Problems with Cricket Wireless

I occasionally advise businesses or individuals on wireless services and hardware. A friend and former Cricket Wireless employee mentioned Cricket made a major push to improve phones and coverage. Fine, maybe they’re better, maybe they’re the same company we called “a glorified home phone service” at Nextel. Cricket doesn’t require credit, just an initial activation fee plus the price of the phone, and this is a gift to people struggling though tough economic times.

I ported one of my phone lines to Cricket, and I was impressed how easy it was, -very professional customer service representatives in this department. The area where you can use your phone (Lexington, Kentucky) was not only larger, it was dramatically larger. The coverage area nearly doubled and more roaming agreements were signed. Pricing was reasonable, perhaps Crickets best asset.

As I used the phone, a few issues cropped up. Carrying a Motorola W315 because it had a reputation of pulling a good signal, I had several areas where, while talking, I noticed static and hiss. Data, (1xRTT) was very slow, much slower than you’d expect from a CDMA phone (similar to Sprint and Verizon) making the basic wireless web practically unusable. This is not a smartphone, and Cricket doesn’t claim to really sell those, but it would be nice to whip out the phone and look up the current weather conditions without a long wait.

Cricket doesn’t use contacts, and therefore doesn’t discount their phones. Aside from insurance, you break that phone and you have to buy another one. Fair enough. I put a lot of use and stress on the Motorola W315. I had an old Verizon phone and I thought, -okay, I seem to recall Cricket will “flash” compatible phones so they can be used on Cricket’s network. First, I called technical support and they said “yes, we will do that for you.” Now, they didn’t seem to have a solid grasp of what “flashing” actually was, so that was a bad sign. I called my friend, the former employee. “Did you guys flash phones?” Yes. I thought I would call her former store and verify this, checking for fees, etc. Calls to the store repeatedly went to voicemail. I decided to visit the store anyway. The customer service representative, though nice enough, informed me they didn’t flash phones. She directed me to an authorized dealer who would do it for seventy-five dollars. Worse still, the fee for “switching phones” was fifteen dollars, something sure to discourage casual upgrades. The frustrating part of the attempt to reprogram the phone was what that means to both businesses and consumers. There are many occasions when you can’t necessarily pay to replace a phone but you have an old phone around the home or office. Being able to use a phone you already have may make the difference between keeping the service and jumping to another carrier. At best, you face a fifteen dollar fee. At worst, you face a technical support crew that won’t copy software to your phone to allow you to use it. In my case, it was hours wasted because technical support apparently had no idea that corporate stores no longer “flashed” phones. Without a contract, if keeping cell service is made really hard for me, the line between staying with Cricket and leaving for, say, Boost Mobile, is thin indeed.

Cricket has excellent text messaging, with texts that process immediately. Your friend gets the texts less than three seconds later, which is better than many carriers. Where does that leave Cricket? If you need a cheap phone for strictly making and receiving calls, it may be a very good choice.

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