Friday, November 1, 2013

Sprint is more worried about their executives than their customers

I keep hearing about the wonderful improvements to Sprint's network.  They're happening everywhere, but apparently, where I go.

Sprint made a big deal about having LTE available for the Super Bowl last year.  This summer, I was on Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis with the Tri-Fi mobile hotspot and my computer trying to do some work before an event.  0.75 Mbps (or 1.0 Mbps on 2013.11.09) on LTE didn't seem quite right, even by pathetic standards.  I was told by the @sprintcare team that two towers were having problems and that the third tower in the area was being stressed more than usual.  It's possible.

As I've said in the past, putting one tower in a town and saying that you have coverage is not the same as having useful coverage, but I know that Verizon does that.  Seeing someone with a phone showing "4G LTE" taking two minutes to switch to 3G (EVDO) to actually do the work is sadly amusing.

No one has really good coverage right now, so it's all about who doesn't have the worst coverage.

I was thinking to myself "Why can't Sprint handle their current customers' needs now?"  I decided to take a look at the site and check on 3 metropolitan areas.

  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Overland Park, Kansas
  • San Jose, California

I'm near Cincinnati and WiMAX (4G) is just as overloaded as EVDO (3G) is.  I've yet to see any LTE (4G LTE)  coverage (that changed with my 2013.11.13 visit), but I don't always take my mobile hotspot with me.

Overland Park is where Sprint's headquarters are.  It's in the Kansas City metro area.  The KC metro area is about the same size (~2.3 million people) as the Cincinnati metro area, so I thought that it would be a good comparison.

San Jose is the third largest city in California with just under 1 million people.  It's in the San Francisco Bay Area, but at the furthest south point.  WiMAX is present and worked reasonably well for the first 6 hours of my 3 day stay there.  It was supposedly repaired before I left, but wasn't working correctly, so perhaps, the problem is that the technicians can't be bothered to test.

I must be confused.  If the KC metro area is no bigger than the Cincinnati metro area (and Overland Park isn't that much of the metro area), why are they receiving roughly 4 times the enhancements?  They're even receiving more than San Jose, California, which has about 4 times the population.

The only thing I can reason is that the executives complain about their inconvenience and plan around themselves.  I can't imagine any other logical explanation because I would think that they would want to convince people who aren't Sprint employees to go with their service, especially when Sprint employees get a discount (100%?) for service, unlike typical customers.  It also seems that with the recent addition of 70 new LTE locations that many were planned as vacation destinations for Sprint executives.

I had learned in the past that they had no way to gauge data performance.  I suspect that they're just not collecting any information, so that they can't be blamed for what they don't know.  Having worked with internal networks at various companies, there are tools for Quality of Service (QoS), so I find it difficult to believe that the major carriers aren't using similar tools on their data networks, except to escape blame.

Oh, and by the way, marketing has created a new boasting area to talk about their plans for tri-band LTE:

I'm with a lot of the comments that say "I'll believe it when I see it." but they talk about 2014 and 2015.  2014 isn't that far off, but I have a feeling that I won't be seeing LTE at home until 2016 at the rate they're going.  Whether it will be reliable or not is another matter.  I don't consider any data communications technology sufficient if it struggles to get my e-mail, although I've been told several times by Sprint support (not customer service) that if sometime during a 24 hour period the data rates are within their advertised numbers, they are acceptable rates.

Update 2013.11.11: I had recent conversations with local Sprint employees and ended up extending my relationship with the company by buying a new iPhone 5c.  They said, according to the local network technician, this area will have LTE about 6 months from now.   Whether it will be working (well) or not is another matter.  Returning from Indianapolis the other day, I noticed that the phone was showing LTE for all but about the last 38 miles of my drive, so it seems they're working their way across the state.

Update 2013.11.13: I was in the Springdale area, just outside Cincinnati and was surprised to find LTE. told me that it reached a little over 10 Mbps at the peak, and settled on 7 Mbps.  That's good, but as with my experience with WiMAX being overloaded in the area, they're going to need a lot of capacity.

Springdale, Ohio

Update 2013.11.26: I was in Eaton, Ohio today.  It's a town just big enough by state law to be designated a city.  LTE was working there but has not been officially announced yet.  My previous experience is that the town had 3G data service prior to where I am now, since Sprint had bought the area's wireline business, apparently.  Verizon had bought the service in this town.  In any case, it seems that LTE is closing from all sides and it's going to be pleasant until everyone moves over to LTE.

Eaton, Ohio
 I really love the Sprint Zone app.  It's so precise with the Free Memory figure.  Additionally, the Data Connection is hard-coded to show 3G no matter whether 1xRTT is there (even roaming), or LTE is the current connection.  It doesn't matter how many times I've mentioned it to them.  It's like the Sprint vanity page saying that connections are in Megabytes per second, rather than Megabits per second.

3G connection while LTE or 1xRTT is active...hmm
Update 2013.12.27: I was able to use Sprint's LTE in the Dayton, Ohio area today.  It was less than spectacular, but the availability hasn't been announced yet.  Since they don't actually provide much coverage when they announce an area, I don't think it will be good for a while anyway.  Indianapolis, Indiana was announced quite a while ago, and it's consistent with what a good EVDO connection should be.

Update 2014.01.21: I got a text message from Sprint today:

I'm actually somewhat hopeful that things are changing, even though bandwidth seems severely constrained at the moment.  On Monday, I was in the small city of Eaton, OH using their LTE, which has yet to be announced.  Instead of the 7 Mbps I was receiving previously, I only got 2.48 Mbps, and there was a hole where 3G/EVDO showed up that wasn't there previously.  It almost looked as if they'd re-deployed equipment already.

LTE is finding its way into every area

Of course, the text message I received says to me that out of 4 towers in town--there should be at least 5 but they've ignored a large area south of town--should be equipped but I'm not exactly convinced.  I was expecting everything from the noted area on the coverage map east to the Ohio state line to be covered, but that may be more hope than reality.

Update 2014.12.02: It's been a bit over a year and the company has made some progress toward their LTE buildout.  That's a good thing, but they're still failing.  They're still far too interested in helping themselves than helping their paying customers.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, my phone usually works on LTE and generally works well.  There are still some really ugly problems but they are fewer than I'd seen in other parts of the country.  Being that I live about 75 miles from San Jose, there are more ugly problems the further away from California's third largest city.  Surprisingly, I had very good service in San Francisco itself, which is a tough city to cover.  Since WiMAX has been decommissioned, along with Nextel's iDEN network, Sprint has two more frequency bands to use.

However, the numbers of the changes to towers--their "upgrades"--still show too much activity around their headquarters, compared to taking care of their paying customers.  I would assume that Sprint employees don't pay a lot for service, so why are the rest of us paying to help them when many of us are still dealing with poor service?

I've noticed that they're not interested in showing us where LTE is being deployed any longer.  The only press releases I've seen lately as concerned with telling the story that they have good service in individual cities.

Why am I on 1xRTT so often if LTE is everywhere?

Where is the roaming zone now?

In my own town, I noticed that they hid a large roaming zone from customers' view, even though service is often unusable.  Apparently, the @sprintcare people were not informed, so they kept telling me about the roaming zone, only stopping when I showed them the coverage map I could see.

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