AT&T: No Balls, Just Bull

Why are wireless carrier contracts two years but mobile devices only have 1 year warranties?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

AT&T Wireless told me that they couldn't replace my BlackBerry Bold's trackball. They had to replace the entire device. The bad news? When the warranty runs out in two months, I'm screwed.

During my South Carolina vacation last week, the trackball on my BlackBerry Bold 9000 smartphone malfunctioned, probably due to excessive "gunk" being trapped in the sensor. It could have been from sunscreen residue trapped in my thumb, accumulation of other particulate matter, or it was just time for the thing to go.

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In any case, I got a number of recommendations of how to resolve the problem without resorting to walking into a AT&T Device Center and getting the unit fixed as I had done with more significant malfunctions that I have had with the Bold in the past year. Use cotton tip swab with rubbing alcohol and massage the area until the gunk gets freed, various branded cleaning products, abrasive wipes, double sided rug tape, et cetera. I tried a few of those, I really did. Didn't work.

I even got a suggestion that I could remove the ball myself and replace it with an inexpensive part. After looking into the matter, I found out that in order to do that on a Bold 9000, you have to rip your entire device apart, thus voiding the warranty in the process.

Considering I had two months left on the device warranty I chose to relent and bring the unit in for service when I got home. I went to one of AT&T's newest Device Support Center locations, on Route 17 in Paramus, NJ. It wasn't a dedicated Flextronics Device Support Center as I had encountered in Atlanta, it was just a sad little counter tucked into the back of the store.

I signed in and handed over my blackberry. "The ball is stuck. Can you replace it or clean it out?"

"Oh no sir. We don't have the ability to do any repairs here. But I can swap out the whole device with a refurb unit and transfer your contacts."

"I see. But I'm a BES user, so I'll have to do another Enterprise Activation again from the desktop software. No biggie, I've already done that 3 times this year."

"Yeah, it's a pain in the neck."

"I need to ask you a question though. What happens if the replacement device malfunctions after two months? Can I bring it back here or a better equipped device support center and sent out for service for a fee?"

"No, I'm afraid not. Not unless you had insurance on the device, which you don't"

"The sales person at the time didn't tell me I could get the device insured for a few dollars a month, unfortunately. So I would have to buy a new device, either from AT&T directly or an unlocked device, either refurb or new from a 3rd party and move my SIM over?"


"When would I be eligible for another AT&T subsidized device?"

(Types away at PC console) "Well, that would be in April of 2010.  Five months after the warranty expires on the unit I am giving you."

"But If the device I have now has a problem in that interim period, and I were to replace it with AT&T, I would have to pay full retail as well as re-up my contract for an additional two years, correct?"


I sighed dejectedly. The counterman handed me my replacement BlackBerry and I took it home and did another EA on it, and I was back in business. But I was still steaming mad.

Now, I know that I'm venting my frustration at AT&T, but the experience I had is fundamentally no different than what you would experience at another wireless carrier.

Why is it that carriers can put you into a two year contract on wireless service but are able to sell you a device that only has a 1-year warranty? And then when your device breaks mid-contract, when that warranty expires, require you to re-up your contract for another two years AND charge you full retail for another unit? I can somewhat understand the full retail, since there would be no carrier subsidy on a new contract. But re-up your contract another two years on top of what is remaining in addition to full retail on the device? That's criminal.

Should there be a law requiring that devices have warranties that match the terms of the wireless contract? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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