My third month with Aio - which, under their promotion, was free - ended in December, so I gave their "Basic" plan a shot. It only gets you 250 MB of data before throttling, but since I had read that they throttle to 256 kbps, I was hoping it would still be sufficient for casual usage and Pandora (192 kbps streams) and the like. Unfortunately, it didn't really work out, so I made the decision to give another plan a try. $55 for 2 GB isn't a terrible deal, but there are better ones out there.
The Nexus 5 is a little unusual in that it supports not only just about every GSM network under the sun, but it actually has a CDMA radio in it as well that will work on Sprint's frequencies. I had no interest in Sprint itself, but they have a metric ton of MVNOs using their network to choose from, some of which offer bring your own device (BYOD) plans. I did some looking around and decided to give Ting a try, because of their somewhat unique pricing system: they divide up each service into "buckets" of gradually larger amounts, then bill you based on which bucket your usage falls into. It's basically like a pay-as-you-go plan, but with much better pricing since you're still getting everything in larger packets, rather than paying by the minute/text/MB.
One problem though: Sprint's network around my area is still awful. Not just the data either (although it was really just painfully slow) - I actually found myself roaming when I was standing in my living room. It was unfortunate because I really wanted to like Ting, and, in fairness, everything Ting had control over was great. Activating online was simple, customer service was quite responsive, they had fantastic documentation for the Nexus 5, and the website and app allowed me to track my usage very easily. For me, though, they're just completely hamstrung by Sprint's network, and I simply couldn't stand to hang with them for more than a few days.
The only gripe I had was that my text messaging was being inconsistent. I would receive messages occasionally, but other times they'd never arrive. I opened a ticket with tech support, but eventually wrote it off as the port not finalizing or some weirdness in moving my N5 from GSM to CDMA. I didn't have time to get the issue fixed before I ported out.
Chapter 1: A Disturbance in the Force
Since I had so much trouble with the service, I decided I couldn't wait for a SIM from someone like Net10, which I was considering trying out. Thankfully, I had two spare T-Mobile SIMs on hand, so I activated one with their $30/month, 100 minute, 5 GB plan. It also seemed like a good opportunity to give T-Mobile a try with a device that actually supported their LTE network. I had used the Nexus 4 previously, but LTE support was basically a firmware hack, and it only supported one of their bands. This made it difficult to get an accurate picture of what their network would be like for me.
I ported my number over and activated everything, but then noticed something problematic: my text messaging was still out of whack. I talked to T-Mobile tech support online and on the phone, but their troubleshooting steps couldn't get the issue resolved. Eventually they said I should put in a request to have the port rebroadcast, so I did that and gave them another day to see if it worked. 24 hours came and went, but still no dice. It looked like the issues with Ting were perhaps not actually their fault.
On a whim, I pulled out my old Aio SIM and popped it back into my phone. By this point my account was already dead (although Aio first "suspends" your account for 60 days for some reason; this will prove important later), so I don't really know what I was expecting or why I even decided to try this. Yet, lo and behold, after my phone booted up I received notifications for all the messages I had missed! Why were they going to Aio still, when my number had been ported out, then actually ported again? I was perplexed.
A bit more testing started to bring together the pieces a bit better: I could send and receive messages with Verizon and T-Mobile numbers, as well as various online gateways (Google Voice, email to SMS, etc). However, messages from AT&T or Sprint customers were getting delivered to the Aio SIM, and outgoing messages on those two networks never arrived. This was definitely not right.
Chapter 2: The Ol' Catch 22
At this point I figured that Aio may have a hand in all of this, perhaps even more so than Ting or T-Mobile. I hopped on their chat to speak with a rep about what was going on, and quickly realized that I was going to be in for quite a struggle if I wanted to keep my number.
According to the first Aio rep, my number was never ported - at least, he saw no record that it had been. This was despite the fact that Ting had received no errors or problematic responses from AT&T during the port, and had reported the port as successful to me. I could even place and receive phone calls without issue while on both Ting and T-Mobile. The rep insisted, though, that the number still belonged to Aio, and that Ting had given me incorrect information.
To make matters worse, since the account was now "suspended", the number was not eligible for porting. In order to re-submit the port I'd have to pay for a month's worth of service that I wasn't even going to use (at least $40), then hope that the port went through correctly the second time. This wasn't a very attractive option to me, for a number of reasons, not least of which being that I didn't exactly want to reinforce Aio's evidently screwed up system by giving them more money. Plus, I now felt like I had no guarantees that the port would even work after reactivating my account; for all I knew they'd just take my 40 bucks and then give me the same song and dance about having "no record of the port" on my account. Le sigh.
But wait, I thought: T-Mobile already has the number. I don't need Aio to approve the port, I just need them to release the number and delete it from their system. Then T-Mobile could rebroadcast the port again, and everything would be fixed (that was my theory, anyway). I logged on to Aio's chat a second time to speak to a rep about this possibility, and at first I found myself just plain confused. The second rep gave me a completely different story, claiming that it was not possible for him to see port out requests on my account in their system. This befuddled me since the first rep was so adamant that there was no port request made, but how could he have been so sure if that information wasn't available? I had no idea, but I decided to soldier on.
Once I had re-explained the situation and the rep suggested re-submitting the port (just like rep 1), I tried my new angle. Could I, I inquired, simply have my account closed completely, so that the number would no longer be associated with any Aio account? They automatically mark your account "cancelled" after 60 days anyway, so surely they could just flip the switch early, right?
Apparently no. No they cannot.
This request was flatly denied by the rep, without much in the way of explanation, really. Their site says that your account will close after 60 days, and they'll be damned if you're closing it a day sooner, apparently!
Chapter 3: Echoes of Abbott and Costello
While I was trying to explain my situation to Aio - incredibly unsuccessfully - I had also been in regular contact with T-Mobile. After the port rebroadcast didn't work and a few other tech support conversations hit dead ends, I decided to reach out to their T-Force group via their website. This turned out to be a pretty good decision in the long run, and I have to say, I was impressed with the way T-Force handled the situation. It ultimately left me with a pretty poor impression of Aio, because T-Mobile seemed much more willing to do something to make me a happy customer (which I will get to below).
Allow me to illustrate. Aio allows you to email a copy of your chat logs to yourself, and I decided that creating a paper trail was probably not a bad idea. Much of it was kind of useless back and forth, however, where my explanations seemed to fly right over the head of the rep I was speaking with. This exchange, for example, started off on a bad note when the rep told me something that was completely the opposite of what I was experiencing, then turned into me feeling like I was in an echo chamber as I repeated the timeline twice:
Me: Well, the port request was made around January 9th, and was reported to be complete on the 10th. Should the number no longer be associated with my account if that is the case?
Me: And should I still be able to receive SMS on the suspended number?
Aio Rep: You won't be able to receive SMS.
(Comment: I was still receiving messages on my Aio SIM at this point)
Aio Rep: You must activate the account first to make the port out.
Me: Okay. That doesn't seem to coincide with my experience at this point
Me: The port out, according to the new provider, completed on the 10th
Me: And my account became suspended on the 16th or 17th
Me: I just tested right now and I was able to receive an SMS on my Aio SIM
Aio Rep: Well you need to contact your new carrier to submit the port.
(Comment: What? I told you I already did this. I gave you dates!)
Aio Rep: However the account must be active.
Me: I can't send one, though. It fails. I assume because my account is marked as suspended
Me: I submitted the port on the 9th of January, and they completed it on the 10th
This was when I pretty much knew things were starting to go off the rails. My port went through, but didn't go through at the same time? Truly this was Schrödinger's port1. Things eventually turned almost comical, as the rep essentially claimed that Ting was wrong when they told me that my port was completed way back on the 10th. He stopped short of saying that Ting had lied, but, in my opinion, the implication was sort of there.
Aio Rep: Who told you the port was successful?
Me: My new carrier did
Me: When I was working with their troubleshooting guys, they provided this information on my number:
Me: I looked up the history that we have for your number 919-641-7233 (detective work can be fun!). The initial Port in request was on 2014-01-09 (Jan 9th). The carrier listed that the number came from is AT&T, but that is normal because Aio wireless piggy backs from AT&T them like we do on Sprint (as far as I know).
The contact in the request is: Name: ATT Mobility AW
Aio Rep: Well, They gave you wrong information
Aio Rep: Probably the port request was submitted but your account was suspended for non payment, and that's when issue begin.
(Comment: No, that's not how the timeline worked out at all)
Me: It also did activate partially on my phone, which I assumed meant it was complete. I could make and receive phone calls and such
Me: (The new service, that is)
The truly golden moment of the whole conversation was the next (and last) message of the chat session. In fact, it was such gold that I didn't even know how to respond. I just disconnected:
Aio Rep: You should stay with us.
What? Was that intended to be a joke? I have to admit, I kind of hope it was, because I legitimately started cracking up. After banging my head against a wall trying to get my issue sorted out, this was Aio's ultimate solution: just don't leave! Then I wouldn't have any of these silly porting issues to deal with at all, of course. I'd just have to pony up the $40 minimum to get my account re-instated, eat the cost of the T-Mobile service I'd already paid for, and...well, I'm not quite sure on how I'd get my number back in that case. Reverse the port? Oh dear lord, I didn't want to even consider what horrors might lie ahead there. Just porting out was causing me enough trouble.
Final Chapter: T-Force Impresses
Now for comparison's sake. Here is the response I got from my first contact with T-Force (after a boilerplate response asking for my account PIN; emphasis added):
Looking at your account I do see that the port should have been completed. The Number Transfer Center is closed so we will need to wait until tomorrow to call and escalate this for you. Tahnk you for your patience! I have also applied a credit to your account for next month's service for the issue.
Do you see what that is, Aio? That's good customer service. That's diffusing the situation before I even get frustrated. For that matter, based on the information I've been able to gather, I feel like T-Mobile has essentially given me a free month of service as compensation for the time I spent dealing with an issue that was not their fault. Aio wanted me to pay them to solve my issue, but T-Mobile was willing to credit me a month of service - no questions asked, not even remotely suggested by myself - just to ensure I was happy.
Ultimately I ended up changing my number, because T-Mobile couldn't get the port issues worked out. That's not a huge deal, though; changing my number is inconvenient but not the end of the world or anything. Plus, they waived the normal number change fee, which I had basically assumed they would, but made me happy nonetheless. Sure, it wasn't my ideal outcome (that would have been my number porting normally, of course), but T-Mobile kept me happy and got my phone working, plus they comped me some service as a token of their appreciation for my troubles. I can absolutely get behind that.
So you know what? I'm voting with my wallet here. Thank you T-Force, for being attentive, understanding, and legitimately working to get my issue solved. There are a lot of things that are out of your hands as support representatives - I get that. But T-Force really felt like it was doing everything it possibly could to help me out. I even got responses to my emails on weekends and after work hours. The one above was sent to me at (no joke) 1:34 AM Eastern Time. That's what I call responsive customer service, and that's why T-Mobile is getting my money.
1 I'm sure any physicists who come upon this are probably going to be rather displeased with this analogy, because I'm probably not using it entirely correctly. To those of you annoyed by the analogy, let me humbly say: analogies involving cats are always appropriate. I'm pretty sure that's one of the founding principles of the Internet. Just ask PBS.