TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Prepaid vrs. 'Regular' Cell Phone Service

Prepaid vrs. 'Regular' Cell Phone Service

TELECOM Digest Editor (
Sat, 2 Apr 2005 18:37:21 EST

I have mentioned before that I have _two_ working cellular phones
here. They are both Nokia 5165 models (digital service). The original
phone that I used both in Chicago, on the bus trip to here in
Independence, and for a month or so after that is on AT&T Wireless
(although it was not on prepaid in those days, just on regular service
with a Chicago 630 area code). I went downtown one day back then, to
a store which had an AT&T Wireless sign on the front of it, and asked
the lady about switching me over to a local (area 620-331) number. She
said she could not do it, mainly because they were no longer AT&T
... which had gone out of business here in town a few days before. "We
are now Cingular Wireless," the lady told me. "Myself and my two
clerks were with AT&T, but they 'traded us' off to Cingular when
Cingular took over Independence. The sign painters are coming out
today or tomorrow to change our sign and windows. But if you want to
go with Cingular, I can certainly help you."

I handed her the (at the time) _one_ Nokia 5165 phone I had and said
okay, program it over to Cingular. She looked at the phone and said,
"We cannot program that phone, it is permanently locked in firmware to
AT&T. When you quit AT&T the phone becomes useless." Thinking that maybe
she was lying to me in order to get a sale for Cingular, I checked with
various other places: the Cellular One dealer a few doors away, the
Radio Shack dealer here (who sells for Alltel under the Radio Shack
corporate deal), the United States Cellular dealer on Chestnut Street,
and the salesman at the Alltel Corporate kiosk out at Walmart. They
all said the same thing: Phone is locked into AT&T; buy any of ours
that you wish, on our various service plans, but that physical phone
you are holding now is _only useable_ on AT&T.

So I went back to the Cingular Wireless lady (whose store was now
properly decorated and marked as 'Cingular' rather that 'AT&T' and
told her I would take one of her service plans __if she could replace
the 5165 in order that I did not have to get all new peripherals for
it, after all, a Cellsocket and a headphone and a battery charger for
one 5165 will fit any 5165 phones; they don't care _who_ provides the

"Well, yeah, she said, I think I have one in back somewhere," and she
found another 5165 _not firmware locked_ and she programmed it up for
use on Cingular Wireless with a local 620-330 number. She gave it to
me for ten dollars with a one year agreement. I chatted with the
person in Chicago who was holding the (now expired) agreement on the
AT&T phone, and his suggestion was 'just toss it in the trash and
we will go with the new Cingular phone you got instead.' But I did
not have the heart to just toss a perfectly good phone in the trash,
so I talked to someone in Tulsa (we here in Independence are in the
'Tulsa Market' on AT&T) and I had her put it on prepaid service,
figuring I would not use it a lot since I had just gotten the new
Cingular ... and all my peripherals would work on either phone. But
I took from the various selections I was offered a number out of
Wichita, KS (316-841). Now fast-forward three or four years; that is
where I am at today. One Nokia 5165 on Cingular, regular service
locally here in Independence, and one Nokia 5165 on AT&T Prepaid
service out of Wichita, which is considered 'roaming' when used here
in town.

On Thursday I called AT&T to replenish the time on the prepaid phone;
I only buy ten dollars of time because it expires whether used or not
after 45 days. But this time, the recorded menu for 'adding time to
your prepaid wireless' had changed. The recorded message said "We are
now known as Cingular Go service, the prices are the same, but you
get 90 days to use it up, and you can purchase prepaid time at your
local Cingular dealer." So, I went back downtown and talked to the
lady I deal with at Cingular. She agreed, "we will _soon_ be able to
take 'Go phone' payments; not right now, but hopefully soon." She
continued, "and you can also get a local number here in Independence
for your prepaid phone as well, we don't have any more '330' numbers,
now they are assigning on 620-714, but to get that prepaid phone
changed over to a local number, when you call to have it done
(I cannot do it here as of now), be certain to tell the clerk that
you are 'Tulsa Market' otherwise they will try to do it out of
Wichita and claim that AT&T (now Cingular) is not in the 620 area.
The _only way_ Cingular (prepaid or regular service) will give you
a 620 number is if they are clued into the fact that this agency is
out of the Tulsa market, otherwise they will assume you are up in
the bigger towns north end of state or else Wichita and try to give
you a 316 or a 913 number."

I came back home and called the number she had given me. They indeed
know all about assigning new numbers, but here is where the kicker
comes in: Yes, we now are Cingular, and yes, the former AT&T prepaid
service plan is now 'Go' from Cingular. But the only way you can get a
620 number is by _purchasing_ a new GSM phone. Cingular is now almost
entirely GSM; older digital customers such as yourself with the
Nokia 5165 phone are 'grandfathered' but no more digital service to
new prepaid customers (which I would be) allowed. And it seems they
refuse to assign a 620 number to anyone other than with a new
GSM-style phone. According to the folks at Cingular Wireless, "there
is no guarentee your old digital phone will work correctly on the
GSM network," that is why we do not allow old digital customers (other
than the 'regular customers' to use their existing phones."

The lady I deal with downtown at Cingular Wireless said "those people
at (our) corporate office are largely correct. I suggest you probably
would work out okay, but _they_ say the old AT&T firmware, while it
does allow number changes to be made, does _not_ allow for carrier
changes to be made. They told me how to go about changing phone
numbers for already existing Cingular Wireless customers; I could
maybe change your existing (Cingular) Nokia 5165 phone and program it
for a new number, but that old AT&T firmware is going to mess us up
if we try to get a number change _into 620_ using it. She said the
only people Cingular is allowing to go on prepaid service these days
are people with the newer GMS phones; the ones that have the little
card I have to slide in it.

By now I am completely confused. Can any reader familiar with GMS and
AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless help me figure this out? I am
willing, and desirous of using my old Nokia phone as long as I can;
the Cingular phone is perfect for me; it works with local seven digit
dialing. Only very rarely (when the local tower is overloaded for some
reason) does it go into 'roaming mode'. The AT&T phone defaults to
'roaming mode' since I am no where near Wichita or Tulsa or Chicago
(the screen message calls where I am 'extended area', but that is the
next step above 'roaming', and it demands to begin each outgoing call
with 'press one for English; enter your own number; enter your PIN;
enter the number you wish to call.' However, when I was on AT&T full
time as a 'regular' (not a prepaid) customer, I did not get all that
nonsense about 'enter your number and your PIN' before I was allowed
to make any calls at all; according to Cingular Wireless I should not
get that nonesense from them either _if I am a 'local' user_, prepaid
or not, that it is only 'roaming' customers on 'prepaid' who get that


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