Is my phone cursed or is this normal?
October 8, 2013 2:44 PM   Subscribe

I just moved over to T-Mobile US from Sprint to take advantage of their $30 prepaid plan. I bought a used iPhone 5 from a reputable reseller of phones on eBay. So far, I've had incoming calls go straight to voicemail, had my data connection suddenly stop dead, accompanied by "No Service", and my signal level seems to vary wildly just while sitting at one location. Is this par for the course with T-Mobile or is this phone a dud?

Sure, T-Mobile certainly doesn't have a reputation for good coverage like, say, Verizon, but I'd expect it to be roughly in the same neighborhood as Sprint, which I never had problems with as long as was in an area with decent coverage with my old iPhone 4S. I'd get slow data sometimes, sure, but never missed calls and total dropouts.

When this phone has good signal, it's actually quite fast, but I'm usually hovering around 1 bar, and if I put my phone in my pocket, I risk missing calls.

So, others with T-Mobile, especially those in the south Bay Area where I am, is this what you experience or did I buy a bum phone?
posted by zsazsa to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
T-mobile does indeed suck in the Bay Area (as of a year ago), but it sounds like you have a bum SIM card. Before further hair-pulling, go in and get a new one. Should be free. Replacing SIMs cures many ills.
posted by lattiboy at 2:45 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been with T-mobile for 8 years (though not in your area) and never had any problems like what you're describing. Seconding lattiboy, see about getting a new SIM card!
posted by srrh at 2:54 PM on October 8, 2013

My wife's experience did improve with a new SIM card. But we're both still much less happy with T-Mobile's reception than that of Verizon.
posted by rouftop at 3:33 PM on October 8, 2013

I had problems like this with both T-Mobile and Sprint. T-Mobile doesn't work in my office (even with a T-Mobile call center less than 100 yards away...) and my phone doesn't ring - it just dumps calls in voicemail.

Sprint would give me problems at home, even if the phone was sitting on a table. It would have service, then the service would drop out. Then service would come back. Wash, rinse, repeat. Every time service left or was restored it made a noise, so the phone was constantly going boo-Doo-DOOP! BOO-Doo-doop....
posted by tacodave at 3:37 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Looks like I'll be trying the new SIM then. I just happen to have a spare T-Mobile SIM; they were 99 cents when I ordered online, so I decided why the heck not and got two. It looks like I can swap it online without having to go to a store. Hopefully this fixes things.
posted by zsazsa at 4:16 PM on October 8, 2013

Try going to settings>general>cellular(or settings>cellular on iOS 7). There may be a carrier settings update available, which are coming out over the air now that t-mobile is an official carrier. That would drop in a lot of tweaks and new cell tower info for the phone to play with. iOS7 + one of those updates on my ip5 meant that i went from having 0 signal in the concrete bunker back offices of my work to having edge/1x data and being able to make calls. I also get more bars overall.

That said, this sounds like tmobile in seattle, at least circa 2008/9/10. My coworker has tmobile service and i pretty regularly hear him swearing from the other end of the building when an important call drops 10 seconds in, or he loses signal right as he pushes "answer"... or many other things exactly like what you describe. None of it surprises me. I honestly might switch back, but only because of the $30 plan.

What i would try would be another SIM for another carrier. Unless it's randomly switching to "no SIM" or sticking at no service for a long time when another phone on the same carrier next to it is working fine i wouldn't really suspect a SIM issue(or potentially, a phone issue. but i'd still keep troubleshooting down that route next).

The main thing i'd want to try though, would be popping in an AT&T SIM. That would fairly quickly isolate whether it's an issue with the phone or not. If it gets shit reception in general something is suspicious and i'd proceed to the next step.

You can also take the phone to an apple store and they'll do diagnostics 100% for free, and have some rather interesting tools to look at antenna performance and other issues with the phone and verify it isn't a hardware problem.

If they find anything amiss and want to charge you for a repair, immediately file an ebay dispute.
posted by emptythought at 4:52 PM on October 8, 2013

I've had TMo for 8 years in the Bay Area - I work in Mountain View, visit San Jose/Los Gatos quite often and live in SF. I have great coverage with my (non-iPhone) phone.
posted by quince at 5:09 PM on October 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, emptythought. Looks like I can't swap the SIM online for some reason so I'll be headed to the mall that has both an Apple Store and a T-Mobile corporate store. Unfortunately I think this phone is still locked to T-Mobile and doesn't yet qualify for unlocking, so I can't test an AT&T SIM. Plus all my other friends with phones that take nano-SIMs are on Sprint or Verizon!
posted by zsazsa at 6:53 PM on October 8, 2013

This is also my experience with t-mobile. But it's highly dependent on your location and the quality of the network where you are. Could be something as simple as a flaky antenna on one tower near you.
posted by gjc at 7:17 PM on October 8, 2013

Data point: We just moved to a new house on the mid-Peninsula (not way up the hill or anything). My android phone on Verizon is fine; my husband's T Mobile android doesn't have service at all. Good luck.
posted by purpleclover at 8:03 PM on October 8, 2013

Response by poster: Followup: I took the phone to an Apple store. They took it apart and inspected the antenna connections and found nothing wrong. The Genius suggested doing a SIM swap. So I did that. Another thing I did was disable LTE, which seems to help a lot. The "4G" HPSA+ is still plenty fast, and I can easily turn LTE back on if I need super fast data for whatever reason. So far things seem more stable. Thanks for all the suggestions and data points!
posted by zsazsa at 10:21 AM on October 10, 2013

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