Friday, June 29, 2007

Virgin (im)Mobile

I'm in the process of trying to migrate my mobile phone number from Verizon (who only have expensive plans with lots of monthly minutes that I never use) to Virgin Mobile (who have much more reasonable plans for my usage pattern).

The FCC has mandated that carriers must provide portability and has set a target time for the transfer process of 2.5 hours. So I submitted the request to Virgin Mobile on Wednesday and Verizon deactivated my service with them sometime yesterday. Yet there's still no sign of Virgin activating my new service and they're telling me that it could be another 2-3 business days meaning Tuesday or Wednesday before I have cell phone service again.

Fortunately I can fall back to roaming on my Australian GSM phone, which I'll need to do next week in HK and China anyway since US phones don't work anywhere else.

Don't you love an industry where 2.5 hours means 5 days! Maybe I should try that when my bill comes due - pay for one month and get four years service!

The carriers will all tell you that they can't provide any service guarantees for number portability because they are at the mercy of your old carrier. To some extent that's true. But Virgin Mobile are their own worst enemy. What they ought to do is allocate you a temporary number so you're not without service and if they don't care about that, so you can start making calls and spending money with them!

They can't do that because their software systems are crap. What I've deduced is that their system isn't built around an account number to which you can associate a handset and phone number, but rather the phone number is the account number. That means you can't change the phone number without closing the old account and opening a new one with all the problems that creates around balances and billing and customer information that is typically associated with an "account".

So I haven't even made a phone call yet with my new carrier and I hate them nearly as much as my old one.

Modelling these sorts of relationships - between things like customers and accounts and phone numbers and so on - is a critical part of what I do as a software architect. Getting it right means the difference between your systems letting you deliver responsive and flexible service to your customers or the lousy experience I'm having right now with Virgin Mobile.

My guess is that Virgin Mobile don't even know it's a problem, and if someone like me tried to point it out at time they were implementing the system they could only see the additional cost and not the value. And yet they probably wonder why even with their really competitive pricing it's so hard to win customers from existing carriers whilst their crap systems make the process something akin to torture (or whatever the Bush administration is calling it these days).

This is actually my second attempt to change carriers. To their credit, despite the annoyances described above, Virgin Mobile at least now have me as a customer, which is something t-mobile couldn't manage.

Update: (7 pm) Finally my phone is activated. That's about 50 hours. Compared to the FCC target of 2.5 hours that's 25 times as long as it should take.

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