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I was a happy T-Mobile customer. Though I was occasionally disappointed by their spotty network coverage, I was won over by the advantages:

  • Their customer service was generally impressive. It wasn't perfect, but generally short hold times, and helpful staff.
  • My plan was relatively inexpensive.
  • They are the only major cell phone provider in the US that makes it easy to sign-up for service without a contract.
  • I could use any compatible phone I wanted with no hassles. I would just swap SIM cards.

When I moved two years ago and realized that T-Mobile coverage in my new house was inadequate, I was sad. They don't offer any type of femtocell, so I had to switch mobile providers.

I chose Sprint because they didn't seem as committed shackling their customers as Verizon and AT&T are. I have not enjoyed the last two years of working with Sprint. Bad customer service, second rate network, and all the limitations of CDMA technology. I knew about the limitations in advance, but they were more frustrating than I expected.

  • Unless your phone has two antennas (with the associated battery hit), you cannot talk on the phone and use a data connection at the same time. That means no phone calls while using GPS and no looking up an email to relay information to the person you are talking to.
  • Because there are no SIM cards, you cannot switch phones without begging the mobile provider for permission. Sprint was not nice about giving that permission. That means no second hand phones, no taking phones between networks, and generally low resale prices on phones.
  • No international travel with your phone.

That last problem can theoretically be overcome by taking advantage of Sprint's partnership with mobile provider Brightroam. They are a Canadian company that provides international cell phones to North American customers. Through Brightroam I got a cheap international Nokia cell phone with a SIM on the O2 network. Whenever I was out of the States, I would use that phone instead of my Sprint phone. Calls to my Sprint phone can be automatically routed to my Brightroam phone. Getting setup only cost $50. Keeping the SIM active was $20 per year. I would then pay a per minute rate depending on where I used it. Coverage was great for me in South America and Europe.

In practice, the service was a huge headache for me.

  • Figuring out how to make calls in each country was a challenge. Sometimes I needed to discover the prefix for international calling for the network where I was roaming, then use the prefix for the UK, and then the UK code for calling the country where I was staying.
  • The rate per minute was hard to predict. It would vary between $0.50 a minute and $4.00 a minute depending on what country I was in, whether it was an incoming or outgoing call, whether it was to another mobile phone or a land-line, and which country the other party was in. In general, it didn't seem any cheaper than international roaming on a carrier like AT&T or T-Mobile.
  • Calls forwarded from the Sprint network were always very expensive and also incurred a daily charge. I cancelled that service and just used Skype to call my phone number to check my voicemail.

But the kicker was that every single bill for two years was wrong. Every one of them. And for two years they blamed their "new billing system". They couldn't solve anything via email, every time I called them I waited on hold for excessive periods of time, and every problem took multiple calls. I haven't used their service in 4 months, but they are still incorrectly charging my credit card. I tried to remove my credit card from their system today, but their webapp doesn't allow that. After waiting on hold for an hour as "the next caller in the queue", I have given up and am just going to start disputing their charges with my bank.

I appreciate the idea of Brightroam's service, but the economics don't work out. However their incompetence has truly been exceptional.

I hope to have a Nexus 4 on the T-Mobile network, unlocked and contract free, before the end of the month.


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