Telcos

Troubleshooting tips for Verizon Wireless customers

Justin James describes the dropped call problem he was having with his Verizon phones. If you're experiencing similar issues, read his tips on how to save time during the troubleshooting process.
This is a guest post by Justin James, the host of TechRepublic's Programming and Development blog.

Over the last several months, I have been battling some absolutely strange behavior with my Verizon Wireless phones. Throughout the process, I learned a lot more about what can go wrong with a cell phone, and how you can work with your carrier to fix it than I ever cared to know. I'll share what I had to go through with Verizon so that if you are experiencing similar problems, you will not have to lose as much time as I have in the troubleshooting process.

The problem

Until earlier this year, my calls dropped once every few months. But beginning in mid-May, I was starting to drop calls more and more frequently, outbound calls were taking a long time to connect (even to non-cell numbers and voicemail), and I was missing calls completely. Also, the signal strength on the phone (measured in the popular "bars") was usually solid, but sometimes it would fluctuate wildly. The phone could go from four bars with 3G to zero bars and 1X in a second. (Something to note is that I work from home, so my phone is in the same location for almost the entire day.)

When I first called Verizon, the phone I had at the time (a Motorola Devour) had a lot of known problems, including the bouncing signal issue and dropped calls. Verizon quickly replaced the phone. By the time we were done with this, I had gone through three Motorola Devours and two Motorola DROIDs. Unfortunately, the majority of the support staff only knows how to tell you to do a factory reset on the phone or file an RMA on the device, which does not resolve the problem in far too many cases. The rule of thumb is that, any time you are stymied by a technical issue, you need to request an escalation to the next level, and when you are stuck on a business issue, escalate to the supervisor.

Over the course of the troubleshooting process, I learned that it's best to demand an escalation to Level 3 if your problem cannot be solved, and to insist that a ticket be opened with the networking group as well. The networking group has the top level engineers who can really dig deep into the phone and find out what is going on. One thing that I found, though, is that the engineers at that level often have wildly different sets of experiences that leads them down different paths. For example, one engineer felt that turning on "hybrid PRL" for my account would solve the problems. I later learned that, while this is a successful solution for some similar problems, it is not the cure-all that this technician thought it would be. That being said, if you have the kinds of problems that I was having, ask for this first. Unfortunately, the hybrid PRL did not solve my problem.

In the process of trying to learn more about my issue, I confirmed something that I always suspected: the signal strength bars on the phone have zero bearing on reality. One day I opened up the phone's status and examined its signal strength (measured in dB down), and I saw that at some moments, it could be at -87 dB with four bars, and other times it could be at -87 dB with zero bars. The signal could vary by as much as 20 dB with no change in bars, or it could not change at all but the bars would be all over the place. The lesson here? Ignore the bars on your Android phone -- the bars are meaningless. This anomaly explains the wildly fluctuating signal that the Verizon field technicians could not confirm when they spent some time in my area measuring signal strength.

Eventually, we were down to one last option. Verizon sells a network extender, which is like your own personal cell tower. It connects to your Internet connection like a VoIP box and sends out cell signal with about the same range as a good Wi-Fi router (in my case, it covers my house). While this would not be a great option for most folks, because I primarily stay in the same location all day long, it was a potential winner. But the network extender did not fix my issues either. First of all, it turns out that when you have hybrid PRL on, the network extender cannot work properly with your phone. When that was turned off again, the network extender itself worked with my phone. But all the same, I was having issues where I would walk away from my desk, leave the network extender's range, and my call would be dropped when the phone tried moving to the local cell tower. So the network extender really was not a viable solution.

Problem solved

It was a few days after I gave up on the network extender that I wrote the first draft of this article and sent it to my editor here at TechRepublic. She ran it by Verizon to see if they wanted to offer a response, and Verizon took a very strong interest in the case, and got in touch with me to see what they could do to fix things. This time, they put one of their top engineers in my area in direct contact with me. After about a week, he solved the problem. It was indeed a problem with the local cell towers; there was some sort of misconfiguration as a result of the integration with the Alltell network. After fixing the issues, I have returned to the same level of service that I had before the troubles started.

I have to give Verizon credit for eventually fixing the problem. In my opinion, I think I received swift attention because we put brought it up to folks who could get the problem in front of engineers as a priority. I had opened up two tickets with their networking group already. The first ticket was closed because the physical signal strength in my area was fine (I told them that the physical signal was not the problem). The second ticket was closed ,and I was told that I was in an area that was "marginally stable" due to there being too many users in the area, which clearly was not the case since the problem was solved without building a new cell tower.

Lessons learned

During this troubleshooting process, I learned that you have to be patient to get solutions. If I had gone along with the standard customer service script, I would probably be on my 10th phone right now, or paid the early termination fees and gone to a different carrier with no guarantee of better service. Neither route was one I wanted to take.

In addition to being patient, you also need to be a bit pushy. If it seems like the person you are talking to cannot fix the problem, ask for an escalation, and always find out what the options are if the current "fix" does not work. Knowing what the next direction is can help a lot, especially since you are likely to not be working with the same technician the next time you call. Best of luck!

J.Ja

A response from Verizon Wireless

"It is Verizon Wireless' goal to deliver outstanding customer service in every interaction with every customer. The numerous customer service awards we have won attest to our ability to meet that goal time and again.

"We have a very effective process in place to manage every customer's network concern, and our customer service reps are trained on how to help customers with simple troubleshooting issues. While Mr. James' situation was unusual, it should have been addressed much earlier in the process. At Verizon Wireless, our philosophy is that all employees are responsible for providing the best customer experience. Regardless of what job we are responsible for, we all take ownership in customer service.

"We encourage our customers with any issues to contact our Customer Service representatives who will be happy to assist."

Michelle Gilbert

Public Relations Manager,

Michigan/Indiana/Kentucky Region

Verizon Wireless

About

Mary Weilage is a Senior Editor for CBS Interactive. She has worked for TechRepublic since 1999.

12 comments
starsky77
starsky77

I have a verizon cell lg-vx9200. In past month when i talk on phone when it is fully charged it drops power down to nothing pretty fast. Then when I wait a minute it powers back up to 3 or 4 dots again. It also looses dots quickly when I am receiving and sending texts but powers back up in a minute. You think it is battery problems?

05Glide
05Glide

I spent 6 months trying to work with Verizon on the same issues as the OP. As a customer who was absorbed from Alltel, I suggested a hybrid PRL and was told it wasn't possible. Then they finally switched us to a hyrbrid, that helped with signal strength but calls and both voice and text messages either didn't show up or were hours to a day late. I finally gave up, switched to another provider and haven't had a problem since. Verizon needs to step-up and stop this non-sense, 6 months of problems and they claim nothing is wrong or just gave lip service? I was amazed that they didn't know there was an app that gave us a relative signal strength. When I have to explain dBm to a level 3 tech support specialist, something is wrong.

bstankos
bstankos

So the lesson is -- get a job at Tech Republic, write a column about poor service and poor support and you might get the carrier to fix your problem..... Hope you have lots and lots of space at TR!

DBNewbie2007
DBNewbie2007

"It was a few days after I gave up on the network extender that I wrote the first draft of this article and sent it to my editor here at TechRepublic. She ran it by Verizon to see if they wanted to offer a response, and Verizon took a very strong interest in the case..." Ah, the power of media. If only the rest of us could write articles about our (usually bad) experiences with the cell carriers, and not just blogs! I noticed in the Verizon response "...While Mr. James? situation was unusual, it should have been addressed much earlier in the process...". I would ask, acknowledging there is or was an issue, what has been done on the Verizon side to correct those issues to prevent them from happening in the future? I know for myself and others that I know who have Verizon, the usual response is to just keep replacing the phones! There was one case where the replacement phone was worse then the phone Verizon was trying to replace! I will not even get into the issues I had with AT&T before switching carriers! :(

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

They would fill the hole on the US 76 bridge over the Peedee River, between Florence and Marion, SC. I've never managed to hold a call through there...

Tink!
Tink!

In your case, TR. :) I would love to get some similar efforts from Verizon DSL. They keep trying to put us on the higher speed plan but I keep telling them, we can't because the cables providing the DSL to our house can't HANDLE the higher speeds. A couple years ago we were told our area was on the list to be upgraded. That never happened. Now, Verizon has sold its contracts to Frontier. I am considering whether it is worth the effort to attempt to get them to upgrade the cables.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Try reposting this in the 'Q&A' forum. The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/questions/post?tag=mantle_skin;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer". . [b]Though Personally I would be looking at a Software issue but I'm no expert on these phones.[/b] Col

RipVan
RipVan

...than my problem. I wanted to get on a smart phone without joining the iSheep, so the only option at the time was MyTouch. I got it, and also the WORST coverage I've ever had (TMobile). That situation will not improve, so I have 9 months before I can switch carriers (and now Verizon carries decent phones). My daughter loves my MyTouch, but at her school (in that part of the state where there is NO TMobile reception) you have to be OUTISIDE of any building in order to make a call, and if you drive around her town, coverage goes in and out. I wish she had known before I got the phone that only Verizon has coverage on her campus. I don't like the carriers any more than I like Microsoft. They are all pretty much pirates, but you have to deal with somebody...

Justin James
Justin James

Yeah, the Verizon support process is very dependent on swapping phones, but it's a trick of the 1st level support people, primarily. The trick is to tell them, "look, we've swapped the phone already, I still have problems. We need to escalate this issue to someone who can perform proper troubleshooting." J.Ja

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

Often cranking up a booster or BDA to levels beyond spec limits will get your signal over the threshold and reduce your bit error rate. They would probably find crosstalk not to be excessive since the system is engineered with lots of margin in copper pairs. And you might push for fiber optic trunks. That'll do wonders, it might even get you digital TV, too. Of course you'll want the neighborhood behind you on this.

tdrane
tdrane

Wonder if there's anything that can be escalated for voice messages that arrive three weeks late.

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