Poor Reception? "Go To The Hilltop" Sprint Tells Customer

“Go outside, or to hilltop to make calls from your cell phone. Sprint does not guarantee call quality in buildings or homes,” a Sprint customer service rep told reader Nathan shortly before he canceled service. Sprint had told a long series of lies with various reasons and solutions that never materialized for why Nathan and his family couldn’t get any reception in their home. After wrangling for many months, Nathan told them to stuff it.

He canceled the account and canceled the credit card on the account, early termination fee be damned. He vows, “I will never use Sprint again. I will deal with the collector they send after me, but Sprint will no longer receive payment from this point onward.” His tale, below.

Nathan writes:

Nine months ago my family moved into a new home, in a development at the top of a foothill in Issaquah, WA. While we had perfect cell reception in our old house, calls in our new house are consistently dropped, and reception ranges between 0-1 bars of service. Being loyal customers for over six years, we decided to work with Sprint to resolve this problem.

In October 2007 we contacted the local Sprint store about our service issues. The representative at the store in Issaquah assured us that they were aware of the issue and improvements would be made in the next six months. Busy with furnishing the house and sending our teen to college, we did not have more time to press the issue with Sprint.

In May 2008, we contacted Sprint again with the issue. It was impossible to communicate and putting a strain on our patience. Once again, the Sprint employee, eager to keep our business, offered another solution; get new phones. In June 2008 we purchased two brand new Blackberry Curve phones, and resigned our contract under the assurance that we would have better reception. Reception was worse than ever. We once again gave the service time to improve. It did not.

On July 24th, 2008 I contacted Sprint Customer Service directly and explained the issue, wishing to cancel Sprint service and a waive of the ETF, given the only reason we re-signed our contract was because better service was assured. The representative “Toni” (Employee #703170319) explained to us that our area shows good coverage on her chart. This is clearly not true. Even outside of our house calls are dropped and scratchy/distorted. I offered to allow a Sprint representative to come out to our house to test our service. She refused and instead tried to push a $300 device that plugs into our internet to boost signal. At this point, I don’t want any more gizmos or false promises from Sprint, so I refused. Sprint clearly tells its employees to give the customer as many problems as possible before cancelling. Toni was very apologetic about the situation, but claimed she could do nothing to resolve it.

After another 45 minutes of going back and forth with Toni, she told me to fax in my account information and the situation to James at Sprint . His fax number was 404-948-9064. I sent the following fax, along with my account information and a graph I made measuring service in different areas of my home.

Fax sent July 24th, 2008

ATTN: James at Sprint


c/o with Toni- employee # 703170319

Customer: Timothy *******

Message: I contacted customer service regarding being out of coverage at my new home We have attempted to work with Sprint for nearly 9 months on this problem. We were first told that changes would be made to the cell towers to improve the coverage, but nothing changed. Next we were told that our phones were inadequate and that if we purchased new phones from Sprint that would solve the problem. We still have cell phone reception that falls from -120 to -150. I was given this number by the representative Toni and told to contact regarding the waver of early termination fees given the unique circumstances of living outside of reliable Sprint coverage. I have included my most recent Sprint bill as per Toni’s instructions.

The numbers correspond to:

-79 dBm and higher: 5 Bars

-80 dbM to -84 dBm: 4 bars

85 dBm to -89 dBm: 3 bars

-90 dBm to -99 dBm: 2 bars

-100 dBm and lower: 0-1 bar

After not hearing back from James, I decided to give Sprint another call. While I didn’t catch the employee’s name, it is surely still listed on the record. He listened to my problem, listened to how I had tried to work with Sprint, and how I wished to cancel my account. His solution was to “Go outside, or to hilltop to make calls from your cell phone. Sprint does not guarantee call quality in buildings or homes.” This would be a valid argument as it does state this in our contract. However, we do not have adequate service outside either, rendering his point useless. Furthermore, what if my son had to call 911 from the house and was given a “call was lost” message? Sprint truly does not view or respect the customer highly.

He also claimed that “if we cannot provide cell reception in your home, no carrier will be able to.” This is blatantly untrue. We have asked friends with AT&T and Verizon to test call quality in our home. They have absolutely no problems with reception, and a consistent 3-4 bars of service.

After another 25 minutes of arguing, I asked to have James, the man I sent the fax to contact me. After being thanked for choosing Sprint, I was hung up on.

I have cancelled automatic bank payments to Sprint and cancelled the credit card on the account. I will never use Sprint again. I will deal with the collector they send after me, but Sprint will no longer receive payment from this point onward. While I understand that all wireless carriers have problems, these dealings with Sprint have been exceptionally bad. Think twice before signing with Sprint until they improve customer care.

If we had gotten Nathan earlier because we would have told him to save himself the hassle and call the Sprint Batphone they set up especially for Consumerist readers: 703-433-4401.

Looks like despite Dan Hesse’s promise to turn around the company, the same problems persist. Too bad. Those new ads are so pretty.


Edit Your Comment

  1. I had a similar experience with Sprint when I was living near DC, so that, along with many, many other reasons, is why I’m cancelling my contract with them this week. I AM SO HAPPY.

  2. lprd says:

    While I’m not a fan of Sprint either, I think that whole 911 point he made isn’t valid. To my knowledge a 911 call will go through on any carrier that the phones frequency supports.

  3. Annath says:

    I live in a small town with sprint. It’s terrible. There’s one broken tower servicing the town, and it’s behind a damned mountain. I’ve never seen greater than one bar anywhere in my town.

    I’m ditching them when my contract is up. Cellular South has nice phones with decent looking service.

  4. The Sammamish plateau (that area) has always had hit or miss reception. It’s annoying as hell, but has gotten better over the last few (four) years. Before then, two bars was a celebration-worthy event, and dropped calls were a way of life…ok, they pretty much still are. Having friends that already have a service come over and test is the best way I’ve found to determine what will work.
    As far as the methods Nathan took to avoid the ETF, keep a close eye on the account that CC was associated with. I am familiar with cases where a recurring charge to that CC# can reopen the account. I haven’t heard of that happening for quite a bit though, so just something to keep an eye out for.

    I am employed by a Sprint competitor

  5. PinkBox says:

    At my old place, I had to stand near a window to place any calls using Sprint. I haven’t had a problem with them since I moved.

    The bad reception was supposedly caused by bad paint.

    The op shouldn’t just let this go to collections. Call the Sprint number the consumerist provided to see if you can get the termination fee waivered, or pay the fee and get rid of them. No use letting them get the last word by ruining your credit.

  6. No_Moleste says:

    I don’t get Sprint service at all in my office (Downtown Oakland)and I get 0-1 bar at home (in Alameda…right between Oakland and San Fran). Going outside does nothing for me except the call might only drop 2 or 3 times over a 5 minute conversation versus 4 or 5 times indoors. There’s no hills in Alameda so that’s not an option. I loathe Sprint. I live and work in one of the most densely populated areas in the world and still get little to no reception. Damn near useless.

  7. Krrose27 says:

    Hey, So what can the sprint batphone do for us other sprint users who dont have the guts to take on a collection agency.

  8. egosub2 says:

    I’m thinking a Mother Superior screenie from Sound of Music would have been even betterer, viz. “Sprint: Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”

  9. ideagirl says:

    @No_Moleste: “There’s no hills in Alameda so that’s not an option.”

    That was my first thought when I read this–what if the customer doesn’t live in a hilly area?

  10. Mollyg says:

    I would like to point out that it was prob not a good idea to sign a new contract while you had bad service. You gave Sprint what they wanted, and you got nothing in return. In retrospect you should have gotten written verification that you could cancel if the service did not improve.

  11. HunterZ says:

    Interesting that, according to the graph, some areas of the house get up to 4 bars. Also, the graph does not show any signal quality as low as the claimed -120 (or worse).

    The variance makes me wonder if there’s a nearby source of interference (nearby as in around the neighbourhood or in the house itself).

  12. @valarmorghulis: Full Disclosure win. Thanks for the classy. :)

    @ideagirl: Sprint feels all Iowans should just travel to Colorado to make calls.

  13. dragonfire1481 says:

    Cell providers CANNOT guarantee service in ANY buldings. Cell phones, by nature, are meant to be used primarily OUTSIDE (when you are away from a building that would have a landline in it).

    While cell phones do work fine inside many buildings, that isn’t always the case. Sprint even has language in their contract that they can’t guarantee service everywhere. It also states their provided coverage maps are “high level” estimates of coverage based on outdoor usage.

  14. mdoublej says:

    I used to have Sprint, and used my cell as my only phone. It worked fine anywhere in my house. One day out of the blue, the signal got much worse, and I started dropping and missing calls. I called customer service to explain how the signal had degraded, and how I couldn’t make calls where I had before, and was told exactly the same thing, “go outside to make calls”!

    To be fair I did call my local store right after to complain about the idiot at customer service, and the local person put in a work order to have it checked out. A week or so later, everything was working as before.

  15. calldrdave says:

    Unfortunately, the “consumerist” hotline is merely the same number for Executive Relations, which is also “escalations”. They don’t have any more power than the escalation/retention department. They have very little power to fix problems…they can only offer you freebies.

    I really wish the consumerist would stop stating the line is “special”. Just google the number and find out where it really goes to.

    I know and was involved in a situation when we caught a store ON TAPE lying about a phone, played the tape for Exec Relations and they still wouldn’t help out (phone was declared water damaged, though they were recorded saying “let’s call this corrosion and move on”

    I just drop kicked sprint because of coverage issues outside my home. They claimed to *me* if you have “trees or buildings” in your neighborhood, coverage cannot be guaranteed (and we got them on tape saying all this!)

    Convince them to drop the ETF rather than trying to fight with the credit card companies.

  16. TheGreenMnM says:

    I have been with Sprint for 10 years. I am not a fanboy (girl), but I have never had any problems of any kind, which is why I’m still with them. I have lived in 5 different locations; 3 outside of Austin, TX and 2 outside of Atlanta, GA. Each location had slightly different recpetion but none were severly lacking. I really believe that in this business it really is all about “location, location, location”. I don’t blame this so much on the company. I’m not familiar with the area the poster lives, so I can’t speak to it being metro or sticks. What I do know… if I got bad reception and was going to be living in that area for a good while, I definitely wouldn’t sign a new contract on the *hope* that something was going to change because someone in the store or on the phone told me so. But then again, I don’t trust most people any further than I can throw them.

  17. dragon:ONE says:

    The $300 device pushed to you is a Sprint Airave, a miniturized version of a cellular base station otherwise known as a “femtocell”.

    The device connects onto a standard high-speed network connection and up to three Sprint devices can use the device at any time.

    The monthly fee is $5, alongside a $20/month plan for unlimited calling as long as you’re connected to the Airave on a family plan; the single-line plan is $15 a month.

    The device is not $300, however, it costs $99.


    And no, I’m not a Sprint representitive, I’m an AT&T user who wishes they’d get the same ideas and release a femtocell with 3G for in-home use.

  18. @Eyebrows McGee: Thank you! I like to try and avoid activly being a dick.

  19. bbb111 says:

    In similar situations when a salesdroid is making claims that will solve a problem, I insist on that the claim be added to the paperwork as a condition of sale. The salesdroid always starts back-peddling and giving excuses as to why they cannot change the contract or receipt.

  20. calldrdave says:

    @Dakota Courtois: I can’t resist. Is that like a fembot? Seriously though, they offered that to me and I mentioned why I would have to pay more when *my* location didn’t change. However didn’t tell me it worked over high-speed. They told me it boost the signal…and if I have no signal….boosted crappy signal means more crappy calls not less

  21. TechnoElf says:

    Since the trend has started I’ll start by saying I work for a Sprint competitor. Basically, anything below -95 on CDMA inside a building is pretty poor. You can make a call all the way down at -103 but, only in good conditions outside. Also, since Sprint uses the 1900 Ghz PCS band, they have a harder time with in building coverage. A femtocell could have helped in this situation, it’s lame that they made you buy a new phone though. Any recent phone should have a decent radio in it.

  22. dragon:ONE says:

    @calldrdave: Nope, Airave hooks on much like T-Mobile’s Hotspot@Home setup, sans the Wi-Fi. It uses some form of backend server at Sprint to route out to the phone systems.

  23. @Dakota Courtois: When I threated to cancel and get AT&T service for my shiny unlocked iPhone, T-Mobile offered to sign me up for Hotspot@Home (then an additional $20/month), with a new contract, new phone, and router. I was not impressed.

    Now I use Gizmo, Fring’s SIP iPhone client, and Grand Central. Sure, it’s more work and prone to failure, but it’s way more than fun than paying for service.

  24. Ausoleil says:

    Glad I read this. We had been talking about using Sprint as our next carrier. Not anymore.

    BTW, their “I can’t believe I’m in love with a phone” ad may be the stupidest advertisement I have ever seen.

  25. kakarotthemonkey says:

    I’m sorry but this article is so biased. NO cell phone carrier will put up ONE cell site that costs thousands of dollars to install just so ONE person can have service. Get real.

  26. baquwards says:

    If I’m not mistaken sprint uses the 1900 mhz CDMA in most cases (called the PCS band) which doesn’t penetrate buildings as well as 850 mhz CDMA which Verizon uses for most of their transmissions. T-mobile uses the 1900 mhz GSM band which has the same problem penetrating buildings.

    When I had sprint, I found myself often having to go outside to keep calls from dropping, not the case with Verizon with the same or less number of signal bars.

  27. Infinity_8 says:

    Sprint’s coverage maps are unfortunately very inaccurate. My friend at Barksdale AFB barely gets coverage, even though the map shows great coverage. Also, CDMA gets horrible coverage at Whiteman AFB, and they will not let military cancel without ETF due to coverage issues.

    Buying a new phone will not improve coverage that much, only slightly at best. Sanyo phones from Sprint typically get better coverage than other brands. The Airave is the product offered to this customer that increases coverage, but I don’t view it as a good product if you simply don’t have good coverage at home. You should get a service provider who suits your area better, not buy some “signal enhancing product”.

    I suggest dumping Sprint and moving on to GSM.

  28. Dyscord says:

    From my time with Sprint, I can say that they are supposed to let you cancel you account if you can’t get service at your residence. They say you have to fax them proof of residence and if you are in a no coverage area, then they will cancel it.

    At least, they’re SUPPOSED to…

  29. Meathamper says:

    This is why even though you get shit reception with T-Mobile in the Bay Area (still) you can use the @Home thingy to call via router.

  30. 2copper says:

    Sometimes Sprint phones are set to only connect to Sprint cell towers. I would look at the settings in the phone to see if Roaming is set to automatic vs. Sprint Only.

    Sold Sprint phones just recently, but I’ve got a real job now!

  31. battra92 says:

    I get pretty crappy service with Verizon inside my house. They tell me it’s the aluminum siding.

    An ex girlfriend of mine had Sprint and it dropped calls more than mine does. The girlfriend with T-Mobile … well, she never got service at all (it was like she was paying $40 a month for a clock I guess.)

  32. Devidence says:

    Guys, cell phones don’t work in some places. I had this exact same issue with T-Mobile.

  33. Murph1908 says:

    I had the same problem in my apartment, which was 1/2 a mile from the intersection of an interstate and a major highway. Sprint phone would NOT work in my apartment. I had to sit on my balcony, in the winter, inside a sleeping bag, wearing gloves and a hat, to talk to my then girlfriend (now wife).

    Around that time, there was a Sprint commercial (back when they had the Sprint guy). Some dude was standing outside in the rain, trying to get his girlfriend to talk to him again after some argument. I had to laugh at that commercial, figuring the guy was standing outside in the rain because his Sprint phone wouldn’t work in his apartment.

    Sprint is by far the worst here. I had Sprint for 2 years. At that same time, I had a work cell phone on Verizon. When my Sprint phone would lose signal, I’d call back on the work phone. Always got a signal with them.

  34. Nogard13 says:

    When my roommate wanted to get out of his Sprint contract, but wasn’t allowed to by the CSRs, we devised a plan that would definitely work.

    Since we lived in Spokane, WA, at the time, and he had “nationwide coverage,” which means no roaming charges, we took his phone snowboarding with us since we knew that when we were on Mt. Spokane, Sprint was actually roaming and had to pay Quest for that airtime. We made a call between his phone and mine (also on Sprint) and left them connected for about 10 hours. Later that week, when we got back, he called Sprint and again asked if he could cancel his contract. When they said they wouldn’t allow it, he asked to speak to a manager.

    Once the manager was on the phone, my roommate asked him if he could take a look at his account and see a phone call made on xxx day. When the manager looked it up, he was pissed that we would do such a thing. Well, my roommate told him that if he wasn’t let out of his contract that he’d go up to the same place and do the same thing every day until they decided to end his contract. The manager ended his service on the spot.

    Moral of the story: if you cost them too much money, they will drop you like a fly. I hate Sprint and used the same excuse to get out of my contract about a week later.

  35. dewsipper says:

    @Dyscord: I tried that several times. I get absolutely no coverage (not one bar) outside. I keep calling up and telling Sprint, and the SprintWitch will say they are sending out a tech to check the coverage. Low and behold, the tech miraculously has coverage. Funny how I can be home the entire day and not notice one single service vehicle.

  36. JasmineEurodork says:

    The Sprint native 1900mhz network is generally inferior to AT&T and
    Verizon (both use a mix of 850 and 1900 mhz but are more mature and
    better coverage quality) . Sprint ( and T mobile too ) holds themselves
    out as equals with AT&T and Verizon when in fact they are not . Why pay
    additional for The Airave (or HotSpot@Home with T-mobile) when you can
    get good coverage on AT&T or Verizon . If Sprint really wants to climb
    out of the hole they are in they need to lower their prices to reflect
    their network capabilities and treat their customers right . Maybe (
    “the new”) Sprint should even try going to no-contract service plans
    similar to Cricket where they “earn “your buisiness every month .

  37. cpt.snerd says:

    wow – an amazingly similar story to what I experienced a few years ago with T-Mobile and also what led me to cancel with them and move to Verizon.

    I like the coverage and while people may have their gripes with different carriers – but so far I don’t have any significant ones (other than a small issue with a random 50 cents added to my bill every billing cycle for i-don’t-know-what…)

  38. starrion says:

    As cheezy as they are the Verizon commercials about the network are true. Verizon has awesome coverage. I cannot remember the last time I had a dropped call with Verizon. Sprint’s coverage is lousy, has been lousy, and -if the fleeing hordes continue to abandon them- will be lousy until they go under.

    When I had Sprint, everyone told me how they could never understand me due to the scratchy calls and it dropped all the time. I have no idea why I stayed with them as long as I did.

  39. mariospants says:

    Hmmm… so on the one hand we have articles describing the “death of the landline” and on the other we have “cell phones cause excruciatingly painful brain cancer tumoroids” and “good luck getting a signal in your home with a cell phone” articles… sounds like this battle ain’t over yet.

  40. Lithium542 says:

    Again, I have to take issue with the story. If you look at the DB raiting in his office, it’s certainly acceptable. The rest of the house is terrible. Having worked as a Motorola Wireless Network Engineer for 3 years for a major Wireless Service Provider, it tells me that there is something in the home, or in the core construction of the home that interferes with RF. It could tons of things, from leaky microwaves, to thick stone, concrete, or metal reinforced walls. It could also have something to do with local topography around a certain part of thehome(hills, thick pine trees).

    Cell phone reception isn’t magic, it’s science. Quite frankly, the CSR’s handled this terribly, and my sympathy goes out to Tim and his family, however quite simply, Sprint has no way of accounting for home construction and local topography.

    They should’ve tipped their hat, and said have a nice day.

  41. picardia says:

    @kakarotthemonkey: Nobody’s arguing that they should erect a new tower just for these guys — but Sprint should’ve acknowledged that they had poor coverage in that area, allowing the people to make a better decision about their carrier. Instead, Sprint tried to hang onto their business despite knowing they couldn’t provide coverage.

  42. Just switched from Verizon to T-Mobile after a year of a very similar situation. Moved within the same town, but in the new place I got 0-1 bars, and often would lose service completely. Verizon checked and confirmed that there is almost no service in this part of town, and they let me out of my contract. T-Mobile works FINE here, and I’m still getting used to being able to stay *inside* to make calls, and not having every call drop. I would disagree with the commenter who said Verizon’s current ads are accurate. I found they had dead zones EVERYWHERE, and not just in my place. There’s apparently no incentive for these companies to provide better coverage.

  43. I work for a Business Solutions Partner for Sprint and would like to offer a little insight.

    1st – He will not escape the contract ETF-free because of service issues. Crappy service or sporadic service is still service in Sprint’s eyes. As some of you pointed out, they do NOT guarantee service.

    2nd – If his pals have AT&T and Verizon service in his residence, he should have service, too. Sprint offers unlimited domestic roaming. Use it. Set your phone to roam only and you’ll be fine if in fact there are Verizon and AT&T towers.

  44. tasselhoff76 says:

    I had issues with signal strength after a hurricane hit here. The problem was even after repairs were made, it didn’t get better, and all of the sales staff in the Sprint store knew it. Unfortunately, there was an utter lack of communication between the store and Sprint Corporate on the issue.

    It took me *weeks* to get transferred to a department that could help, but the trouble tickets that got put through would get mysteriously deleted and I would have to go through the same tedious process of trying to find that department again, all while driving miles from my home and sitting in a random parking lot to do so.

    Finally, about a month later, Sprint sent someone out to actually test this problem. They said a server had to be restarted on-site. Whatever they did, everything was back to normal. I wrote a long letter to Sprint explaining all of this and they basically blew me off.

    I simply could not believe that they didn’t communicate with their store on the issue. They would keep telling me to take my phone to the store. It was ridiculous. Sprint sucks but they give me a ridiculous plan.

  45. temporaryerror says:

    I really do love the hotspot@home thing with Tmobile. I recently went from an unlocked PEBL to a samsung slider with the UMA wifi radio in it, and without paying anything extra can connect to my standard wirelessG linksys router and make calls over wifi w/o paying anything extra a month. (I just use up minutes while on wifi just the same as if I were on the GSM network.) If you pay for the service, the advantage is that you get all your wifi calls for free. I’ve gone from having to leave the basement to make calls to having full signal downstairs.

  46. RandomZero says:

    First, I’d have to agree that Sprint’s handling of this was extraordinarily bad, and utterly typical. The agents responded exactly as trained, and ETFs normally stand in reception-issue cases. An exception MAY be made here.

    For the record, new phones will NOT improve reception in 90% of cases. Antenna design is a very precise science, and EVERY manufacturer goes with the best antenna they can shoehorn into their phones. If your model is defective, it’ll help, but that’s rare.

    As far as coverage maps go: For anyone else calling Sprint on this, ask the agent to check the tech map that shows exact tower locations. They may not know what you’re talking about (it’s not officially made known to them), but if they do, that map also shows terrain obstructions and detailed signal strength readings.

    Finally, I’m curious: Calls like this, where a customer lives in a marginal reception area and wants it fixed, are somewhat common. What exactly do you expect the company to do? Even small repeater units cost thousands of dollars to deploy; the typical non-business customer will take YEARS to generate this kind of revenue. It makes more financial sence for them to write you off as a customer than to give you the infrastructure you want.

  47. calldrdave says:

    @RandomZero: Right, but in that case, when the provider doesn’t want to spend money to keep you as a customer, why should you have to spend money to leave them as a vendor.
    If a vendor is allowed to charge at ETF when they determine it’s too expensive to fix a signal problem, the vendor has NO incentive to do so.

  48. rooster822 says:

    I’m having the same problem with Sprint. Had them for about 6 years. Situation: 2 homes 200 miles apart. Bought the phone in southern home to be sure it worked in rural area. It did. Number used area code from northern home. After first 2 year term expired, Sprint called me offering a 5% discount to renew contract. I took the call while walking on the roadway in rural area at southern location. Since I was then satisfied I renewed. Shortly after that, we now barely get 1 bar down there. Have to go outside to get a signal. Up north (40 miles from Chicago) barely get a signal (not rural). I’ve complained numerous times, been to corporate stores, tried different roaming, nothing works. Of course, they show the “best” coverage in the southern area. Friends with Verizon and AT&T have no trouble in our southern house. Sprint still wants $400 to get out of the contract. After November, I’m gone. They are a miserable company.