Adventures with Prepaid One2Free Voice Mail

I’ve been pretty happy with my prepaid One2Free phone service. For HKD$88 (USD$11.34) I can get a 1 GB monthly data pass and cheap phone calls. Since I don’t use the phone often, prepaid works for me.

Now that I’m ramping up the job hunt, I figure I should set up voice mail, which the prepaid plan does not include. It’s an additional feature that costs HKD$5 for 30 days of service. OK, no problem. I key in the USSD code and everything looks good.

After I set it up, I proceed to test it. It doesn’t work (see table below). Reading up on the instructions, it seems that the only way voice mail works is if you set up call forwarding to forward all calls to voice mail. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but it does seem to be the case. The instructions don’t expressly state it, but if step 1 doesn’t work and step 2 is “forward all calls”, then perhaps it is logical to conclude that One2Free’s prepaid voice mail works differently than the voice mail I’m used to, which is answering the phone for me and taking a message when I’m unable to do so.

I’ve been unable to find any other answers online, although there are some indications that conditional call forwarding needs to be set up for each possible situation, for example when the phone is busy, when you don’t pick up, etc., and yet these instructions do not appear on the prepaid instructions page. It appears that conditional forwarding may only apply to post-paid plans, not prepaid ones.

The next thing to do is to stop by a One2Free store. I’ll update this post with answers after that happens.

Update: I went to a One2Free store and the associate told me that prepaid service does not have voice mail. I told him that I paid $5 to set up voice mail for 30 days. He spent a few minutes looking at his screen and then gave me the number to customer service, 25123123. I already know that this number won’t help because the second you key in your phone number, the system will tell you that prepaid customers must call a different number for service.

Conclusion: When I was on T-Mobile I hardly ever used voice mail. I think I can do without it here in Hong Kong. If a potential employer is interested enough in me, I’m sure they’d be able to reach me somehow.

Action Result
Letting the phone ring Caller hears a “number cannot be connected” message after a while
Reject the call Caller hears ringing tone until the call is rejected, then hears busy signal
Set up call forwarding Phone doesn’t ring at all, all calls immediately go to voice mail, text message is received indicating new voice mail

October 24, 2005

I received my Cingular bill today, and the bill was 20 dollars more than it usually is. MMODE was somehow added to my account without my knowledge. I call Cingular, and they tell me that someone must have called in to add the feature. I know I didn’t call in, so I asked them if it was possible that they had a computer error. They were adamant about their computers not malfunctioning. Curiously, while attempting to remove the charge, they kept apologizing to me for the delay due to their having computer problems. Frickin’ hilarious. They wouldn’t even acknowledge the possibility of a computer glitch, even though they seem to have computer glitches every time you call them. Even more hilarious is the Cingular lady repeating “I’d be more than happy to help you” even though she sounded like she was in labor with all that heavy breathing. I just love these peons and I’m glad I’m not working there.

Customer Care

AT&T Customer Care told me to go to the store to buy a new SIM card. I went to two different stores, and both were out of the SIM cards due to lowered demand for them as a result of the AT&T/Cingular merger. The stores told me to call Customer Care. So finally, I have a SIM card on the way. If the first person I spoke with told me to order it on the phone, I wouldn’t have wasted an hour and a half waiting in line, walking, driving, and wasting gas. Obviously, the person was too lazy to continue his call with me. Thanks AT&T. When my contracts run out, I will discontinue using wireless phones. I will no longer be a part of this craze that has swept humanity.

The Sorry State of American Cellular

May 10, 2010 – Converted the Sorry State of American Cellular editorial from the original JYCS. Note that this piece is rather outdated, as cellular service in the United States has improved dramatically since then. Poor customer service and areas of poor reception still exist, however. Also, I made some generalizations in the article that make me cringe when I read them today.

(Author’s Note: I wrote the following article after getting frustrated from being unable to check my voicemail all night and for having to drive several blocks before my cell phone will find a signal. I’ve used various phones and although my provider insists that my area isn’t dead, the same problems occur over and over again. Having been to other countries and continents and used cell phones there, I’ve yet to ever see a “no signal” message on my phone. This is clearly an American phenomenon.)

On any given day, one of the major American wireless telephone providers will succeed in getting at least one ad to you via television, radio, billboards, and junk mail. And on any given day, thousands of Americans will sign up for new cell phone service. In a small number of years, American cellular service (U.S. cell service) has grown from a privileged few’s newest gadget to an indispensable part of many peoples’ lives, largely due to aggressive marketing, lower technology costs, and increased competition between providers. There is, however, a price to be paid for this explosion: poor coverage and reception, dropped calls, horrible customer service, and unfair contracts.

Poor reception and coverage plague all of the U.S. cell service providers. I live in the city of San Francisco, a city which most people would consider metropolitan, and a major American city. In the almost five years that I have owned a cell phone, the level of cellular reception in my bedroom has remained low and inconsistent when using a Pacific Bell Wireless/Cingular/T-Mobile tower. The only times when reception was flawless were when I used AT&T TDMA, AT&T pre-Cingular merger GSM (see my other cell phone article), and Verizon CDMA. I have not tested Sprint CDMA. To not change or update working, let alone inadequate, equipment in five years is unacceptable, especially in such a high-tech and evolving industry. Yet, that is exactly what Cingular has done. They have allowed at least one dead zone to exist in a metropolitan area for at least five years. And Cingular is not alone. Visit any of the major providers’ websites user forums and you will find dozens of customers unable to receive a signal, and not being able to do a damn thing about it. Things become worse the farther you move away from a metropolitan area and the highways that connect them. There just isn’t enough network coverage to cover for the amount of advertising coverage that U.S. cell service providers continue to generate. U.S. cell service providers should concentrate less on marketing and more on improving their flawed product.

On many occasions I have contacted customer service to complain about the lack of acceptable service in my area. Although I have received good service from knowledgeable reps, they are one in a million. Most of the reps I have dealt with are poorly trained, lack listening comprehension skills, and possess less than basic knowledge of cellular technology. There are times when I have had to repeat the same information to the same rep three or four times. Other times, a rep will continually ask for my name, even though I have already given it. Once, I even had a rep hang up on me for asking to speak with a supervisor (see my other article). And there have been times when I’ve had to teach the rep how to perform a certain task with a specific cell phone model! Since customer service is considered to be unskilled labor, we can only again blame U.S. cell service providers for not providing the proper training. Again, the reason can be seen on televisions, heard on radios, and read on junk mail: too much marketing, not enough training. U.S. cell service providers should spend less money on marketing, and more money on providing training to their employees.

Unfair contracts are the basis of the current U.S. cell service industry. Providers realize that a significant number of customers (like myself) will not receive a usable signal and would naturally want to cancel the service. They know that the actual product sold is inferior to the perceived product advertised. They therefore create unfair contracts that protect and benefit themselves by design. The infamous “early termination” fee exemplifies this. The so-called reasoning behind the early termination fee is that providers supposedly lose a significant amount of money when they purchase cell phones that are then given free to customers who sign up with their service. What is not mentioned is that cell service and cell phone providers have had a long-standing, symbiotic relationship. One cannot exist without the other, and therefore it is only natural that they would give each other perks and incentives to further their mutually profitable partnership (ever notice how you can’t use one provider’s phone with another’s service? Well, you can. In other countries, that is). In addition, the price of producing a cell phone continues to decrease due to increased volume and improved production technology. Therefore, when cell service providers give you a free phone, it doesn’t hurt them as much as they’d like you to believe. It’s just a smokescreen hiding the unfairness of their contracts.

Unfortunately, things are not likely to change any time soon. Although there are many U.S. cell service providers, they all share the same problems, and one cannot simply change providers if service is poor. Cingular and AT&T recently merged, further exacerbating the situation. The only solution for potential customers is to hope that you’re not one of the unlucky ones who lives or frequents an area that is in one of your provider’s dead zones. Borrow a friend’s phone to see if his provider works in your area (although that didn’t really help for me, see my other article). Finally, don’t let a cell service provider get away with poor service. File complaints with them as well as your local and national watchdog groups. In the end, you are the only one who can make a change, because you have something that the providers want: money.

My Wireless Telephone Woes – Update

Just My Luck

Okay, so I thought my luck had changed since the last update, since I could cancel my contract and switch to another carrier if necessary. Wrong! First, I spent several days trying to contact AT&T customer service to confirm that they did indeed cancel my contract and that I was free to port my number. And then, shortly after my last update, on April 17th (a Saturday night no less), AT&T suffered a massive outage. Nobody could call me, and I couldn’t call anyone either. Same thing with my girlfriend, and other AT&T Wireless customers: there were tons of complaints from them on AT&T’s forums and other wireless forums on the web. Of course, AT&T never acknowledged nor apologized for this incident. To me, this was the last straw. No more waiting to see if AT&T’s service would improve. On Sunday, I put in an order at Amazon.com for new service with T-Mobile. My plan was to get the new service, port over my number, and then use my existing phone, since T-Mobile uses the same technology as AT&T (GSM1900).

As luck would have it, Amazon.com suffered “technical difficulties” while handling my order, and today they cancelled my order and advised me to place the order again. Unfortunately, the excellent service agreement that I originally purchased is no longer available on their website. The agreement was 1000 anytime minutes and unlimited night and weekend minutes for $39.99 a month, plus a $35.00 activation fee. Talk about a deal. And now, it’s gone. To Amazon.com’s credit, their customer service has been refreshingly excellent, unlike AT&T. They reply to their emails within 24 hours, and answer their phones within minutes. Right now, I am waiting for Amazon to email me back about the situation, but they told me that they couldn’t guarantee that I could get the same plan again. So, we will see.

There is no other explanation for my wireless telephone woes other than luck. Either that, or wireless phone service in the United States is just plain inferior. I remember from one of my college economics classes that in the United States, nobody in the government bothered to regulate wireless phone service, and as a result several different standards came into use. For example, Sprint built their PCS network, and another company invested in CDMA, AT&T used TDMA, and of course there is GSM. Basically, it’s a mess. Nobody concentrating on and perfecting one standard results in a patchwork of sub-par “solutions” that only work for some but not others. I guess I fall into the latter.

Finally, I want to comment on some of the losers that inhabit AT&T’s forums, and I do mean, literally, inhabit. As I said, I posted my story there, and I was pretty surprised at how angry some of the users were. They didn’t read my story in its entirety and jumped to conclusions and blamed me for the problems I experienced. Most of these people have thousands of posts on AT&T’s forum and if you have that much time to spend in a moderated forum pretending that you’re a wireless expert, then you really are a loser. When I say moderated, I mean that if you say something negative about the company, the forum administrators delete your message. Sad, isn’t it? What’s more sad is that these people have learned to live with poor quality and service. They love AT&T so much they think that if there’s a problem, then it must be the customer’s fault. In replying to my situation, they advised that I should have done my homework beforehand (which I did) and that because I made this “mistake”, I should be patient and live with my situation. They see absolutely nothing wrong with a company not providing the service it’s supposed to. It’s frightening to see their blind allegiance AT&T. Needless to say, I won’t be posting there anymore.

My Wireless Telephone Woes – Update

It has been an incredible two days. After calling AT&T two days ago and posting the update to this site, I decided to post my story to several other sites, including my local TV station KRON4 (Contact 4) as well as AT&T’s own customer support forum. I received some typical responses from the support forum, but KRON4 really came through and I am now no longer tied to the original two year contract, which means I can try to wait out the poor service, or quit without penalty if it doesn’t improve. Here is a timeline of events:

  • I post this article to several websites
  • The first to respond are some patrons of AT&T’s forums
  • I receive a message from Boris, a Contact 4 volunteer
  • I receive a message from Abby Sterling, a reporter from KRON4
  • Ms. Sterling contacts a representative from AT&T, who in turn contacts me
  • I outline the situation to this representative, who apologizes and offers to terminate my contract
  • I am freed from my contract obligations

Speaking with the representative from AT&T, he told me that he did not detect any changes or anomalies in my area, which is consistent with what the other representatives have said. At the same time, beginning yesterday, I started noticing that my phone will now occasionally roam on Cingular’s network, that is, instead of displaying “AT&T Wireless” when there is a signal, the phone will display “Cingular.” Doesn’t seem like “there aren’t any changes” in my area now, does it? Still, I could tell that this representative was not a common “peon” and that he had more knowledge and authority than the representatives I usually speak to, so maybe he was telling the truth.

All I can say is, I am very impressed with the speed that Contact 4 handled this situation. I had submitted my “Best Buy Ordeal” story to them awhile back and heard nothing, so I was also a little surprised when they called me back. I am still a little shocked and excited at the prospect of porting my number to another carrier, but unlike when I previously ported to AT&T, I don’t know how good the reception of other carriers will be in my home. My plan is to continue with AT&T Wireless for the time being, and if things get really bad, cancel. It really makes sense for me to stay though, because supposedly AT&T is currently upgrading all their systems, and once they have 850MHz GSM in San Francisco, service should get better. That, plus roaming with Cingular, should theoretically improve reception dramatically. Well, we shall see. I’m just afraid that if I do end up cancelling, they’ll still charge me the cancellation fee, and I’ll have to go through further trouble. If that happens, you will be sure to see another update on this page. Thanks for reading, again!

Update – April 23, 2004

My Wireless Telephone Woes – Update

Since the last call, nothing has changed other than the fact that reception has seemingly gotten worse. I attribute that to the increased amount of time I have had to deal with this problem and the additional problems that it causes, such as missing important calls, not being able to use the phone in certain situations, etc. When one is not happy, one may say that a problem has gotten worse, when in reality, the problem has basically stayed the same (i.e. no reception).

As promised I once again called AT&T’s customer support. The hold time was only a few seconds this time, due to my calling at 4am in the morning. I repeated the same story and again asked to fill out a customer feedback form, my fourth. The representative was a bit averse to doing so, stating that she asked technical support (i.e. she was not in the technical support department) and that technical support stated it was unnecessary. Only until I insisted did she do so. I then asked her to fill out another form for another number I have with AT&T, and she stated that this would be more “beneficial,” since this was a different number. I told her that I had to exhaust all my options, because I’m the one with the reception problems.

I have a lot more feelings about the whole situation now. In terms of customer service, I think the AT&T representatives are on the most part, quite polite. At the same time, this last representative seemed to want to get off the phone with me in as little time as possible, and as mentioned above, she did not really want to help me fill out another customer feedback form, whereas all the previous representatives told me to keep filling them out. Naturally, communication between departments or even within departments in such a large company is sketchy at best. Unfortunately, for the customer who knows nothing about how their company works, I can only do what I think is the best course of action. I have a two year contract with AT&T and I still have almost two years left on it, since I got the phone in December. I believe that things will get better within this time, but due to my recent and continuing experience with this company, I am not keeping my fingers crossed.

As requested by the 3rd representative, I took my phone and walked around my neighborhood, and surprisingly, the same thing happened two blocks away. I would get no service, then the signal would bounce up and down, just like in my bedroom. I want you all to remember, that my house and my location are not not conducive to cellular signals, because for two wonderful months, I had full, crystal clear reception twenty-four hours a day. The representatives at AT&T always forget this, and always try to place the blame on something I have done. Granted, I cannot know what neighbors have done, but as I said before, what could they possibly do to destroy my cell phone reception? I don’t think it’s my job to find out, but unless AT&T does something, I may have to, somehow.

I also have a new theory regarding the sudden drop in service. When I first got my phone, I played around with it and noticed that there was a choice to manually select networks. Back then, I could choose between AT&T and Cingular. When I checked a few days ago, the only one available was AT&T Wireless. So, does that mean because of the merger, AT&T and Cingular consolidated their equipment? If so, that is very bad news to me, because I switched to AT&T from Cingular precisely because Cingular’s reception was so bad. Still, it was never *this* bad. Anyhow, this is yet another theory in this saga. When I told the representative about this new theory, she humored me with an “ok,” but I could tell she did not care and probably did not note this in the account. I asked some questions to test her account records, and discovered that they don’t keep very thorough account notes at AT&T. They only keep what they deem is relevant. Of course.

So, that’s all for now. One hour later, I am still at the same point as before, except now AT&T has two more customer feedback forms to worry about. Actually, I doubt that they worry too much about this, if at all. It has been a month and eight days already, just like that. I am not going to learn to live with shoddy service. I will not stop hounding AT&T until I regain the clean signal I originally received. I have a feeling that I will be hounding for a long time, though. As an added bonus, I’ve added the notes I took during my most recent call. Continue to wish me luck, and thank you for reading!!!

Notes:

Monday, April 12, 2004 4:18AM PDT

I think the music and the girl who does the ad during the hold times is extremely annoying. As with all corporate messages these days, she intentionally cracks her voice and that makes being put on hold excruciatingly painful. New theory: AT&T and Cingular combined and reduced number of towers in area. Supporting evidence: lack of cingular network choice, whereas there was the choice before.

Representative did not want to fill out another customer feedback form, saying that it was unnecessary, because she asked tech. support about that and they said it was unnecessary. This is contrary to what the previous representatives told me. Another conflicting story. Still trying to maintain an open mind here. 30 second hold time due to time. Less receptive. A lot of "ok" "ok". This one really wanted me to get off the phone asap. Whereas it took at least 10 minutes to complete the first feedback form, it took more like 30 seconds to complete the second. Makes me wonder what they're doing. I had heard stories that AT&T reps would try to get you off the phone ASAP no matter what. Makes sense from a pure business standpoint, i.e. maximize contact time with customers per rep.

Update – April 14, 2004

My Wireless Telephone Woes – Update

As promised, I called AT&T again on Friday, March 26th, 2004. I again called after 10pm, and although the recorded message warned of a hold time of less than 10 minutes, I waited about 40 minutes before actually speaking to someone. I felt a bit upset during the wait, and wanted to just hang up, but I didn’t want my emotions to get the best of me so I persisted and finally someone answered the phone. Again, and quite calmly now, I repeated my situation to the representative, citing that no improvement had occurred since my last call to them. Again, the only thing the representative could do was to file a “customer feedback form,” which is the official name for the first step of the process which I mentioned previously. The highlight of this call was that the representative was much more receptive of what I was saying, and took into account the two months of flawless reception. Hopefully, because of her attitude and understanding, she will write a clearer customer feedback form and someone will actually do something. In the meantime, all I can do is continue to be patient and continue to call AT&T so long as my service is not back up to the par that was set earlier this year. Finally, I thought of one more theory, and that is someone nearby may have purchased a wireless Ethernet product that is interfering with my signal. Unfortunately, I do not have wireless Ethernet, so I have no way of knowing if somebody has it nearby, and even if I did, I can’t prove or disprove its effects on my wireless reception. So, I will continue to wait, and will update this page as the situation progresses.

Update – April 12, 2004

My Wireless Telephone Woes

I recently switched to AT&T Wireless because of problems with Cingular Wireless. In particular, reception with Cingular Wireless was very poor in my home, and almost nonexistent in my bedroom. This condition lasted for three years, the entire time that I was with Cingular. During those three years, friends with Cellular One and AT&T TDMA phones had absolutely no problems at all using their wireless phones in my bedroom, and when AT&T introduced GSM, it was the same. Thus, when number portability became a viable solution, I switched over to AT&T. Finally, I had full reception on my wireless phone, no dropped calls, and no stuttering during phone conversations.

Two weeks ago, on Wednesday, March 3, I noticed that my wireless phone had zero reception, i.e. no incoming or outgoing calls were possible. The time was 10:00pm. For the rest of the night, I could not make or receive calls. The next day, reception was back to full, and I thought that the previous night was simply an anomaly. Then, starting around 10:00pm, the “AT&T Wireless” label indicating reception disappeared, indicating zero reception again. Now, I was thinking that perhaps AT&T was performing maintenance at around the same time each night. I waited until Friday, and once again, I had full reception during the day, and once again, reception disappeared around 10:00pm.

I called AT&T Wireless Customer Service at 1-866-293-4634 and explained the problem. Although I was put on hold for a long time, I remained patient and cordial while the representative researched the problem. We went through a few tests, such as trying different phones, to no avail. She also asked me a few questions and gave me some advice. Finally, she told me that AT&T was aware of the problem, and that they were working on it. She gave me a ticket number, 632-667, and also advised me to try using my phone at other locations to verify that it wasn’t my phone causing the problem. I didn’t mention it to her, but I thought she hadn’t listened to me because I had just told her I tried three different phones and they were all the same. Anyway, since I now knew that AT&T was aware of the problem, I was hopeful that the problem would soon be fixed.

During the next week, the problem became worse. Whereas previously the problem occurred only at night, it was now occurring during the day as well. Sometimes, while watching the reception bar, I would see it fluctuate wildly up and down, in addition to being at zero. At this point I had changed from hopeful to concerned. I decided to allow AT&T a full week to solve the problem, but they did not, so I called them again on Friday, March 12, 2004.

On this night, AT&T was experiencing technical difficulties, and didn’t have full access to their databases. Still, the representative was able to pull up the record of my previous call to assess the situation. I explained that the situation had gotten worse, and that the previous representative had given me a trouble ticket number with which I could follow up on the problem. He spent some time looking up the trouble ticket, and to my dismay he told me that this trouble ticket was regarding a problem in another area of the country not even close to California. Either the previous representative gave me the wrong number, or I had written down the wrong number. So, no luck there. Instead, the gentleman gave me a lengthy explanation on the intricacies of wireless phone service. He said that something must have changed in my neighborhood, and that any number of changes could affect the wireless signal. Construction, appliances, and wires were some of the changes he mentioned. He said that most likely, whatever began the interference would just as soon end it. He also explained that if enough people complain of poor reception, then, and only then, would AT&T issue a trouble ticket to take a look into the problem. He said that the previous representative had not really issued a trouble ticket, because a trouble ticket was not the first step of the process. Disappointed, though (surprisingly) still not upset, I thanked the gentleman for his thoroughness and ended the call.

Now, nine days later, my situation is unchanged. I still get periods of zero reception at night and during the day. I never get full constant seven bars like I did before. My phone battery lasts a lot less because of the constant change in reception, and I have to charge it far more frequently than during the initial two months of service. I also have to constantly check my phone to see if it’s on zero reception, in case my girlfriend needs to call me. And frankly, I am beginning to get a little upset, because I switched to AT&T to avoid this very problem. I also have a few questions and theories regarding this problem.

First, based on what the second representative told me, what household item can affect a cellular signal so dramatically that the bars on my phone fluctuate so wildly up and down? On the same note, what “neighborhood item” can do the same? Second, why did the problem only occur at night in its initial stages, and then “evolve” into a constant problem? Third, why is my bedroom such a bad place for cellular signals? My bedroom has only two walls that are “inside” the rest of my house. The other two walls are outside walls, and one of them has a giant window. The walls are wooden. Granted, our floor is sandwiched between two others, and the open space outside my room is only open insofar as it is the open space between two buildings. Also, there is a metal fire escape ladder outside my window. I don’t know if that would affect cellular signals. If it did, however, then how can the two months of perfect reception and call clarity be explained? Finally, is it possible that the recent merger between AT&T and Cingular Wireless has something to do with this? Perhaps AT&T dismantled their towers and used existing Cingular ones. The flaw in that theory, of course, is that with Cingular, I never had constant zero bars, or wildly fluctuating bars; just constant one bar.

In conclusion, the past 18 days have been very troublesome for me in terms of cellular service. I have been extremely patient, waiting for the problem to “work itself out,” but there have been no signs that it ever will. I have also tried to be open minded, to allow myself to believe that something has happened in my neighborhood that causes my cellular signal to degrade. I know that nothing in my home or immediate area has changed, and that I have not added any wires, appliances, or anything else, for that matter, to my home. Maybe my neighbors have added something. In any case, wireless telephone service should not have these problems. In Hong Kong, I can go into the basement of a mall, surrounded by metal, concrete, and earth, and still be able to make a crystal clear mobile phone call. The sad part is that both customer representatives stated that it was something I did that caused this problem. I got the impression that AT&T wants to provide a product that is just barely good enough, that it is willing to accept (and ignore) the complaints of a few customers, as long as more people continue to subscribe. I will be calling customer service again, and no matter what they tell me, I will continue to believe that it is the responsibility of a wireless provider to provide wireless service, regardless of where the customer is (reasonably, of course, such as inside my bedroom, and not under the ocean). I just hope I can continue to be as patient as I have been. Thank you for reading, and wish me luck!

Update – March 29, 2004