Dear Sprint, here’s what you could have done to keep me as a customer

December 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

My wife and I switched our cell phone service to T-Mobile over the weekend. I’ve been researching this move for more than a month, and everything finally came to a head over the Thanksgiving weekend.

I’ve been a Sprint customer since I bought my first cell phone 12 years ago. The only problem we’ve ever had with their service was when we lived in Chicago, where it was very spotty at times, but other than that, we’ve been pretty happy with it.

However, the reasons I switched have nothing to do with their overall service, but rather, with the way they handle the line of phones.

My wife and I were both due for a phone upgrade, and as I started looking at phones, I started to realize that Sprint wasn’t offering me what I wanted or needed in a phone or in monthly plans. Here are the things Sprint could have done to keep me as a customer:

1) Offer high end Android phones that run stock Android: Currently the two high end phones Sprint has are both Android, but they both also run a custom  user interface (UI). The HTC Evo runs HTC Sense, and the Samsung Epic is running TouchWiz. Sprint actually passed up the opportunity to get the Google Nexus One, which runs stock Android, and pushed the Evo instead. T-Mobile has 4 phones that run on their network that run stock Android, and three of those are high end (Nexus One, HTC G2, and Nexus S).

2) Along those same lines, update their phones in a timely manner: The HTC Hero I bought a year ago was running Android 1.6 when it came out. During the course of that year, Android 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2 were all released. Sprint and HTC took an extraordinarily long time to update the Hero to Android 2.1 (something like 4 months after Eclair was actually released) because the custom UI had to be updated, and when the update was released, it literally broke the phone (not to mention is completely reset the phone, wiping out any apps, contacts, messages, etc.). It was so slow to respond that it barely functioned as a phone. When an update finally came, it was merely to patch a security hole which allowed people to easily root their phones and install custom software. A fix for the slowness of the phone was another 4 months off. Sprint and HTC end-of-lifed the phone at Android 2.1 (less than a year after the phone was released on Sprint), saying that it could not be updated to Android 2.2 (Froyo). The Samsung Epic, which is one of their current high end phones has not yet been updated to Froyo, and Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) will be available later this week, so the Epic will be 2 versions behind. The Nexus One and Nexus S will both get updates as soon as Google releases them instead of having to wait for a manufacturer and carrier to redesign their custom UIs and add whatever crap software they want to the phones.

3) Offer high end phones that aren’t 4G: Both of Sprint’s high end phones are 4G phones, for which Sprint charges a $10 per line “premium data fee” (also known as the 4G tax). With 2 lines on our family plan, the extra $20 would have brought our monthly bill up to the same price as the same plan on T-Mobile. T-Mobile doesn’t charge extra for their version of 4G, and while I’m sure we’ll hear comparisons soon of which 4G network is faster, I’ve already experienced faster download speeds on T-Mobile’s 3G than I ever had on Sprint.

4) Offer non-contract plans that cost less, not more: This is a problem with almost all of the major carriers in the US except T-Mobile. When you enter into a 1 or 2 year contract with a carrier, it’s usually because you’re getting some perk, like a cheaper phone, which you then actually end up paying for over the long run with a slightly higher monthly cost. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. T-Mobile is the only major carrier who actually has off-contract plans that reflect not getting a subsidized phone. We did not buy our phones from T-Mobile, and so we are on a non-contract plan which costs us $40 less per month than a contract plan. Over the course of 2 years, it will come out to be a wash – the money we save over 2 years will end up being how much our phones cost, but if we ever decide we don’t want to be with T-Mobile any more, we can leave. No early termination fee.

5) Offered a substantial discount on a high end phone for Black Friday or Cyber Monday: Even though I prefer the non-contract plans, I was looking for a reason to stay with Sprint. I was ready to buy phones over the Thanksgiving weekend, and with every carrier offering substantial discounts, I was looking to Sprint to come through.  However, both of their high end phones remained upwards of $200, while carriers like T-Mobile and Verizon were offering their high end phones for under $100. That made my decision easy РI was switching, and I was buying the phones I wanted off contract and paying less per month.

6) Offer a lower amount of minutes on a family plan: Sprint’s plans are the least expensive of all the major carriers in the US, but that’s only if you don’t want a high end phone (because of the 4G tax). On a family plan, the lowest number of minutes you can get is 1500 for $130 per month. With Sprint’s any mobile, any time, and nights and weekends starting at 7 PM (instead of 9 as with most carriers) we never came close to using all of our minutes. In fact, we rarely came close to using half of our minutes. If Sprint had a family plan with 750 minutes to share, that was around $110 per month, we might have gone down to that to lower our bill. T-Mobile, by the way, offers a 750 minute family plan.

Just some notes to finish this off:

I’m sure that the average user doesn’t really know or care when their phone gets updated. But power users like me are constantly looking for the new features found in the latest updates from Google (or RIM, or whoever makes our smartphones). When we can’t get them in a timely manner, it is frustrating. Sure, you can root the phone and install whatever you want on it, but I’d rather not have to mess with it and potentially break my phone.

I’m beginning to think that, even though the experiment of Google selling an unlocked phone was called a flop, it’s the right idea. Breaking carrier control over phones and allowing people a choice in the phones they get and the carrier they use would go a long way toward getting smart phones updated.

In the end, for me, it was about choices. T-Mobile had better choices of phones, better choices on plans, and most importantly, better choices on price. More choices means I get what I want, not what the carrier wants me to have.

So, it was fun, Sprint, but it was also time for me to move on. So long Sprint, hello, T-Mobile.

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