Sprint + Nextel

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 13, 2007

Filed under: Rants 45 comments

Our family uses Sprint for our mobile phones. A while back they merged with Nextel. I’m sure they were planning on a merger that combined powers, like the way several transformers can connect to each other and form a massive juggernaut of cybernetic awesome that will obliterate your neighborhood while saving it from evil. Instead, the merger acted more like a transporter malfunction. Where you once had two semi-capable crew members, you now have one guy with four arms, half a brain, and lungs on the outside of his body.

I suppose these cell-phone mergers can continue to make larger and larger companies of ever increasing ineptitude, until all we have is one huge company that only sells broken phones and sends out monthly bills written in Klingon with live scorpions to people who may or may not be customers.

Back in the 80’s, Douglas Adams made the computer game Bureaucracy, the goal of which was to confront a long and complicated series of bureaucratic hurdles resulting from a recent change of address. At first I thought that the Sprint / Nextel webpage was hopelessly defective and dysfunctional, but then I realized that it’s entirely possible that they are simply branching out into the burgeoning videogame market. The site pays wonderful homage to the old Douglas Adams text adventure, and really brings the experience into the 21st century. It’s now an MMO where millions can go and try to interact with the company in humorous ways, like getting them to stop billing you for features your phone doesn’t even support. (If you want to wuss out you can call tech support, but only if you speak Farsi and can conclude your business before the two-minute “random” disconnect timer expires.)

There are countless ways to log in to the website. Use your email. Use one of your several phone numbers. Use your user name. Each one has a different password. Each one has a different way in which it’s supposed to inform you of lost passwords (although I hasten to add that in this case, THEY seem to be the ones who lost it, not me) and a different mechanism for verifying your identity to reset your password. The only unifying attribute of all of these systems is that none of them work. If you do manage to log in with one set of credentials, it will sometimes prompt you to use a different set for no apparent reason, then fail and log you out. It’s like playing Chutes & Ladders, except that all chutes lead back to the very beginning and there’s no way to win.

It’s obvious that these problems are the result of mooshing together a couple of companies. Some bean-counters looked at the numbers and figured out that Sprint customers + Nextel customers = more money, without considering what sort of abominable clusterfarg it was going to be to get two distinct networks to work as one. As I navigate the page it bounces between my. sprint.com and go.nextel.com without warning. I shudder to think of the crude hacks they must have employed in a rush to make the site as semi-functional as it is. I’m glad I don’t work in IT in that place. I’m sure they are working long hours to solve impossible difficulties on a live system while the people who created the problems in the first place phone them up every few minutes to ask them what’s taking so long.

While the company is inept at things like billing, providing support, and managing a mobile phone network, they are the absolute masters at the business of giving phones away for free. The skill at which they are able to do this is awe-inspiring. On Tuesday afternoon my wife picked out her new phone (using the only part of their website that works, the give-me-a-free-phone part) and it arrived the next morning. Twelve hours later. I thought this was a fluke, but it happened again. I upgraded my phone last night just before going to bed, and today it was on the porch before I’d finished my morning coffee. That sort of high-speed shipping isn’t cheap. The shipping itself is probably worth as much as the phone. How do they do that?

I’m really enjoying the irony of a communications company which is more or less unable to communicate with its customers, but is excellent at distributing stuff for free. The way things are going right now, it’s going to take me longer to set the thing up than it did for them to get it to my house.


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45 thoughts on “Sprint + Nextel

  1. MintSkittle says:

    Didn’t Sprint dump a bunch of customers because they called tech support too many times? I seem to remember hearing that somewhere.

  2. Aelf'en says:

    This isn’t helping to convince me that I need a cell phone. :-P

  3. Telas says:

    The “corporate standard” disconnect between the executives and the actual company is getting worse. It used to be a joke that the management didn’t know what their employees were doing; now it’s the reality.

    I’m at the point where I frankly look at the size and ownership of a potential employer before applying anywhere. (IME, privately-held companies are much better employers.)

    Sprint’s not the only merged mobile phone company to have these issues – AT&T/Cingular had over 15 accounts for one company. They’d regularly mis-post payments to the wrong account, and while they couldn’t adjust payments between their accounts, they could somehow shut off ALL of the company’s phones if ONE of the bills went over 60 days…

    Verizon and T-Mobile don’t seem to have the ability to rise to this level of incompetence. (Again, IME.)

  4. Maddy says:

    I used to love Cingular (which was once Bellsouth, who I loved even more), and then they merged with AT&T, and now I’m not feelin’ the love so much.

    Then the flunkie at Radio Shack told me that although he switched to Verizon from AT&T, it turns out AT&T was better.

    And now you’re telling me Sprint isn’t so hot either? Well, damn – who’s left?? :-((

  5. Strangeite says:

    Have you heard about the effort in Portland to rename 42nd Street to Douglas Adams Blvd?

    The best part about the movement is that they have decided to follow all city rules and ordinances to the letter. They are not going to try and circumnavigate the bureaucratic hurdles by appealing to the city council. I find it just wonderful that it has been so long since someone has tried to rename a street in Portland by actually following the rules, that the proper form has not been digitized and is carbon-copy in triplicate.

    Here is the link to the website.

  6. datarat says:

    It’s worse than you think. I worked for Verizon for a time doing those free phone activations, and just for the states of California, Oregon, and Washington we had 4 different databases to enter data into. Which database was determined by referencing a paper list with area codes and exchanges taped to the wall of my cube.

    The 4 DB’s ran on 3 different software platforms, none of them mouse-capable, ans some didn’t support shift-tab so if you entered data in the wrong field you had to start over.

    All of this, we were told, was the result of a 3 year old aquisition of smaller carriers.

  7. MPR says:

    /me shakes fist at Random Q. Hacker.
    Yes I played Bureaucracy back in the day.

  8. Scott says:


    I read this article back when it was originally posted.
    I laughed.
    I also use Sprint, but only because every other phone company decided not to service a 100 foot radius around my house.

  9. Dev Null says:

    I was doing some work out at Sprint not so very long ago, and everyone was in a geffuffle about their CEO Forsee (did he change his name to help get jobs?) “resigning”. Company scuttlebutt was that he was asked to rather forcibly. Given that their stock lost almost a quarter of its value in 2 years (since Forsee took over and acquired Nextel), and they lost something like 400,000 customers in 3rd quarter 2007 alone, I wouldn’t be surprised.

    That information was easy to find; what was slightly more difficult was the fact that he got paid $53 million to leave (on top of the $4.5 mil / year while he was there.) So there ya go, he’s been punished. You can bet wherever he goes next he wont be doing _that_ again. I mean, if my employers would pay me 12 years salary to leave after stuffing up, I’d sure want to do well and stay a good long time.

  10. Shamus says:

    Davesnot: I’m right with you there, but … yeah. That was going to threadjack us to a sad place.

    Sorry I had to kill the comment.

  11. beno says:


    my current job has been all about leaping over bureaucratic hurdles. I must admit that it became a lot easier when I shifted my mindset toward treating the hurdles as “the job” and a challenge to be tackled. Having said that, I don’t recommend doing what I did – after a while you start to like it which is just plain weird. i’m glad I’m leaving that job.

  12. Joe says:

    You certainly aren’t alone. It may be endemic to cellphone companies. It may be endemic to companies. I’m rapidly approaching my 2 year anniversary with my current employer. When I first started, we tried to get the billing for my phone (t-mobile) switched over to my employer (who also uses t-mobile). We continued to try and do this. About 6 months ago, I gave up trying.

    Ironically, if I had had a different provider, t-mobile could have swiped my number from them and would have reimbursed us for any disconnect fees from the other provider. But doing the same within their own company is apparently impossible.

  13. nilus says:

    My Wife had Sprint before we were married and they are the worst. Phone service sucked, tech support and billing support was poor and the people were rude. She came over to the dark side and jumped on my T-mobile plan. Sure they have there issues but honestly they seem to be the best around. There rates aren’t bad, there employees tend to be helpful and if you are a good customer they will give you the unlock code for your phone so you can swap sim cards(good for international travelers who want to use local SIM cards)

  14. Craig says:

    I imagine the only way “Spri-tel” can get phones to you that quick is that for every customer they have a series of pre-boxed free phones on top of a series of trapdoors. When you select a free phone on the website it simply tells which trapdoor to release, the box a long pneumatic tube that sends the phone on a long journey to the nearest manhole cover to your house, launches it precisely onto your door step. Convenience :)

  15. -Chipper says:

    Thank you Shamus, for turning your pain into our amusement. That was a great description of the challenges you face.

    Oh the memories of playing Bureaucracy! As difficult as it was, it was made all the harder playing a pirated copy so I didn’t have a copy of the printed material that had all the answers to the questions posed by the paranoid guy down the street. I had to do a dump of the program & search thru it to find the answers, though it took some educated guessing to determine which answer went with which question. I LOVED the Infocom games.


  16. Phlux says:

    I have a blackberry on the Alltel network. I love the phone, but their data network doesn’t seem to be very speedy. It’s better than my old 3G sprint phone, though, that thing was slower than dial-up.

    I did a mobile speed test once on my blackberry and it said I was getting somewhere around 300MB/s. Yet it takes like 45 seconds to load any web page. Is that just a lie, or is the data service really that fast and my phone just can’t process fast enough?

  17. TalragSmash says:

    Its almost as bad as the phone company that disconnected users who used “too much” of their “unlimited” data transfers.

    wish i could remember who did that, i should google it.

  18. Jay Kint says:

    I love T-Mobile. They’ve always been good to me and my family. I’ve had them adjust a plan for me in the middle of a billing cycle so that I wouldn’t overrun my minutes.

    I don’t have a data plan so I can’t really speak to their coverage and speeds, but their phone service has been wonderful.

  19. mistergreen says:

    Verizon has had a habit of charging people that go over the 5gig per month limit on their unlimited plans. I’ve had problems with them for when I was a technician in WI and had the phone that worked beautifully on that network (only TX, FL and WI had the 1900MHZ CDMA running at the time) and then moved to MI and was having all sorts of problems and the local store here wouldn’t lift a finger to help me. That and posting the payment of my bill to my wife’s account and vice versa leading to an overpayment on hers and an underpayment with late fee on mine. One quick call to the BBB and they didn’t charge an early disconnect fee for both accounts.

    I use at&t for my data card and cell phones and have yanked over 14gigs in one month and not a peep from them. The only problem is the lack of port forwarding available since the entire network is in stealth mode, every port is closed and that is without a firewall running on my computer.

    They even allowed me to upgrade my card way early because my new laptop didn’t have a pc card slot, only express or usb.

  20. Mrs T says:

    It’s not all cell phone companies. It’s all *American* cell phone companies. I have no idea why this is the one business that Europe actually does better and cheaper than the US, but so it is.

  21. Agammamon says:

    Speaking of ineptitude, I left Cingular because they were unable to take my money.

    I’d call up to set up an automatic deduction from my checking account so I wouldn’t have to worry about paying the bill on time.
    A month later – no phone service due to unpaid bill.
    I went through this cycle 6 times before dropping them.

  22. ngthagg says:

    Yeah, Bureaucracy was a creative game. Creatively brutal. I never got anywhere in that game. I looked up the solutions a little while ago, and discovered the reason why I didn’t get anywhere was because I wasn’t thinking right. It was important to twist your brain into extremely unusual paths to complete that game.

    Oh, and I didn’t have the copy protection either.

  23. Matt Goodman says:

    “That sort of high-speed shipping isn't cheap. The shipping itself is probably worth as much as the phone. How do they do that?”



    Between work and person cell use, I’ve used all of the existing providers, and only T-Mobile consistently doesn’t suck. Sprint was the worst, hands down.

  24. Davesnot says:

    Infocom had the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that had some hints at the beurocratic brilliance of Mr. Adddams… I’m not sure I wanna play any extra beurocratic games.. society has delivered enough… kinda reminds me of an unrelated, almost-game-like story that I will now relate.

    Once I sat down at a slot machine and put a quarter in it.. in those days you used actual money in those machines.. not “script”.. but I digress.. I put the quarter in and it fell right through… “winner!” I joked.. Turns out I shoulda stayed at that machine all night.. I’d been much better off… and I’d probably still have gotten free drinks… cest la vie.

    Shamus.. I understand the need for the delete.. such are the times.. even those who are shrubbers aren’t safe.

  25. tling says:

    Part of the problem with Sprint right now is they bit off more than they could chew by merging with Nextel. I sell cell phones as part of my job, and I deal with the bureaucracy of Sprint ever day. Part of the problem you experienced is because they are in the process of upgrading the entire system, so instead of having 2 systems (Sprint network and Nextel network), they have 4 different systems to work with: Old Sprint, New Sprint, Old Nextel, New Nextel. Both of the new systems are very, very nice to work with. However, 90% of existing customers cannot use this system. Only new customers and a few lucky existing customers have been moved to the new system. They have been upgrading for about 6 months now, so I estimate they will have it done completely by the time they need to upgrade again.

  26. ArchU says:

    Similar to the problem I had when my old ISP merged. I changed ISPs after a year of dealing with such nonsense – and liars.

    At least you get a new phone out of it, Shamus. Sigh.

  27. The “best” part of the Sprint-Nextel merger was that, locally at least, the quality and coverage of their network actually decreased following the merger. I’m not even sure how that’s possible, but I went from being able to receive and make phone calls in my apartment to NOT being able to receive and mark phone calls in my apartment.

    (This is clearly problematic.)

    Even more ridiculous was that I couldn’t make phone calls standing in the wide open parking lot next to my apartment building… a parking lot which is in the midst of a major metropolitan area and less than 5 blocks from the interstate.

    A friend of mine used to work for Sprint: Apparently, you can’t get Sprint service in the Sprint HQ building. You can, however, get T-Mobile coverage there.

    Speaking of which: I now have a T-Mobile phone. I miss my 7pm evening minutes, but since most of my family and friends are on T-Mobile I was able to MyFave the rest of them and essentially make that irrelevant.

    I’m paying less. My phone is more reliable. And I no longer have to screw around with Sprint’s incompetent customer service.

    Win. Win. Win.

    Can’t recommend it highly enough to you, Shamus.

    Justin Alexander

  28. K says:

    They should buy amazon or Fedex, that way, the great shipping would be set to good use.

  29. Peter Holm says:

    @ Mrs T: Totally agree. I studied in Russia, and even in a land where you had to fill out multiple forms at multiple offices merely to be legally allowed to live in any given city, the cell phone service was superb.

    You could buy any phone you wanted, use it with any provider you chose (you just bought that provider’s SIM card, and stuck it in the phone), and you bought minutes directly from whatever provider you chose (in stores, no billing), so you paid only for what you used. And all you had to do to switch was buy a new SIM card and stick it in.

    There were a few wrinkles, mostly resulting from the infrastructure (it was significantly more expensive to call land lines than other cell phones, and long distance rates were pretty high.) But all in all, incredibly well done.

  30. Pete Zaitcev says:

    My family is with Verizon and I have to say, they are probably worst company ever. Firstly, $80/mo for 2 phones on a 2-year plan. Please! Only in America! Actually not even that, my own phone is with Virgin, and it’s $7/mo (Virgin is a virtual operator which piggibacks on Sprint’s network). But more importantly, Verizon’s EV-DO TOS is just unbelievable. They prohibit any “streaming” transfers. No torrents, no radio, and God Help You if you try Vonage. Grass is definitely greener on the Sprint side (or used to be, before Nextel). In some markets they even give you the home gateway together with their EV-DO equivalent: torrent as much as you want! Sprint was my last hope for the data service, so it’s really sad to read how they unravel.

  31. Smileyfax says:

    I heard somewhere that the folks Sprint let go for calling tech support too much were just trying to scam a bunch of free phone credit or something.

  32. Chris says:

    My wife and I just left Verizon because every single call dropped after 1d6-1 minutes. Every single call. It didn’t matter where we were or how many bars we had, the call would always drop.

    We switched to T-Mobile and haven’t had any complaints so far. When the tech support guy didn’t know how to get my Blackberry’s internet set up, he researched the answer on the internet and called me back at a convenient time with the fix. The salesperson at the store knew what she was doing and was professional and helpful.

    The people at the Verizon store accidentally erased all of the data on my wife’s phone, couldn’t figure out who to call to answer our questions, and knew less about the phones they offered than we did.

  33. Mephane says:

    I am wondering why people here in Germany don’t have nearly as much trouble as in the US… Surely, there are companies with bad customer policies and all that crap, but I’ve never heard of something as bad as what I constantly hear about phone providers in the US.

  34. Mari says:

    Personally I won’t carry a cell phone. It’s not that I’m morally opposed or anything, I just have no use for them. I leave my home to escape the ringing telephone so why would I want to carry the telephone with me?

    The hubs, however, has one. It’s crap. We live in a rural area halfway between two very urban areas and yet no providers particularly want to service this area. In the past year or so, though, we started getting our pick of Cingular/AT&T and Alltel. One of the more amazing things about our Cingular cell phone is the fact that it can complete calls ONLY outside the house but NEVER 100 feet away near the barn. It works exceptionally well at the north end of one field but can’t get a signal at the south end. It also randomly drops calls every 1d8-1 minutes, which it claims it did because it lost signal connection.

    Still beats the old CellOne days where they would randomly forget to mail a bill to us so I would go in to see how much I needed to pay and get informed that it was paid for the month already (how?) and then get disconnected the next day due to failure to pay. Apparently the failure to bill was because they kept losing our zip code…the only zip code in a 60 mile radius.

    American cell phone companies do suck. I think it’s because they can. I mean, why do something well when you can do it poorly and still get paid outrageous sums of money?

  35. Deoxy says:

    Um, wow. BEAUTIFUL take down.

    As an aside, you could do a whole post (or series of posts) on the whole “executives who screw up so badly that they get 8-9 digit amounts of money to leave” thing. I mean, if I were an executive like that, I’d be doing my darnedest to get canned as often as possible.

  36. AngiePen says:

    I’m one of the eight people in the US who’s never had a cell phone. I don’t want one, and reading this makes me pretty sure I’m going to continue not wanting one for a good long time. :P


  37. Bizarre says:

    … wow. And I thought Telstra was bad out here.

  38. Scott says:

    <blockquote AngiePen=”I'm one of the eight people in the US who's never had a cell phone.”

    Interesting that 3 of those 8 people have posted comments on this post! :P

  39. Scott says:

    Yeah… I don’t know how to do block quotes…

  40. Namfoodle says:

    My work pays for the beat down cell phone that I’ve been carrying around for the last 4 years or so. I sometimes feel silly pulling out something looks like it’s been run over by a car when everyone else I know has supercalifragilisticexpyallidocious camera phones. But it works, it’s free, and any billing issues are not my problem.

    My wife got jacked around a bit by AT&T because they informed her that the plan she was on was discontinued, so she had to pick a new one. But the new one was still pretty much the same.

  41. Namfoodle says:

    Wow, my little icon looks like Belkar on crack!

  42. HeatherRae says:

    I’m with Verizon, and I love my phone, I love my service, and I rarely have problems getting a connection or completing calls. About the only weird thing that’s ever happened is that when I’m driving from Baton Rouge to Shreveport (in Louisiana), Verizon has contracted bandwith from various providers who have towers along the way. Well, if you try to call customer service while using one of those towers, you will get very random companies.

    Sprint. AT&T or Cingular (before they merged). T-Mobile in one case. It’s very odd.

    But other than that it’s great. I pay all my bills online and I even added a second line and got a cellphone for my mom, because it scares the bejeezus out of me that she works late without one.

  43. HeatherRae says:

    My wife and I just left Verizon because every single call dropped after 1d6-1 minutes. Every single call. It didn't matter where we were or how many bars we had, the call would always drop.

    We switched to T-Mobile and haven't had any complaints so far. When the tech support guy didn't know how to get my Blackberry's internet set up, he researched the answer on the internet and called me back at a convenient time with the fix. The salesperson at the store knew what she was doing and was professional and helpful.

    The people at the Verizon store accidentally erased all of the data on my wife's phone, couldn't figure out who to call to answer our questions, and knew less about the phones they offered than we did.

    Couple of things I learned from being with Verizon over the years:

    1) You will get what you pay for. If you get the cheap-o, free phone from the store, it will break. Several years back, my mom did actually purchase a cellphone plan from Verizon. She got the cheapest phone they had – a Motorola phone. I swear to god, that phone was unable to complete calls to save its life. The antenna broke off three days in, and I was living five hours from my mom at the time and couldn’t actually get her to take the damn phone to the store. (Had it been me, I would have been at the store going, “This phone doesn’t work. GIVE ME A NEW ONE.” But she’s a pushover.) I later discovered that that particular phone had one of the worst histories of complaints of any phone Verizon had ever offered. I also discovered that different carriers seemed to work better with different phones. Cingular worked well with Motorola, Verizon works well with LG and Samsung. I’ve always sprung for the Samsung phones, and they’ve been well worth my time and effort.

    2) Where you live will affect which carrier you should choose. Until about two years ago, Verizon was not the network to go with in my hometown. They didn’t have enough towers, or enough agreements with other providers to offer quality service in the area. At the time, Cingular was the best provider in this area. But in the past two years, Verizon has put up more towers, made more agreements, and Cingular has been bought by AT&T and gone down the crapper. Conversely, while Verizon was not the best carrier in my hometown two years ago, at the same time it was the best carrier in my college town. Go figure?

    3) The people at the Verizon store know nothing. I don’t know if they just don’t train these people, or if they deliberately keep them in the dark, or if they hire retarded monkeys or something, but the people in the Verizon store never seem to be able to give you a straight answer (and when they can, they’re usually mistaken). As a result, I always call customer service. They seem to know better.

    4) If you don’t update your roaming capabilities, you will make your phone cry. From talking to my brother, who was a Cingular customer and is now an AT&T customer, everytime you turn your phone off and on, the network automatically updates your roaming capabilities. This is not the case with Verizon, however. You have to manually dial in every six weeks or so to get new towers added to your handset. If you don’t do this, even if they have fifteen brand spanking new towers hovered around your house wanting to carry your phone call, your phone will pretend those towers don’t exist and drop calls like they’re going out of style.

  44. Kmurphy says:

    I achieved some small justice. Nextel wasn’t treating me right so I threatened to go back to Sprint. They were still offering a “no-charge” for disconnection fee between the two. I finally convinced them it was to their advantage to keep my account and ship me a new phone rather than lose me to Sprint and have Sprint send me a new phone for free when signing up. Sheesh. Glad I’m not them. Counting the moments till my sold-soul contract is up.

  45. Julia says:

    Got behind and just started catching up.

    Not long after you posted this, Sprint, which had worked wonderfully in our home up until that point, started not ringing most calls when we were in the house and if one of us made a call, there was a 1 in 3 chance that it just wouldn’t go through. We got fed up, researched carriers, researched phones, and both my husband and I now have Palm Treos with Verizon. (I like that I was able to replace my phone and my PDA with one thing — it’s lighter than my Palm Tungsten T5 had been and does almost everything the Tungsten did — and that one thing I’d used a couple of times that the Treo doesn’t do, I didn’t really need.)

    We’d started paying extra for new phones to not get locked into adding 2 years to the contract or whatever, so we were able to bail relatively hassle-free and keep our old numbers. If the new “free” phone gets you locked in for more time, sure, it’s “free” as in beer, but not “free” as in “freedom”. And I don’t mind paying extra for premium beer in any case.

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