The Tech Works Corner

The Tech Works Corner

Tangling with the Cell Phone Services

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Back in July, 2013, our cell phone contract with Verizon Wireless reached its end after somewhat less than 4 years (a couple of generations of Motorola Droid phones).

For the life of the contract, things went smoothly -- I could check my usage and pay my bill online. But I was motivated at this point to look at alternatives for our 3 phones since continuing to pay the high rates of a contract which includes paying off the "free" or "discount" phone doesn't make sense if your phone is still perfectly good.

The plan was pretty simple on the surface for the 3 phones we have:

The first step was relatively easy. I ordered an unlocked S4 from Google (necessary to get a "Google Edition") directly, then went over to a T-Mobile booth at my local mall. In a few minutes my phone was working, and over the internet, I set up an automatic monthly payment with my credit card.

Now the Problems Start...

The next two phones were the big problems even though they were already Verizon Wireless phones. This didn't seem that it should be a problem, but apparently there are two separate pieces of Verizon Wireless -- one for on-contract phones, and one for off-contract phones. The conversion of the two phones (still physically the same phones) did not go well at all! For both phones, voice mail stopped working, and it actually became a real nuisance to pay the bill as my existing web account was disabled.

For Jean's phone, after 3 visits to the local Verizon store, multiple attempts via Verizon's web site, and via the phone itself, we finally got voice mail re-established. And some 5 months later, I've finally got automatic payment via credit card for that phone set up (I hope). We'll have to see if the automatic payment works next month... By the way, if you go to a Verizon store, you'll find a couple of self-serve terminals which accept a credit card to pay your bill -- Surprise! They don't work for a phone off-contract! You have to wait in line to talk to someone at the cash register to pay your bill.

For the home phone, not only was it seemingly impossible to set up an internet account for payment, we never succeeded in enabling the voice mail. Remember, this is after repeated attempts in person at a Verizon store. Even the people there could not do it, admitting that something was going wrong.

Ting/Sprint Wi-fi hotspot
Sprint Wi-fi hotspot from

Finally, in frustration (after some 4 months), I gave up and decided to move the home phone number to Ting ( I had been using Ting for a data-only connection with a wi-fi hotspot device (left) as an alternative to expensive and often unreliable and certainly less secure hotel wi-fi. If you haven't heard of Ting, it's not too surprising. They are still small but use Sprint's network for their operations.

Ting advertises straightforward billing in clear tiers, low base rates, and good customer service. And it delivers on all of these. Within a few days of ordering a low-cost Ting-compatible cell phone, I had it in hand and only a few minutes later I had successfully activated it -- with voice mail working too! And, as for the billing... that is automatically added to my existing account where I can see the usage of each device at any time.

With Jean's phone, we're still with Verizon, in a holding pattern until we decide what direction we want to take for the future. But for now, here's the score on customer service: