Over the last few years, I have been a wireless customer at T-Mobile. There was a lot I liked about the service — primarily the company’s excellent customer support, and the competitive pricing.
But, over the past year, I’ve been experiencing abysmal wireless coverage in my neighborhood and all over the South Florida area in which I live. Coverage in several other metropolitan areas I frequent, such as Northern California and New York City, has also been spotty. So, while the company was significantly cheaper than its competition, the service degradation was no longer worth it.
The switch was inevitable
I decided, for several reasons, to switch back to AT&T, which I had used previously for about ten years. For one, it is already my broadband service provider with AT&T Fiber. Any VOIP calls I do with my home Wi-Fi hop directly on its network, unlike T-Mobile, which required an ethernet-bridged femtocell in my house to boost LTE signal, because service in my home was nonexistent. I also liked the idea of a consolidated bill for both broadband and wireless, and when 5G does eventually roll out, I know AT&T will be at the forefront with substantial infrastructure investment.
So, I finally decided to pull the plug on T-Mobile. But moving between wireless carriers is not an easy thing to do, especially if you have numbers to port over.
I had a total of seven telephone numbers to move over — two of which were the iPhones my wife and I both carry, and another two were my parents, whose bills I cover. The other ones are for my Apple Watch, my Google Pixel (my primary Android device), and a line I use for various Android smartphones I test from different manufacturers.
I called AT&T customer service to do the ports and gave them my phone numbers. It was able to do the first five, but not the last two, because of some policy having to do with credit — although my credit is outstanding. It also ran a credit report on me to authorize billing on the first five lines (despite the fact I was already paying them monthly for broadband, and I had a customer history with them for over a year).
AT&T told me the last two lines could only be activated after the first five were turned on. I’d have to call back in or use the web ordering system to port the last two numbers and have SIM cards issued.
The first four SIM cards came in the mail a few days later, and my Apple Watch line was issued a new phone number because it was the easiest to do that way.
Watching paint dry
It just so happened that, last week, AT&T decided to overhaul all its internal customer ordering and externally-facing web portals. Virtually every time I tried to do line activations, change any feature, or make profile modifications, its website or its interactive voice response (IVR) system either blew up in my face or was so slow it was utterly unusable.
Even a week later, the web portal is still not running smoothly. It’s like watching paint dry when you try to sign in and navigate the menus.
The first two numbers I attempted to turn on required a customer service representative because its simple IVR system at the port and activations center wasn’t working right. Thankfully, the first CSR I dealt with was the Birmingham, Ala., support center, and it was very helpful. I was able to get the job done, and my iPhone and Apple Watch were ready to be turned on immediately.
I was able to activate my wife’s line, and my parents’ two numbers I did the following day when the IVR was functioning. Those only took a few minutes each, but the web portal was still an unusable mess for the entire week. Updates to see all the adds and changes took forever.
However, getting the last two lines activated made me want to jump off a bridge.
The painful process continues
Shortly after activating my iPhone and Apple Watch, I called into the customer support center to get two new SIMs and port the remaining two T-Mobile lines because its web portal was busted. The SIM cards arrived two days later.
Thinking the IVR system would be my quickest route, I called into the port and activations line, as I did for my wife and parents’ line, but when I attempted to activate each of those numbers, the system told me it didn’t have all of my customer information, and it routed me to a specialist.
That specialist was in Manilla, Philippines. I want to say her English was understandable, but it was not. To make matters worse, AT&T’s outsourced international call center employees aren’t equipped to deal with complex customer problems and are utterly paralyzed when AT&T implements any sort of IT system upgrade. Not only was she not able to activate the lines for the SIMs that I had, but she had to bounce me back to the US. The CSR in the US said it was not its problem but rather the porting line department’s issue.
I spent probably about four hours on the phone with AT&T, in at least four different call centers — Birmingham, Atlanta, Austin, and Manilla — attempting to get two lines ported from T-Mobile turned on. Nobody could figure it out. There wasn’t enough barrel-strength bourbon in my house to make the entire process less painful.
At this point, about a week into the process, I just wanted those two vestigial phone numbers from T-Mobile to die. And I tried to close my T-Mobile account. But T-Mobile refused to terminate my service because the two lines were in porting limbo. Until AT&T activated them or released them, I was stuck.
Eventually, I got an AT&T CSR in Austin to issue me two completely new lines and ship me out two new SIM cards — after dinging me with yet another credit check. But he told me to wait a few days on the original two numbers because perhaps the porting system might resolve itself over the weekend. He also instructed me to discard the two new SIMs he just issued me should the ports work.
So, over the weekend, I attempted to activate those two ported lines again.
Yet again, the IVR system for the porting and activation line kicked me over to the Philippines. After about an hour on the phone with those people, who attempted yet again to kick me back to the US, it was finally determined I needed to go into an AT&T store.
It should have been simple
On Sunday afternoon, after a few brunch cocktails, I trundled into my understaffed, God-awful slow AT&T store in Coral Springs, where I waited about 30 minutes for someone to help me.
It should have been a relatively simple issue to deal with — turning on two ported phone numbers with pre-issued AT&T SIM cards.
It turns out the reason why the final two lines could not be activated was a credit verification issue — they needed a human being to verify my identity. But it wasn’t good enough that an AT&T store representative was shown my ID in person; they had to get an analyst on the line to interrogate me about where I used to live, where I used to work, and the name of every one of my living relatives.
But the icing on the cake? It turns out the most straightforward way out of this mess was to cancel the ports and send the numbers back to T-Mobile. So, I ended up yet again with two brand new phone numbers issued. The ones from last week, with SIM cards still in the mail? I’m supposed just to let them expire after not activating them.
Oh, and AT&T reran an Experian check. I think this is probably the fourth time in a week it had to do it. That doesn’t make me happy either. I wish I were told to go into a store to deal with this, from day one, instead of wasting hours of my time and having all these credit checks done.
I was finally able to kill my T-Mobile account on Monday morning because it got the numbers back.
Par for the course
If it weren’t for AT&T’s excellent wireless and fiberoptic network, I would never recommend them because their customer support infrastructure and toolset is horrendous. The CSRs are unable to resolve fundamental issues over the phone and are hindered by poorly-performing IT systems that are always in a state of flux.
I wish I could say I am surprised I encountered these issues, but I understand this is par for the course for AT&T. I wish I never actually needed a telecom-issued phone number — in my opinion, it’s a vestigial organ plagued with robocalls that we would no longer need if we had good VOIP alternatives that were carrier-independent.
Has anyone else been through a wireless network phone porting nightmare like this one? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
GM is throwing even more money at EVs and autonomous vehicles
General Motors plans to dramatically increase its spend on electric vehicles and autonomous driving, pledging $35 billion through 2025 as it races to bring new EVs to market. The company had previously said it would spend $27 billion in the same period, and will now pull forward battery manufacturing plans for its Ultium platform.
The goal now is to build two battery cell manufacturing plants in the US by mid-decade, to join the first plants that are currently under construction in Tennessee and Ohio. Right now, GM isn’t saying where it expects the new facilities to be located, or how much capacity they’re likely to have, with those details still to be confirmed.
As for the vehicles that will actually use those batteries, there GM is expanding its goals too. In November 2020, the automaker had said it planned 30 new EVs by 2025 globally; two-thirds of that range would be available in North America. Now, though, it’s adding new commercial products.
“GM will add to its North America plan new electric commercial trucks and other products that will take advantage of the creative design opportunities and flexibility enabled by the Ultium Platform,” the automaker said today. “In addition, GM will add additional US assembly capacity for EV SUVs.”
That US manufacturing component is key, given signs from the American government that future incentives and credits available to electric vehicle buyers will be dependent – in part – on where the car, SUV, or truck was built. According to the latest proposals, the maximum incentive of $12,500 would only be accessible for a vehicle priced at under $80,000, built in the US, and in a factory where workers are part of, or represented by, a labor union.
Location isn’t the only issue there. Although GM has revealed two Ultium-based vehicles, the GMC Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq, only the Cadillac looks set to come in at under that $80k ceiling. For GM to continue benefiting from the maximum incentives, it needs to figure out a way to make more affordable electric vehicles.
On the autonomous side of things, there GM has a number of fingers in the pie. Cruise, of which GM is the majority owner, already announced this week that it had secured $5 billion in credit from GM Financial in order to place a bulk order of the Origin AVs specially designed for its ride-hailing service. Revealed early last year, Origin – which has no traditional car controls – will be among the first Ultium-based EVs to go into production.
Cruise is also working with Honda, which co-developed the Origin, on an AV testing program in Japan. Honda, meanwhile, is co-developing two electric EVs with GM that will be based on Ultium. One of those will be branded as a Honda in the US, and the other an Acura.
It’s a time of big promises for automakers right now, as they tool up to try to carve out space in the growing electric vehicle category. Recent chip supply-chain struggles have threatened to put a dampener on those efforts, at least temporarily – GM said earlier this month that it would be cutting some features from its current vehicles, to work around shortages in hardware – but the reality is that none of the car companies can afford to slow down if they’re to meet both their self-imposed efforts and the requirements of legislators around things like emissions reductions.
BMW X5-based hydrogen fuel cell prototype begins testing in Europe
BMW has begun testing an X5-based prototype running a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. Affectionately referred to as the BMW i Hydrogen NEXT, the prototype is an all-electric vehicle fueled by the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell. The German automaker firmly believes that hydrogen fuel cell technology can replace internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) as the future of mobility.
“Hydrogen fuel cell technology can be an attractive option for sustainable drive trains – especially in larger vehicle classes,” explained Frank Weber, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Development. “That is why road testing of near-standard vehicles with a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain is an important milestone in our research and development efforts.”
BMW has unveiled plans of releasing a limited series of hydrogen fuel cell SUVs in 2022. The carmaker is on track to debut a small production run of hydrogen-powered BMW X5 SUVs by later next year. Proof of this is the launch of a real-world testing program for the BMW I Hydrogen NEXT.
Unbeknownst to many, BMW’s been dabbling with hydrogen technology since the early 2000s. The automaker released a limited production run of the BMW Hydrogen 7 luxury car based on a V12-powered 7 Series limousine. But instead of having a fuel cell and electric motors, the Hydrogen 7 had the same 6.0-liter gasoline V12 engine that runs on both hydrogen and gasoline, officially making it the world’s first production-ready hydrogen vehicle.
However, BMW only built 100 examples of the Hydrogen 7, and all were available for lease to selected high-profile clients only. BMW will aim for more than 100 private lease clients for its next-gen hydrogen fuel cell SUV, and the proof is in the pudding.
BMW claims the i Hydrogen NEXT prototype combines hydrogen fuel cell technology with BMW’s fifth-gen eDrive technology, the latter also found in the BMW iX3 and incoming iX and i4 models. Capable of generating a maximum of 374 horsepower, BMW’s hydrogen fuel cell prototype is churning out the same power level as the brand’s six-cylinder inline petrol engines.
Similar to Jaguar Land Rover’s Defender hydrogen prototype, the i Hydrogen NEXT has a performance battery pack that boosts power when accelerating while recovering energy from braking and coasting. The prototype has two 700-bar storage tanks made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) that collectively hold six kilograms of hydrogen.
BMW has partnered with Japanese auto giant Toyota in developing the fuel cell for its i Hydrogen NEXT prototype. The two carmakers have been working since 2013 to study and optimize the scalability of hydrogen fuel cells in future vehicle offerings.
Lincoln pledges full electrification by 2030
Lincoln will electrify its entire range by 2030, the automaker has announced, joining the industry shift toward ousting combustion engines in favor of zero-emissions. It comes after launching plug-in hybrid versions of several of its SUVs, with Lincoln promising to debut its first all-electric model in 2022.
By midway through this decade, meanwhile, Lincoln says it expects half of its global sales volume to be of zero-emissions vehicles. That’s ambitious, given right now the company doesn’t even have one such car to sell. Models like the Corsair Grand Touring offer a PHEV drivetrain, but the reality is that you only get 25 miles of electric range before the gas engine kicks in full-time.
Lincoln’s answer will be a new platform. It’s a newly flexible architecture, the automaker says, capable of underpinning rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive battery-electric models: Lincoln plans to use it for four “new and distinct” EVs. This is, it’s worth noting, different from the Rivian skateboard platform; Lincoln had originally intended to use that for its EV, but that project has been put on hold.
Exactly what form its first electric model will take, Lincoln is coy on. The obvious option would be an SUV or crossover, of course. Not only is that the direction in which the market – and Lincoln’s existing sales – is trending, bigger cars offer more space to accommodate larger battery packs.
However Lincoln has been flirting with other possibilities, at least in concept form. The Zephyr Reflection was a design exercise with the tastes of the Chinese market – a huge one for the automaker – in mind, revealed at Auto Shanghai 2021 back in April. Evolving the recognizable cues of the discontinued Lincoln Continental, but with altogether bolder styling, it was billed as a preview of what the brand could do in the future. Lincoln’s exterior tease of the new EV’s front light graphics seems to line up with what we’ve seen from Zephyr Reflection.
Meanwhile, that concept’s approach chimes with what the automaker is saying about its upcoming EV. “Evolving Lincoln’s design, the fully electric Lincoln will deliver a more spacious interior that creates the ultimate expression of the Lincoln sanctuary,” the company promises. “On approach, the exterior presents a striking, modern aesthetic, while the iconic Lincoln star evolves to meet an electrified future. Thoughtful details inside create a truly rejuvenating space for all, with clever storage solutions and minimalistic panels, while a larger, expansive panoramic vista roof enhances natural light and provides a more open, airy feel throughout.”
That’s a whole lot of design-speak, but there’s no denying that EVs do have clear advantages in luxury vehicles. Instantaneous torque but from a quieter drivetrain, along with less intrusion from mechanical components into the cabin, all make a lot of sense for a high-end vehicle.
Lincoln’s target is more aggressive than that of corporate parent Ford, it’s worth noting. Ford expects to have around 40-percent of its models electric by 2030, though it does a commercial range of work trucks to consider. Lincoln, in contrast, has a much more focused portfolio.
As for charging, Lincoln plans to borrow Ford’s strategy of collating other providers into a central interface. That’ll be the Lincoln Charging Network, with partners like Electrify America and others included into the Lincoln Way app. You’ll presumably also be able to access that through Lincoln’s new infotainment system, which it is building atop Android.
Finally, there’ll be Lincoln ActiveGlide, a hands-free highway driving assistance system. Like Ford BlueCruise, it’ll use driver-attention cameras to make sure the person behind the wheel is paying attention to the road, even if their hands aren’t on the wheel. However it will only operate on stretches of pre-mapped, divided highway. Ford plans an over-the-air update to deliver BlueCruise functionality to Mustang Mach-E and F-150 models with the right hardware package later in 2021.
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