What fresh (phone) hell is this?*

old fashioned phone

Unlike most of my colleagues at GigaOM, I’m no gadget freak. I have a perfectly adequate, not-new iPhone 4 (no Siri for me) and I actually still miss my Blackberry Curve but don’t tell Om. People like me — and there are a lot of us — don’t need the latest and greatest. But here’s what we do need: To be able to make and take phone calls.

Many smartphonesAnd too often that just doesn’t happen. How many dropped calls have you suffered lately? You get my point. But this week, the problem of dropped or aborted calls took on new significance. I was off most of the week dealing with a family health emergency with my mom and here’s what’s happened, telephonically speaking.

First, four calls to the on-call doctor on Saturday — the service promises a 30-minute turnaround time —  went unanswered FOR TWO DAYS.  When the doctor did call — on Monday morning — he said none of those pages ever got to his cell phone. I believe him, not that it matters: In effect, an appalling communications breakdown is no better than a negligent on-call doc.

Second, my mom’s surgeon was unable to reach my cell late Monday night when he was supposed to brief me on his plan of action. I didn’t actually him believe him but at that point, the die was cast and I got the briefing as mom was wheeled into the OR.

But then, as minutes, then hours ticked by, and it was long past the time I should have received a call from recovery, I wondered. Using a hospital phone, I called my cell and sure enough got a fast busy.  Turns out the hospital phone system — from Verizon it turns out — did not recognize my 13-year-old “new” area code. The IT department had to program in the area code to fix the problem. It took a few minutes, but jeez, isn’t this the kind of thing that shouldn’t happen anymore?

Given the good result — successful surgery — it all came out ok, but I can’t help but wonder that, with all these super smart phones and 4G networks and blah blah blah, how it is that so much basic stuff — the ability to complete calls — just goes wrong.

Another example: The last time I called Triple A from the same cell phone, I had to wait (and wait)  for them to route me through the system. They assumed, based on my cell number that I was in the Boston area, when I was 1000 miles away. Shouldn’t they just have “known” where i was based on the phone’s GPS data? Probably yes, but they didn’t.

A similar issue can occur when you enter your cell phone number on customer service calls. Many companies, including Comcast in my experience, don’t get that people keep their cell numbers when they move. So they send you to a service person based on where they **think** you are located based on that cell phone number. It makes for a very unsatisfying customer experience.

Zillions of silly free mobile apps are fine and dandy but I’d rather have a device and network that actually does what they’re supposed to: Make phone calls.

*with apologies to Dorothy Parker.

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