Paul and Deb Conn of St. Charles were longtime Sprint customers. But the husband and wife each started having problems with their service earlier this month. They just didn't have any from their home, they said.
Her relatively new Samsung Galaxy 2 and his 2-year-old Moment couldn't receive or send calls, which they said hurt their home-based commercial property appraisal business.
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After calling Sprint's customer service and technical assistance numbers, they said they were told the problem could be due to work on a network upgrade in their area, which might continue through late June.
The Conns said they were offered a $25 credit on their bill. But after about three weeks without improvement, they opted to leave Sprint for a competitor, buying new phones that worked on that system.
"We don't have a landline, so we depend on these wireless phones," Paul Conn said.
Typically, no one notices changes in service during system upgrades. But the wireless networks are complex and sometimes things can go wrong and affect customers. One recent example was AT&T's problem with dropped calls for iPhone users, said independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan of Atlanta, Ga.
"Every carrier has problems now and then," Kagan said. "I have not seen one carrier not hit a pothole now and then. That's why they don't target each other when these things happen -- because they could be next."
Like other providers, Sprint has been upgrading its network nationwide to meet demand and provide growth for the future. The upgrades will improve call quality, data speed and network coverage, said Sprint spokeswoman Candace Johnson.
To accommodate the boom in data usage, Sprint introduced Network Vision in late 2010. Network Vision is designed to consolidate multiple technologies into one seamless network with the goal of improving service for customers, Johnson said.
"Sprint is not only performing the Network Vision upgrades, we're still adding capacity to existing 3G sites," Johnson said. "In the Chicago market alone, we added 369 capacity upgrades in the past 180 days. Chicago will get 403 capacity upgrades to the existing 3G network in the next 90 days."
While Johnson declined to discuss the Conns' situation, citing customer privacy, she said the construction period could be bumpy.
"In some areas, the implementation may cause temporary disruptions or problems with wireless service, such as dropped or blocked voice calls or data delays," Johnson said. "Our engineering teams are working on identifying issues as they appear and correcting them when possible."
She compared the experience to road construction.
"When highways or roads go under construction in the summer months, it's usually a pain for drivers," Johnson said. "Roads are reduced to one or two lanes and big orange cones and construction workers are in the middle of the streets. You might even need to change your route to avoid the construction. However, when the construction is done, what do you get? You get a smooth, wider road with faster traffic. With Network Vision, Sprint is widening the road to make room for more traffic, but to get there, we have to undergo some construction."
Sprint couldn't give any specific end date for customers like the Conns in St. Charles or other suburbs.
So what do you do if you've experienced no service, dropped calls or other problems related to the network?
"Customers should continue to call Care ((888) 211-4727 or https://mysprint.sprint.com/mysprint/jsp/landingPage/contactus.jsp) to explain their specific issues and their locations," Johnson said. "With the size of the Chicago market, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for customers, since some may not have encountered the same issues and we need to determine the exact source of their concerns."
But in the case of the Conns, Sprint took another look at their complaints and waived their last monthly statement and their cancellation fees.
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