Why I Hate SunCom

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I'm a former SunComtm customer, who, after months of wrestling with SunCom over my PCS service, has gotten fed up. I'm not normally the type of guy to make gripe websites, but I feel that if I can get other people to avoid doing business with SunCom, at least I'll prevent others from having these problems.

My problems with SunCom are simple:

1) They've engaged in deceptive financial practices.
2) Billing has been grossly inaccurate.
3) Service has been undependable.
4) I've found their sales and support staff to be unreliable and uneducated.
5) Features are frequently not impemented as advertised.
Of course, some of these problems overlap. Please note that these are the problems that I have had. These statements are not intended to say that SunCom always engages in deceptive financial practices, or always does any of the above. These are simply problems that I have experienced, that other SunCom customers have told me that they, too, have experienced.

I signed up with SunCom on June 9th, 1999 at their Rio Hill location in Charlottesville, Virginia. I switched to them from my previous provider, Intelos, from whom I now get my phone service. I used the Nokia 6162, the best model of phone that they offered at the time.

I am not the average mobile phone user. I don't have a home phone -- this is all that I use. Therefore, I'm demanding. But because I have a strong technical background, I'm also sympathetic to the problems that can arise with complex switching systems. On Friday, November 26th I put up this webpage.


1) They've engaged in deceptive financial practices.

But what really gets me is the issue of interest on deposits.

As a 20-year-old at the time that I got my phone, I lacked sufficient credit to get a phone without a deposit. I was told that it would require a $150 deposit for me to get a phone. I wasn't sure if it was worth the deposit, but I was told by Jamie, my sales rep (see #4), that it would earn interest. I was incredulous, but she assured me that this was the case. Giving the contract a once-over -- it looked standard -- I signed it and gave them the cheque.

When I cancelled my service on November 11th, I was told that I'd get my deposit back with my final bill. When I got my final bill on November 22nd, there was no cheque, nor a mention of it. I called on November 23rd and talked with Kyle. He informed me that it would take 6 weeks to get my cheque. When I asked about the amount of the cheque, he told me that there would be no interest. I pointed out that I was told otherwise, and he said that most certainly wasn't the case. He was testy enough that I didn't see fit to argue too much more. So, I hung up and called my local SunCom store. Jamie, from whom I'd gotten my phone, was not available. So I spoke with Christy. She said that SunCom did, in fact, pay interest on deposits. Triumphant, I called back to SunCom's main support number. I talked with Christy (a different one), who insisted that there was no interest. I gave her the number of the local SunCom, and I was on hold for several minutes. When she came back, she said that everything was straightened out.

By "straightened out," she meant that she'd explained to the Charlottesville office that there would be no interest given on deposits. I pointed out that this didn't help me any, since I'd been deceived, by SunCom's own admission. Christy said that there wasn't anything that she could do, but that she could have her supervisor talk with me. She said that her supervisor probably couldn't do anything, either, but that it was worth a try. After putting me on hold, Christy took down my number and said that her supervisor would call me "in a minute." I never heard back.

I looked over my contract, and, lo and behold, it says that they don't pay interest. So I'm stupid. Still, the problem remains that SunCom has told dozens, perhaps hundreds of people (assuming that this store is the only one deceiving consumers) that they'll receive money that they'll never receive. And they've told them this in direct conflict with the contract, which makes me think that SunCom employees, the ones that are in charge of getting people to sign contracts, haven't read the contract. That's not good.

Just to make sure my money was on its way, I called in early December. The rep that I spoke to said that I'd never asked for the money back, but she'd be happy to make sure that I got it in 6 weeks or so. I explained that I'd been through this repeatedly, but she said that I couldn't have been, because the computer didn't say that I had. So I started over. December 22nd found me at the SunCom store here in town, and I talked with Jamie. (Not the Jamie that was my sales rep. A different one.) He was irritated with SunCom's behaviour, and got on the phone. After a few minutes, he told me that the cheque was on its way, and I should have it in 10 days or so. I asked him about the legality of all this, and he said "it sure sounds illegal."

On January 12th, having not received my cheque, I called and spoke with Raechel (RAE-shell.) She told me that there was no record of my making a request, but she'd be happy to put one through. I'd have my cheque in 6 weeks. I explained to her how stupid this was, and that I'd done this a number of times in the previous weeks. She promised to put the request in the hands of "the person in charge first thing in the morning." I thanked her, hung up, and called back to speak with a supervisor. I talked with Cindy first, who asked me, helpfully, "Where are you? Right now? At home?" Not knowing what else to say, I replied in the affirmative. She then put me through to Cassandra, a supervisor. She looked everything over, and saw that I'd called five times in the past few weeks about this very problem. Cassandra said that the refund comes from an entirely separate company, and that my requests just weren't getting forwarded to them. I asked her how I'd know that I'd really be getting my money this time, and she couldn't provide me with any method of determining this. She said that I'd have a cheque within 4 weeks. I expressed my displeasure with this, but it was clearly beyond her powers to do anything further. Unhappy, I hung up.

The next morning, the 13th, I called Jamie, the fellow at the local SunCom store, and explained my problem to him. He remembered me, and said that he'd try to figure out what the problem was and get back to me in a bit. He left a message for me on the 14th, and called me on the afternoon of the 18th. The message on the 14th was that I'd have my cheque "within a week."

On January 19th I received a bill from SunCom. It stated that I owed "150.00CR," which I assumed meant that I'd been given a $150 credit. A credit, of course, would be useless to me. I wanted my deposit back. My favourite part was the "NOW PAST DUE" line -- that's what I've been trying to tell them, that it's past due!

So I called early that evening and spoke with Trish. She said that it appeared that I would be getting a cheque, and not merely a credit. As best as she could tell, the cheque was "on the way."

Come the 25th, still no cheque. I called SunCom that morning and spoke with Natasha. She said that they "approved my refund request on the 14th," and that I'd have my cheque "within the week." I explained to Natasha that I'd been told this before, and I didn't get far. She put me on with a supervisor that, conveniently, was Cassandra, to whom I'd spoken on the 12th. Cassandra said that my cheque was "definitely in the mail" and has "probably been sent on the 14th." Due to the snow day, their Richmond office was closed, and it was impossible to talk to their financial department there about the whereabouts of my money. Cassandra recommended that I wait until Friday. If I didn't have my cheque by then, I should call her back.

Well, upon arriving home that evening, I found my cheque in my mailbox. After months of work, talking to nearly a dozen people and having made nearly as many phone calls, I had my lousy $150. I figure that I had to work about 6 hours to get that, meaning that my time is worth about $25 / hour. Which is odd, because I charge $75 / hour for my time.

If I had to do it all again, I think I'd ask SunCom for a deposit. After all, they asked me for a deposit because they didn't feel that they could trust me. So the money would be held in case I didn't pay my bills. Given the motivation, it seems logical that people should get a deposit of $150 from SunCom in order to assure that they'll get their money. (And service, and refunds, and all of these things that SunCom doesn't do.)

The good news is that this means I'm finished with SunCom. Theoretically. No doubt they'll come back into my life. The most likely route is that they'll falsely report to credit agencies that I didn't pay my bills, or that I owe them money or some such nonsense. Maybe I'm being pessimistic. But after nearly a year of SunCom Purgatory, pessimism has proved to have another name: realism.

2) Billing has been grossly inaccurate.

2a) Paying Extra for Included Services
Ever since I got my first bill, I've had to do something carefully: read my bill. Not merely read it -- perhaps that doesn't do it justice. I have to study it, complete with my own cross-referenced notes of usage and conversations with SunCom's support staff. Nearly every bill has contained an error of some sort.

It varies from bill to bill. Sometimes I'm charged for roaming -- SunCom's schtick is that they don't charge for roaming in the southeast -- and sometimes for for long distance. (That's their other schtick -- long distance.) So I have to call, and always have to explain to the rep (see #4) that SunCom doesn't charge for long distance or roaming, within certain areas, which generally seems to come as news to them.

2b) Service Agreement Slamming
I signed up for a 600-minute plan. That meant that I got 600 minutes of usage, no charge for long distance, no charge for roaming in a handful of southeast US states. All of this for $60 / month. When I got my first bill, I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

I was billed $240. Part of this was due to a separate problem, in which they sent my bill, for no apparent reason, to a non-existent address, the previous month. So this included last month's bill. Still, it should have come to $120. It appeared that they'd put me on the 1400 minute plan, instead of the 600 minute plan, and also charged me for roaming and long distance. Some of the roaming was appropriate. Most of it was not. Of course, none of the long distance was appropriate. On top of all of this, they were slapping me with a late fee because they didn't bill me the previous month.

I talked to four people, none of whom were even vaguely helpful. It was just too many problems for them to deal with. They'd take the total number and try to subtract various services and end up with a number. None could even close to the appropriate total of $120. Finally, Pam said that she'd look into it and call me back the next day. Two days later, not having had heard from her, I called. The woman that I talked to -- not Pam -- said that I owed $111.33, less than I'd anticipated. (She shaved some off for pain and suffering, apparently.) The next day, Pam called. She said that I owed $157.01.

I pointed out to her that I'd been told $111.33 the previous day. Pam asked who I talked to. I told her that I had no idea. Pam didn't believe me. It was at this point that I learned to take meticulous notes whenever talking with SunCom. By this time I'd put over four hours into this problem. Pam had me talk with a supervisor, Vicky, with whom I spoke on July 27th. Vicky, at last, understood the problem. Her approach to this, which nobody else had been willing to try, was to start from the ground up. I'd had two months of service, at $60 / month. $60 + $60 = $120. So she subtracted $120 from $240, and issued me a credit for $120. Wasn't that easy?

The next month, I was billed $10. I called SunCom, and immediately hit the same brick wall that I had when I was overbilled. This time, I didn't bother to pursue it.

3) Service has been undependable.

I'm no stranger to PCS technologies. One of the first thing that I did with my Nokia was get it into programmer's mode. I even own a copy of "Applications of CDMA in Wireless/Personal Communications" (Note: SunCom uses TDMA, not CDMA.) So I know the problems that can develop, and I can appreciate the difficulty of running such a large network.

3a) When the towers are down, it's hard to get an explanation or an idea of when they'll work.
I still don't feel any better when I have conversations like this:
Waldo: Hi, my phone doesn't work. Is there a tower down in Charlottesville, VA?
SunCom: [pause] Actually, yes, we do have a tower down.
W: When will it be back up?
SC: I can't tell you that, sir.
W: Um...OK. When did it go down? I've been backpacking for a few days, and I'd like to know how many calls that I've missed.
SC: I'm sorry, sir, I don't know.
W: You don't know how long your tower has been down?
SC: No sir.
W: And you don't know when it will be up?
SC: No sir.
W: Nobody at SunCom keeps track of your own towers?
SC: [helpfully] Sir, I could have somebody let you know when the tower is up, if you like.
W: Uh, no, that's OK, nobody ever calls me back. I assume that I'll be getting a refund for the time in which my phone doesn't work.
SC: Pardon?
W: Well, I've paid for phone service, which I don't seem to be getting. So I'll be getting a refund for the time in which the tower has been down, right?
SC: Um...no. You can take that up with billing.

(Recreated from memory.)

Whenever the towers were down, I'd get something like this. Fortunately, the towers being down generally resulted in having merely cellular service, and not digital. (SunCom is dual-mode.)

3b) The voicemail system often didn't work properly.
I've frequently had problems with voicemail. For a long time, the voicemail icon on my handset, which indicates whether or not I have voicemail, was reversed. If I had voicemail, there would be no mail icon. If I didn't have voicemail, the icon would light up. This wasn't a handset problem, I determined, but a system problem. The solution? I was told by SunCom to, when this happens, call myself, leave a message, wait until my phone alerts me that I have a message, then call and delete it. That should fix it. There was no mention of fixing the problem, only treating the symptom.

Sometimes I'd get page indicating that I had a new message. I'd call and, lo and behold, somebody had called not a minute before and gotten voicemail. No ringing phone. These problems occurred when walking home or sitting in my office, always with fantastic service. (Theoretically.) The caller, upon later being asked, would say that my phone didn't even ring, it just went straight to voicemail. SunCom would tell me that I should make sure that I have service. Telling them that I didn't have service didn't help. I assume that's because their employee handbook says that the source of missed calls is a lack of service, and doesn't allow for system problems.

Also, messages sometimes wouldn't get through for weeks. Once, my girlfriend and I, having spent the weekend together, were walking around The Downtown Mall. My phone alerted me that I had voicemail. I checked it, and it was a message from her, left 9 days before, asking me if I'd like to go out somewhere that evening.

3c) Roaming isn't all that they claim it is.
When purchasing my phone, I asked if it would work all around the area. The sales rep told me that it would work anywhere that there was cellular or PCS service in the lower southeast. Not two months later I was in Waynesboro, the city on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Charlottesville, about 30 minutes away. Roaming on Cellular One, I got a message saying that my provider did not permit me to roam on their network. I called SunCom, and was told that this was true, I could not roam on their network. I pointed out that this was contrary to what I was told at the time that I purchased the phone. SunCom said that was too bad for me. I wonder where else it doesn't work?

4) I've found their sales and support staff to be unreliable and uneducated.

As I've pointed out above, responses from SunCom support and sales staff have largely been useless. The sales staff misrepresented the interest-bearing nature of the deposit, the service area, the technology that they use, and the service plan that I'd signed up on. (The latter was misrepresented to SunCom billing, not to me.) The problem with the techology that they use was their repeated references to the phones as "tri-mode." This means, to most people, TDMA, CDMA and AMPS. Or, possible, TDMA, AMPS, or GSM. Or some combination of those, or possibly different CDMA or TDMA frequencies. I asked the sales staff for further information, and they said that the three technologies were "cellular, TDMA, and PCS." I politely notified Jamie, my sales rep, that PCS was simply a broad industry term that described digital communications -- "Personal Communications System", whereas terms like "TDMA" (Time Division Multiple Access), "CDMA" (Code Division Multiple Access) and "AMPS" (Advanced Mobile Phone Service) were descriptions of the specific technology being used to implement PCS. Jamie would have none of it. PCS, she assured me, was the third mode. The phones, of course, are dual-mode: AMPS and TDMA. This came up later when calling SunCom, and the support staff insisted that the phones were tri-mode, too. I didn't pursue it.

As for the support staff, they have almost no value to somebody that has problems beyond the mundane. ("Will my phone get calls when it's turned off?") When I have a problem, I generally fix it myself. By the time that I call, I have a solution to offer them. They generally don't want it. I've found that asking to talk to a supervisor generally has no result. They're reportedly not available pretty much all of the time. When I have spoken with a supervisor, they're seldom any more knowledgable than who I have just spoken with. Worst of all, I'm forced to record the name of everybody that I talk with. If I have to call multiple times, as sometimes I have to hang up, try something, and then call back, the next person wants to know who I just talked with. If I can't remember, then I have to start all over. This is much worse when I have to call many people over the course of weeks about a single problem. Then they want to know the names of everybody that I talked with, and failing to know a single name results in beginning the process all over again.

Perhaps the worst problem that I ever had with the support staff was when traveling in Vermont. I was spending a few days up there, and was frustrated to find that my phone didn't work. I simply got a message saying that my provider didn't allow me to roaming there. So, from a payphone, I called SunCom. I spent half an hour talking with various tech support people until finally somebody explained to me how it works. Roaming works on the basis of provider and phone number prefix. Each provider has to allow every other provider to roam on their system, prefix by prefix. So if I, with the prefix 804-242, took the time to work with SunCom on getting my phone to work, other people that have SunCom 804-242 phones would be able to roam in Central Vermont. At the request of the tech, I made several attempts at phone calls, none of which worked. He finally got it working, and said that I should be able to make calls in half an hour or so. And he was right, I could. I only made two calls, though, knowing that I'd be paying a premium to roam outside of the network.

A couple of months later, I was billed for my calls. Not just for the 2 that I made, but for the half dozen that I attempted at SunCom's request. (Which, of course, didn't even go through.) Each one was billed for the connection attempt, which came to a total of $10 for roaming. SunCom refused to refund me the money, saying that if I made the calls, it was too bad. It wasn't relevant that they didn't go through and that I did them at the request of SunCom's tech support. Finally, as part of resolving a larger billing problem, this cost was eliminated over the course of a bulk discount. But that wasn't a result of being misled by SunCom, it was simply an attempt to quiet an angry customer. Me.

5) Features are frequently not impemented as advertised.

Though most of this has been covered in other problems, a quick summary is in order. Long distance for no additional cost worked, but I had to call and complain every time that I was charged for long distance. Free roaming in the southeast works, but, again, complaints are necessary. The other problem with it is that it's not possible to see when you're roaming outside of the allowed area. 99% of the area that's considered local results in the phone saying that it's roaming. There is no indicator of true roaming.

It's difficult to stay within the allotted minutes. To be fair, this is a problem that every mobile phone provider has. But how am I to know when I've gone through my 600 minutes? There's no accurate way to tell. The phone has a minute counter, but that's not accurate.

An example. I make a 10-second call. That's billed at 1 minute. I make another 10-second call. Another minute. And then a 20-second call, which is another minute. SunCom bills me for 3 minutes of talk time, but my phone reports 40 seconds of use. I'm yet to find a provider that doesn't round up to the nearest minute -- a system that has got to change -- and so I don't understand why handset manufacturers don't give a "rounded-up usage" number on the phone. There's no reason why SunCom couldn't export the contents of their usage tracking database to their website, where I could log in and see what my usage is like. But that, of course, wouldn't permit them to bill extra for over usage.

The voicemail allows for storage of two outgoing message. A normal one and a temporary one. This would be good for somebody who went out of town every weekend, and wanted a different message for when they're out. Unfortunately, there's no way to toggle between the two. Extensive fiddling showed no rhyme or reason for which message would be played when. I was unable to explain this problem to tech support in a manner that they were able to grasp. I gave up after talking with two people, and just didn't bother with the temporary one.

Call waiting can be toggled. Don't want to be bothered during that important call? Disable call waiting for the next call. The problem with it is that nobody has been able to explain to me how it works. Theoretically, a number would be entered, *500 or something, to turn on call waiting, and another one, *510, to disable it. Also, perhaps *520 to disable it just for the next call. Having called twice and gotten different answers each time, neither of which worked, I don't think that this feature has been implemented.


SunCom is a seriously flawed company that has behaved in a deceptive, uncooperative, incompetent manner. As a result, I no longer use them for my mobile phone service, and I recommend that others avoid them as well. Whenever possible, I recommend working with a smaller, local mobile phone provider and avoiding large companies like SunCom.

What would have kept me as a customer? Empowering their employees would be a start. Giving them to ability to do something beyond parrot answers without having to get their supervisor. Further, there needs to be supervisor supervisors. Somebody to whom frustrated customers could appeal. Whenever I got at my wit's end, the supervisor would offer no further options, nobody else to talk to. Finally, SunCom needed to keep their word. Repeatedly deceiving me, without apology, is absolutely unacceptable.

Though their motto says otherwise, believe me: SunCom just doesn't get it.

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