More AT&T Wireless Customers Boned by Cingular

Since first we spoke of troubles with Cingular, many of you have taken the time to write us with your own stories—especially stories about the troubles since the Cingular and AT&T Wireless merger.

Two in particular stand out, which we’ll pass on after the jump. The first, from Jon B., details his company’s troubles trying to develop mobile software for phones that work on Cingular. (If we were feeling particularly antagonistic, we would note how the troubles were making it difficult for third-parties to add value to Cingular’s service.)

Levi F. sends the second story, a tale of what seems to be a typical frustration for loyal AT&T Wireless customers who found themselves forced to migrate to the Cingular service.

The tragedy in all this is that the technology that the two companies used was very nearly compatible. All this SIM card swapping and forced new phones was almost avoidable.

Get ready for some quality kvetching after the jump.

Jon B. writes:

I work for a mobile phone software company. In the course of our daily work we need to test our software on lots of phones.

We signed up for a Cingular corporate account over a year ago and have a few lines activated. Everything was fine. Recently, we bought some new phones at local Cingular stores to test. We then tried to use them with the Cingular SIMs we already had. It didn’t work, as these phones were “SIM-locked” for Cingular.

We figured this was because the SIMs we had were originally ATT SIMs, even though when we signed up they were then called Cingular. So we called up our Cingular corporate sales rep and asked for replacement SIMs and explained the problem. It was no big deal, and a few days later we received a new set of SIMs complete with the Cingular Splotch.

We then tried them in the new phones. Still didn’t work. “??!!!” We said.

It seems that the SIMs we were sent were still really ATT SIMs; they were only masquerading as genuine Cingular SIMS. Because of this, they would not work in our new Cingular phones. The phone again told us to enter the “Subsidy Code” to unlock the phone.

I personally then called Cingular customer care and asked them about this. The confirmed that our Cingular SIMs were not really Cingular SIMs. They told me that I had to transfer to Account Migration to fix this. I then spent 1+ hour on hold over the course of two days. When I finally reached this group, they said that my old rate plans were no longer possible to use and that I had to sign up for new rate plans for all the phones. Gads.

I knuckled under to this pressure, as I could see no way out.

Then we got all the details done and then they told me to read out the SIM card serial numbers out to them, so they could do their computer system magic and turn these frogs back into princes. Alas, it was not to be. The SIMs we had were impossible to change. We had to go again and get new SIMs.

This time, my very patient IT manager went to a local downtown Seattle Cingular store. He got three new SIMs and then had a 1+ hour call with customer care for each SIM in order to active it.

There’s an Army acronym that comes to mind here…

My own recommendation, is that if you are an ex-ATT customer and want to stay with ATT/Cingular, you should go in and bite the bullet and change over to Cingular. I believe that the best way to do this is in a Cingular store, as those personnel are the most motivated to help you do this quickly. However, it *is* absurd.

I’m personally locked into them because I need a SIM-card based service and because T-Mo does not have coverage in a key place I regularly travel.

Levi F adds:

On the Cingular front, I thought I’d pass along the story of the nightmare that I endured with my phone…sorry it’s so long – this is the condensed version. I’ve glossed over the many hours of idiocy I encountered at every step of this transaction with every single Cingular employee I spoke with.

At the outset, I want to say that I had been with AT&T Wireless for over 6 years and been a VERY loyal customer (I was on the $299.99 plan when they had it and had many bills that went over 1K a month).

After having a new Sony Erricson T637 phone for 6 months, I started having problems with calls ( I would hear other people’s conversations, I just couldn’t make calls, etc.). I took my phone into a Cingular store and had the agent look at it. After looking at it, the agent told me to call warranty exchange to get a new one. I called warranty exchange and they send me out a new phone with instructions to send them the old phone. A new phone arrived ( no box, cover battery, etc. just the phone)..I popped my SIM card into the new phone and sent Cingular my old phone. So far, so good.

I quickly realized that there was still a problem. While trying to make calls, I would enter other people’s conversations, I still couldn’t make calls, etc. Another call was placed to tech support, who told me that since I had already sent my old phone to warranty exchange, that it must be a SIM card problem and they would send me a new SIM card.

A few days later, I receive a new SIM card. I put the SIM card in the phone and it works fine. So we’re done, right? Nope.

The next day, I get a box with my old phone in it along with a piece of paper. The paper said that since there was display damage on the old phone, they were charging me $209.99. There was an issue with a few pixels on the screen, which I had told the agent at warranty exchange about and the Cingular agent had seen. Now my old phone has major display damage due to the fact that my old phone had been sent back to me with no packaging material whatsoever. I put my new SIM card in my old phone and presto – the old phone works…it was just a problem with the SIM card, but due to Cingular’s warranty exchange program, if you have a SIM card problem, you’re fucked. So now I have 2 phones, both of which work just fine, and a $209.99 charge for a phone I don’t want or need.

In any event, I call Cingular to try to rectify the situation. First, I am told that they couldn’t do anything about it and I’m stuck with the phone. After a few hours of working my way up the Cingular totem pole, the agent tells me that they’ll overnight me a label so I can return the phone to them for a credit. 2 weeks later – no label. So I call back…they have no record that I spoke to anybody before, so I go through the whole thing again with about 5 different Cingular agents. After another hour or two on the phone, Cingular tells me that they will credit my account the $209.99 and it will take 1-2 billing cycles. After a month…no credit. Cingular says it’s still processing. After 2 months…no credit. I call again and Cingular tells me that the credit to my account has been denied! So again, I work my way up the Cingular ladder and again they say that they will overnight me a label to send the phone back. The last call was on December 21. On January 4, still no label…so I call again and they say that they’ll send me out a new label…in a shocking development, I’m still waiting on it. I’ve put in a complaint with the BBB and disputed the charge on the AMEX, but who knows what that will get me. I’ve since moved my 2 lines of service over to T-Mobile.

Please tell your readers to be very, very careful when dealing with warranty exchange at Cingular. Make them send you a new SIM card BEFORE you send your phone to warranty exchange. I’m not sure if there are any other options available to get your defective phone fixed…I wasn’t given any.