Amp’d Mobile the upstart 3G MVNO for young adults is, barring a miracle, gone. Bidding closed today for Monday’s auction to liquidate Amp’d’s remaining assets. Mobile service will terminate at 12:01AM Tuesday July 31st.
Amp’d which has burned through $350 million of their backers money in 19 months, owes $100 million more and had only $9,000 cash on hand at the beginning of the week. There are plenty of theories on what went wrong. My take is that Amp’d’s strategy seemed to be to break even offering bargain voice service and make their money selling unique and compelling premium content. It might have worked if management instead of spending recklessly on TV advertising, a helicopter for the CEO’s commute, and extreme sports sponsorship had done a better job of running the business.
My own experience with Amp’d started last September when I got an Amp’d prepaid phone for my wife. It was a great bargain while it lasted, too good to be true in retrospect. The Motorola e816 3G phone with music player, memory card, 1MP camera, a nice sounding in-ear stereo headset and a usb sync cable was $50 after rebate – including 1000 minutes of start up call credits! We paid $20 every 60 days for another 200 minutes to keep the service active. A much better deal than the $30/month plus $9 in “taxes and fees” she had been paying for Sprint’s cheapest contract plan. The e815 was a great phone too with awesome coverage – I don’t think it ever dropped a call. Unheard of for a prepaid, Amp’d roamed on just about any US CDMA network at no extra charge. On top of that Amp’d sent us a gift box with a tee shirt, baseball cap and generic noise canceling headphones for participating in a 20 minute online survey.
As a prepaid customer my wife avoided almost all the headaches that Amp’s contract and hybrid plan users had to endure. The Amp’d board at HowardForums is full of complaints about Amp’d’s billing and customer service. Over and over users reported going for months without bills only to finally get a bill with massive overcharges. Customer support was a disaster, hour long waits for a CSR to answer the phone only to be hung up on with “We will call you back within 2 hours” and the callback never coming. Customers who did get through to complain of overcharges were promised credits that never came. Amp’d’s billing problems combined with lax credit checking resulted in an estimated 80,000 of their 200,000 customers being delinquent in paying their bills. The only real issue I had as a prepaid customer was that no one at Amp’d could tell me exactly when my current prepaid minutes would expire.
Amp’d filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection June 1st. I expected that Verizon, Amp’d’s biggest creditor, would end up absorbing Amp’d’s brand and customers when the end came. It didn’t happen. The fun ended last Saturday the 21st when we got a text message from Amp’d saying mobile service “could” end Tuesday, July 24 with no customer service after the 23rd.
I decided to port the number to PagePlus Cellular, another Verizon prepaid MVNO. PagePlus has been in business for over 10 years, has good rates and we could continue to use the e816 which my wife really likes. It took Amp’d about 28 hours to port out the number which while far longer than the typical 3 hours but understandable considering Amp’d’s impoverished and understaffed state. At this point the phone, which had worked up until Amp’d ported out he number, went dead which is normal during a port. According to PagePlus getting the number from Amp’d was supposed to be the hard part. All that had to happen now was for the automated porting system at Verizon to transfer the ported number to the PagePlus billing system – a process that should take no more than a few minutes.
So I waited – and waited. After three hours it was obvious that something was wrong. A PagePlus rep told me that my port along with many others was stuck in Verizon’s porting system. PagePlus escalated the issue with Verizon and we were told the problem should be resolved in no more than 24 hours. So we waited some more. 24 hours stretched into 48 and finally PagePlus delivered the bad news. Verizon was suddenly claiming that all Motorola e816’s had a defect in their “Push to Talk” application that caused them to generate excessive data traffic on the network. Verizon would not be accepting any more e816 ports on their network and e816 users whose ports had completed would be disconnected. Thorough the whole process PagePlus’ support was superb. Hardly even any hold time and the reps were consistently courteous and technically knowledgeable.
The PTT application can be easily deleted from the e816 by the user but Verizon with the typical mobile carrier customer be damed attitude decided to ban the phones rather than trusting users to delete the application. Update: It turns out that the PTT application can only be deleted from early versions of the e816s, with software version 1.4. Recent e816s have V. 2.5 which has the Delete option disabled! Even more annoying is Verizon apparently deliberately stalled the ports while they decided what to do.
In the end I bought my wife a new V3m RAZR on sale for $120 and activated it on PagePlus with no problems. In spite of the hassles I still think the Amp’d experience was worth it. Even with buying two new phones we saved over $130 in 10 months compared with cost of staying on Sprint and I got to play with streaming video on the mobile web at 3G speeds.