AT&T Wireless Wins Overcome By Technology Award

Thanks to its Air Card, AT&T Wireless wins the 2010 OBT. Faced with stiff competition from Federal Express, Covad Communications and the Department of the Interior, the Air Card made the difference: When AT&T 3g service slowed to a crawl, the only way to use its Air Card was to switch from 3g to 2g service. Consumers were not told about the problem. Instead they first had to notice how slow the Air Card became, call AT&T Wireless, and be lucky enough to connect to service rather than musical interludes. The change to 2g moved cell phone users from the promise of DSL to the reality of Dial Up, like going from a jet plane to a stagecoach because flights were grounded.

What put AT&T over the top: To switch to 2g required reprogramming of the AT&T Air Card, a task beyond the technical abilities of AT&T technical support. It needed advanced technical knowledge only available from Sierra, the maker of the AT&T Air Card. The process required (a) no fewer than 20 minutes for phone guidance to make changes on the Air Card by (b) a Sierra technical person, understandably grumpy and (c) reversal of 2g back to 3g (again by Sierra) when AT&T Wireless got up to speed with the technology.

Happy consumerist ending: I cancelled my Air Card contract. Reluctant at first, AT&T dropped the Early Termination charge ($150) and back-credited my account after agreeing that 2g service was not the service promised (about $120). From AT&T Wireless’s perspective, the OBT makes it a win-win: Recognition is always welcome news: The only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity.

Congratulations, AT&T!


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