The Telephone is Silent

tracfoneThe telephone is not ringing. The silence is undisturbed by ringing, chirping, melodies, and other noises which are generally lumped into a category these days known as ringtones. I actually find this to be a very pleasant sound…the silence that is…and over the years have developed a mild case of telephobia. Well, ok…maybe not a phobia but dislike of phone communication in general. If you know anything of my past you would find this ironic to say the least. Until recent years I have always been a fast adopter of new technology and always knew what the latest computer processor was and how fast the data transfer rate was for such and such technology, etc. Not to mention that I spent eight years of my career as the Telecommunications Manager for the Iowa Army National Guard.

Eventually, I will get around to telling you that I have a new phone and a new phone number but I am going to digress for a bit as I reflect back on why I’m even having this dialog. You can skip to the end if you are in a hurry. This gets a little long.

bell-logo-saul-bassDuring that period in my career I witnessed the transition of the Ma Bell monopoly to our current wireless state-of-affairs. It has been an interesting time to live through. Words that were common place have become extinct. Dial Tone? Phones don’t have a dial anymore and there is no comforting tone when you lift the handset to assure you that all is well…hhhmmm…best have a look at the signal strength meter. How many bars do you have? None or One? Can you hear me now? Good luck with that phone call.

What truly amazes me is the level of service that has become acceptable these days. I would call it unacceptable given the standards that I provided to my 1,200 or so customers back in the day. Telephone service was simply one of those things that was just expected to always work and the quality of the service was pretty much rock solid. People had little tolerance for downtime and if the phones stopped working I had a two-star general talking to me real quick. Regardless, the wireless/smartphone phenomenon is impressive and it has actually matured much quicker than I ever expected. So, I probably shouldn’t whine so much and just be happy that it works when it does.

Logo_Sprint_Nextel.svgSprint has been our wireless provider for the past eight years or so since they were the only one that could provide reliable service at our old home(s) on Pemberton Way in Colorado Springs. It also worked well for us in the Denver Metro but as we headed into the Mountain NW this summer it became less and less reliable, eventually driving us to the point of changing to Verizon.

I never felt much need for a cell phone until I began establishing the Engineers Without Borders professional chapter in the Springs and needed to be reachable while on the move. So, I bought my first cell phone which was a nice little Sanyo flip phone. It worked fine and I even managed to send an occasional text message on it although it was cumbersome for that usage. When we moved to the Denver area we bought an iPhone for Rhonda as she was becoming much more proficient at communicating in the new style on a smartphone. Sprint, in their infinite marketing wisdom, told me that I could not keep my dumbphone on a smartphone plan so I told them to go pound sand, turned it off, shoved it in a drawer, and dropped my line of service. Since I was no longer involved in EWB and couldn’t even take my phone into the building I worked in, I didn’t shed too many tears.

But texting has become such an accepted and expected means of communication with the current generations that when we moved to Brighton and I ended up with a commute again I decided that I would get a smartphone and try to be a little more relevant. I did start texting a bit more and found a few uses for the smartphone that were unexpected; like using an app (Torque) to read the codes and get live data from the engine of the truck. They have become very useful devices and are much more than a portable phone booth as I used to call them. All was well until Dec 13th of last year when my phone stopped working and anyone that tried to call me got a “The Verizon mailbox you have called has not been setup” message. Rather an odd message considering Sprint was my provider. I called Sprint and it took them a coupe of days to get it straightened out and I thought no more of it.

Verizon-Wireless-Logo.svgFast forward to July of 2013 and we are in Idaho Falls, ID. Service with Sprint has been pathetic or non-existent including the hotspot I signed up for to get Internet service over my phone. Everyone I had talked with in the campgrounds said Verizon was the way to go. We find the Verizon store and decide to test the waters with a MiFi device that delivers Internet service to any of your wireless devices, e.g. our laptops. We bring it home turn it on and are amazed. It works remarkably well. So, we go back and get Rhonda setup with a new smartphone. Because we are always together now and can easily share the data aspects of the phone I could not see any particular reason to invest in another smartphone and the subsequent monthly cost.

Speaking of monthly costs…it’s pretty amazing what a couple of these phones will cost you to run a month. Roughly $140 per month or so depending on the features and amount of data you will use. Heck, I remember back when we nearly cried if our phone bill got up to $50 due to long distance charges. How things change. So, I’m looking for a good fit for my limited needs and found it in a Tracfone. It’s a no-contract, pay as you go service. I bought a semi-smart phone for $50 that came with triple-minutes for life and a 400 minute airtime card for $100. I get a year to use up the 1,200 (400 x 3) minutes. It uses up your minutes for everything so if I send or receive a text, ka-ching, half a minute used up. I suspect I will still have some minutes left in a year but who knows. If I use them up I can recharge it easily enough. Total investment…$150…not too bad.

lg840So, I activated the phone and had my number ported over from Sprint to my Tracfone. Everything seemed to go well but then we discovered an odd thing. Text messages from my phone arrived just fine on Rhonda’s phone but her messages to me would not come through. Further investigation identified that no one on the Verizon network could send me text messages (sigh). Multiple phone calls to Verizon and Tracfone technical support could not resolve the problem. I eventually talked with someone at Verizon who noticed that my phone number was assigned to a telemetry unit for a corporate customer on the Verizon network. I told them I wanted my number back…they told me it was their number, they don’t know how I ever got it in the first place and just forget it…you aren’t getting it back (big sigh). So apparently, back on Dec 13th of 2012….yup.

I asked Tracfone for another phone number. It simply wasn’t worth the effort. That of course couldn’t be simple either. Tracfone is not like dealing with Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T. It is one of those call and talk to someone in Pakistan with an accent that you can mostly understand sort of things. And don’t ask anything that is not in their scripted menu of responses. It took a few phone calls, a bit of yelling and frustration but in the end they sent me a new SIM card to put in my phone and ta-da, I now have a working phone again. On the plus side I even like the new number better. It is: 719-287-4321.