Prepaid vrs. 'Regular' Cell Phone Service

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 service.

"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 request.


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