Activating data networks

I’ve come to the dangerous conclusion that the only time a phone company/data company can create a satisfactory customer interaction is when Apple impose it on them. In the last couple of weeks I’ve activated four cellular data plans, three in the last week!

In case you’re wondering, my goal for Solar Odyssey is to have as continuous connection to the Internet as possible, without being dependent on any one carrier’s network. We need to be able to log in real time, to a centralized server, whether we’re on Ra (the Solar Odyssey boat) or off boat doing a story on land. Hence both ATT and Verizon iPads. Virgin Mobile is on the Sprint network, so we have coverage from three networks.

The absolute best experience was an iPad with Verizon LTE/4G. It took moments, on the device itself and required no phone calls, strange activation numbers or other interaction. Simple, easy, done quickly. And I get to use the iPad as a hotspot on that network.

Almost as easy was activating an iPad on AT&T’s network. Also from the iPad, also without strange activation voodoo, but there was a small glitch (and I won’t guarantee I didn’t do something wrong) and I had to start over. Second time was a charm. No hotspot feature though.

Then it came to dealing with the carriers themselves. This was not so pleasant.

Activating a Verizon USB LTE modem required phone calls, a purely bogus phone number for the device (after all they’re a phone company at heart) and a long phone call. Now Verizon’s customer service agent was knowledgeable and when my phone dropped out (on the AT&T network) she called me back.

What no-one thought to mention was that I had to restart to connect to the device. (Not entirely surprising given that it is hardware that requires a drive.) The trouble was, I was running a long encode for a client and simply could not restart at that time. It should have been mentioned at the start of the call.

Total time to activate, about 25-30 minutes. That’s a whole lot messier and a much bigger imposition than activating either iPad. Then there was Virgin Mobile: a truly horrible experience.

Their plans are attractive, and it’s supposed to be self activating without requiring a call but, it calls for numbers to be entered that I’d never been given! After wasting half an hour going round in circles I called the support number.

You worry that it’s not going to be a good experience when you hear the accent. You know it’s not going well when the first thing the CSA tells me is absolutely the opposite of their printed documentation that came with the device – the so-called “easy guide”.  This was not a knowledgeable agent, in fact the opposite of knowledgeable.

After 15 minutes of this, I gave up and passed the phone to my much-more-patient partner, who took yet another 30 minutes to get the device activated. And the CSA didn’t realize the person had changed.

I still don’t understand why I have to sign up for a plan on their site before they’ll send me the device, and then tell me I have no plan!!! Frustration and incompetence all round.

So, if Apple were to take over the carriers, it would have to be a better experience: truthfully left to their own devices, carrier level customer service is just a horrible experience all round, every time I’ve called.

One thought on “Activating data networks”

  1. Too bad iPad still isn’t available on T-Mobile (which can use AT&T’s networks). Their customer service is stellar, and you always get a person, which is the single biggest reason why I’ve stuck with them for so many years.

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