Mobile phone woes

Something strange happened the other week.  I was expecting a call at a certain time.  I was sitting at my desk, with my phone directly in front of me.  It was turned on, it had reception, and the ringer was on with the volume turned up.  But it never rang.

A few minutes after the time I was expecting the call, I got a visual voicemail notification.  Apparently the person had called and it had gone to voicemail.  Yet my phone didn't ring, and there was no indication of a missed call.  Weird.  So I tried to call the person back.  And when I did...nothing happened.  As in, the call didn't connect.  I mean, I didn't even ring.  And it wasn't just this one person.  It was everything.  I tried a bunch of calls to a bunch of numbers and only a handful - maybe 1 out or 10 - even rang, and when they connected the quality was pretty bad.  Same thing when I had other people try to call me - not even a ring.

And it wasn't just me.  It turned out my wife was experiencing the same issue. And the really strange part was that the problem was just with voice calls.  We could both still send and receive SMS messages and use mobile data.  It was just voice calls that didn't work.

OnePlus 5

We're both using basically the same setup - OnePlus 5's on Cricket Wireless.  So if there was some issue, it's not surprising that it might affect both of us.  But nothing had changed on our end since this started.  There was no software update for our phones, or anything like that.  Our phones had been working just fine up until then.

So, of course, I contacted Cricket's tech support.  Obviously I couldn't call them, so I used the online chat.  The person I chatted with was pleasant enough, but ultimately couldn't help and recommended I either get a new phone or go to a store and see if swapping out the SIM card would fix it.  So the next day I went to the store.  The people were, again, very pleasant and tried a bunch of things, including a SIM swap and the usual litany of restarting and resetting things on the phone, but they ultimately came up with nothing.  The only things they could suggest were to try a factory reset of the phone or call tech support again and see if they can reset something on the back-end that might fix it.  So I had another web chat with support and they created a support ticket and said that a technician would contact me to help resolve the problem.

There was one red flag at this point - the person I was chatting with wasn't clear on how the technician would contact me.  They asked for my phone numbers, but neither of our phones could reliably receive calls.  When I pointed this out, the representative didn't seem to get it and simply repeated that they would contact me within 24 hours.

Fast forward to the next morning.  While we were on our way to do some shopping at the public market, a notification goes off on my wife's phone.  It's visual voicemail, with a message from the Cricket technician whose call we apparently just missed.  Because our phones can't receive voice calls.  Which was the entire reason he was calling us in the first place! 

Don't get me wrong - I know tech support is a tough job and I don't mean to put down the people who do it.  But come on!

Simple Mobile SIM kit

Anyway, I was so disgusted by that episode that I decided to take matters into my own hands and see if I could definitively pin down whether it was the network or the phones.  So, to that end, I went over to the local Walmart and bought a Simple Mobile SIM starter kit for $10.

I don't know much about Simple Mobile - just that it's a pre-paid cellular provider that runs on T-Mobile's network.  And I know that Cricket uses AT&T's network, so, by process of elimination, if I can make calls from my phone using the Simple Mobile SIM, then that means my phone is fine and it's something in the network that's broken.

The setup process was pretty painless.  I just stuck the Simple Mobile SIM card into the second SIM port (the OnePlus 5 supports dual SIM cards, which is actually pretty cool and it was nice to have a reason to test that out), signed up for the basic $25/month service online, and waited a while.  After a bit, I got a bunch of text messages from Simple Mobile and I was in business.

Naturally, the first thing I did was try to call a few numbers from my phone book using the new SIM.  And, of course, the calls went through just fine.  So my phone is officially not broken, which is good news.  Also, I now had a secondary phone number that I could give to the Cricket tech support people.  Which is what I did.

Well, the next day I got another call from the Cricket technician.  He just asked if I was still having the issue, asked a couple of basic questions, and said they'd get back to me.  Well, they never got back to me.  But the next day I tried making a few calls and my phone was working again.  I have no idea what the problem was, or what caused it, but apparently they fixed it, which is all I really care about.

While this experience does not incline me to go get a land-line, it does make me a little hesitant about having a single phone provider.  Fortunately, the ready availability of cheap, pre-paid SIMs helps mitigate that concern.  It's nice to know that if my current provider becomes unreliable, short-term solutions are easy to come by.

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