ll find a happy home with Sprint after my Verizon contract ends…

Update 12/14/2011: Verizon’s finally gotten around to announcing that the Galaxy Nexus will be released tomorrow… About time…! I’m not saying all is forgiven, but at least we can start getting this mess behind us…