The Verizon Network Extender: Still crappy after all these years.

Despite more than three years in the market, Verizon's Network Extender hasn't improved ... at all.

I’ve written about the Verizon Network Extender several times (the first was just over three years ago here on Network World) and it’s a topic that just keeps on giving. Since that first article I have received over one hundred messages from seriously unhappy readers who found the device to be, shall we say, “subpar”.

If you don’t know what the Verizon Network Extender is, allow me to recap:

If you live somewhere that has poor cell phone service, say in the radio “shadow” of a hill or way out in the sticks, there is a solution: A microcell or what cellular provider Verizon calls a “Wireless Network Extender.”

These microcells are small devices, about the size of a DSL or cable modem, that create a local cellular service zone up to about 40 feet from the device in which you can make and place cell phone calls and, if you have a smartphone, use data services to access the Internet.

While these products can solve your home wireless service problem for a couple of hundred dollars they do require that you have a broadband Internet connection because the microcell relays your voice and data service requests to Verizon via the Internet.

But if you’re using the Verizon Wireless Network Extender there’s a problem: Even though it’s a device that you purchased from Verizon and that you own and you’re not using Verizon’s public cell service, any calls you make are still routed to Verizon’s network via the Internet and you’re still charged on the basis of whatever plan you’re on. From Verizon’s FAQ on the Wireless Network Extender:

All rates and policies associated with your calling plan will apply when connected to the Network Extender.

So, even though your smartphone or tablet is using your own Internet connection via the Extender and adding to your broadband data usage, you also get billed for your device’s data usage as well. Doesn’t that seem wrong?

The reader who originally got me on this topic back in 2012 was Ben Myers, who related his tale of anger, frustration, and abiding disappointment over Verizon's wireless service. It all started with his home office being a cell service "dead zone."

We've all experienced these odd pockets of "bad air" and there's frequently not much to be done about them. They exist in our home and offices like little wireless cones of silence.

Ben decided to fix his bad air problem by installing the Verizon Wireless Network Extender but after using the product for a while, Ben summed up his feelings with, "It is a good concept made [bad] by a combination of lousy technology, ham-handed marketing, and plain dishonesty."

And things, since then, haven't got any better. A reader recently wrote to me about the device:

About three years ago, my wife and I complained to Verizon that we were in a dead zone for cell phone service.  We told Verizon that my wife is an EMT and must have reliable cell phone service (it was the truth…) and Verizon provided a Samsun extender at no charge. 

Since day one, it has been a crapshoot as to whether the extender will connect to our phones (iPhone 6).  We always have 4 “blues”, and I check it frequently.  We never know what to expect and even repeated calls to the [support number] gives the recording, “You are not connected to your wireless extended.  Move to within three feet and try again in 5 minutes, etc.”  Well, duh, why would I be calling them if I was connected??  Idiots!  Calls to Verizon Support produce the same inane questions that you describe in your article, and they will never answer the question of why it isn’t connected 24/7.  We use Time-Warner Cable for our Internet…could the cost to Verizon for [a] VoIP connection be why it gets cut off all the time?    

Very, very frustrating…even if the extender was free, which we do appreciate.  On balance, I would give it a 2 out of 10 for performance. 

Another reader, Andy Gibbs (no relation and, no, not one of the Bee Gees), wrote that Verizon staff seem to misrepresent the terms for getting an extender:

... having just switched from AT&T (20 + year veteran customer) to Verizon to save a huge $100+ / month, I’m entering “network extender hell” here in Palm Springs.

The sales rep ... said, on not less than two separate visits and at least twice per visit, that if we received poor coverage, contact customer service for a FREE, yes FREE Network Extender. I have 1 bar in my home … sometimes.

The representation made by Verizon was NOT the case! I learned today from their “happy customer service” folks (hidden away in some Cold War missile bunker in Idaho) that it would cost $250 some-odd - but they would give me a $70 discount.

Why the discount if they were planning on charging me? Why charge when they said in no ambiguous terms “FREE FREE”?

Customer service was no help - and the supervisor who I insisted on speaking with said “we’d have to do a ticket, but you can save us the time and effort in testing your location by going back to the Verizon store and canceling your account at no charge - you are still in the 14 day period”.

WHAT - and since I traded in my older iPhones for credit applied, are they going to give me back my old 5 and 5S iPhones? Not a chance - they are being melted down for recycled plastic as I write this.

Then what!?!?

It’s almost worth filing suit for fraud (inducement to switch from AT&T having Prior Knowledge that (a) the big red coverage area that Verizon shows on their website map is not accurate, and (b) telling me that the Network Extended is ABSOLUTELY FREE, with prior knowledge that that was a lie). It meets every legal definition of fraud.

These are pretty typical of the complaints from frustrated Verizon Network Extender owners and would be owners and here’s my advice for most situations where you have poor wireless connectivity:

Assuming you have a reasonably good Internet connection: Sign up for a free Google Voice account; transfer your existing cell number to that account; get a $20 per month VoIP account (Vonage, for example); then use Voice's simultaneous ring feature to call both your cell with the new number and the new VoIP line. If your cell coverage is poor or your cellphone is off, you'll still get calls on VoIP and if you don’t pick up, Google’s voicemail and transcription services are very good (and did I mention free?).

If you’re suffering with the Verizon Network Extender, let me know your thoughts, feelings, and righteous anger. And if you've found a solution that's cheaper or better than mine and doesn't involve firebombing Verizon headquarters, let me know.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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