AT&T Service Questions

Jun 17 09

AT&T Service Questions

Paul Weinstein

As with others, after Apple announced the new iPhone 3GS last week at its World Wide Developer Conference, I considered my options on upgrading from my iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS. What follows in the post below is a review of my concerns about AT&T’s service and why I was planning on staying with the iPhone 3G.

Between scheduling this post for publishing and now AT&T has release an open letter to their iPhone 3G customers addressing some of the same concerns I note below. Specific to my criticism about determining my upgrade eligibility and the pre 1 year service contract anniversary of the 3G’s release, AT&T has clarified that while “customers who spend more than $99 a month per line with [AT&T] generally are eligible for an upgrade between 12 and 18 months into their contract … and since many of our iPhone 3G customers are early adopters and literally weeks shy of being upgrade eligible … we’re extending the window of upgrade eligibility for a limited time.”

As such, those, such as myself, who purchased the iPhone 3G within the first three months of its release can upgrade with the full upgrade discount on the first day of the iPhone 3GS release this week.

I still think AT&T could do better job communicating its upgrade policy online. Plus my MMS criticism still stands. None the less, nice job AT&T.

Original Post
One of my initial concerns about adopting the iPhone was was with AT&T Wireless and its customer and network service. As I noted when the iPhone was first introduced, “I’m quite happy with T-Mobile. I spent hell on earth for many years with Sprint [and] I don’t want to switch providers [again].”

When the 3G iPhone came out a year later, I made the jump, despite my concerns about service. I felt the phone itself, with its adoption of faster voice and data service as well GPS was well worth the switch.

Since then one of my biggest issues has been with the iPhone’s approach to Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS). The lack of ability to send multimedia, such as a photo, as a text message from one phone to another is frustrating. With the latest version of the iPhone’s OS the fundamental support of MMS will finally be added to the iPhone. Case close, right?

Nope, AT&T won’t be supporting MMS on the iPhone with the new software release, at least not right away. Support will arrive “in late summer.” Why the delay? Supposedly because AT&T has to manually enable all iPhone accounts for MMS service.

Wow, that’s some service operation AT&T has there…

This might not be all AT&T’s fault if the iPhone supported MMS from the start, but it has been suggested that both “Apple and AT&T had initially resisted support for MMS messaging as a protocol, calling it ‘ugly’.”

I’m not sure I quite buy that, if Apple can develop a new feature, Visual Voicemail, and work with AT&T and other provides on its adoption, why couldn’t they do the same for a MMS protocol replacement if MMS was so “ugly?”

Well because the iPhone has built in email support. Why use MMS or build a whole new communication protocol when one can email an image as an attachment to anyone, Right?

If you’re trying to send a photo to someone “on the go” that only works if they too can access their email account from their phone. More to my real frustration with how MMS has been handled, if someone elects to send me a MMS, I get a message from AT&T saying that I received an image and, using a randomly generated username and password, have to log into an AT&T website within a specific timeframe in order to see the image. Not exactly the most time efficient method of keeping in touch with people while “on-the-go”, even with iPhone’s Safari web browser. If AT&T and Apple felt email was the answer, why did AT&T just forward the MMS message to my email account? It’s not like they don’t already have that information on file.

AT&T also leaves the upgrade process a lot to be desired.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that AT&T is a business and is looking to turn a profit. I understand, that if AT&T offers a phone, any phone, at a subsidize price they need to recoup that loss some how. That is why they bind customers to a 2 year contract.

I also realize that the new iPhone 3GS is being released before the 1 year anniversary of the 3G release and while a customer’s 1 year anniversary is not necessary the break even point for AT&T, AT&T certainly hasn’t made their money back just yet on iPhone 3G customers such as myself.

So with the 3GS release, 3G customers have the option to what? Upgrade by paying the full price of the new phone? Upgrade with at a lower discount? No option at all?

Accessing my account online and using the “Check upgrade option” feature I am told that “as a valued AT&T customer” AT&T can offer me “a discounted iPhone upgrade at a higher price, along with a 2-year commitment and an $18 upgrade fee” and that if I wait, I “may qualify for a full discount on a standard iPhone upgrade on 12/13/2009.”

A discounted iPhone upgrade at a higher price?” What is a high priced discount? Can’t you just say a “lower discount?”

“I may qualify?” Are you not sure?

Come on AT&T, you know your break even point. You know what your discount rate is. You know what your qualifications for discount are. You can certainly build that logic into your online system, so that instead of some vaguely worded statement, the customer knows exactly what their options are and what it will cost them.

Oh and an $18 upgrade fee? I guess that’s one way to make sure the customer service operation is cash flow positive for this financial quarter.