Sometimes, I call tech support. By the time I call tech support it is usually my last option, because in my experience tech support isn’t great – at least when you don’t have some sort of dedicated support contract.
Maybe you call and sit in a queue for 30 minutes, or maybe you call and an actual person (they do still exist) picks up the phone after three rings. So quality varies widely.
My most recent tech support calls were to Verizon. Let’s just say it was not a good experience.
A bit ago I mentioned having issues getting GPS working on a laptop. Another component of setting up this laptop was getting the cellular connection configured. The laptop would spend the vast majority of its life out in the field, so cellular was the only way to establish the required internet connection.
This particular model of rugged laptop – a Panasonic Toughbook – comes with a cellular modem. To actually make use of it, you put a SIM card in the laptop and activate it with your given cellular provider.
This step was relatively easy, but still not obvious from the start. To setup the new phone line you basically just need the IMEI number (tied to the cellular modem, presumably) and the SIM card number (apparently called an ICCID). Just like with a normal phone.
How do you find those numbers inside of Windows? It isn’t immediately clear where to go. And if you search for how to find it, you get very few results, because most people don’t have a cellular modem in their laptop. I did get a lot of search results for windows phone (RIP) which were not useful.
On Windows 7 and up, there is a specific command to get these numbers. If you are on windows 8 or 8.1, it is in the settings app. On Windows 10 it is also in the settings app, but of course not in the same place it was on Windows 8. So that was fun to find. And sometimes the section of the settings app it is supposed to be in (Network & Internet – Cellular) just disappears completely for no clear reason, as if the hardware is no longer installed. Oh well, I got it working eventually.
Ok, so I got those numbers. What next? You have to go to the verizon business portal to setup a new line.
My first problem was, where is the verizon business portal? As it turns out, the verizon business portal is not the same as the residential customer portal. If you try logging into the residential portal with business credentials, it tells you the password is wrong and, eventually, that you are locked out. And something about answering a security question.
As it turns out, this has no impact on the business portal at all, so I don’t know what exactly you got locked out of. For this particular situation the account was tied to a business email, so there would be no residential account tied to it. The residential portal gives no hint that you are at the wrong portal (i.e. account doesn’t exist), however, so it was quite misleading.
I am pretty sure Verizon has at least four different portals. If I search “verizon business portal,” the first result is this. It walks like a business portal and quacks like a business portal, but it was not the right business portal.
The correct business portal was actually this one. I couldn’t tell you the difference between them, but apparently they are different.
So you log into that business portal, set up a new line, activate that SIM card on it, and voila, good to go.
The New Problem
It worked fine when it was originally setup, and as far as I know continued to work for at least two weeks. And then, it stopped working.
As far as I could tell, it was still connecting to the Verizon network and the signal strength was fine, but it didn’t have an internet connection.
Note that for this use case we also had a static IP address, as the device was specifically whitelisted to get past a firewall. I didn’t have to do anything to configure the static IP on the laptop end, so presumably it just grabs it via DHCP or whatever.
The first problem I noticed was that we were no longer pulling that static IP address. Instead, it was pulling something in the range 10.x.x.x. So for a start, not only were we not grabbing the right IP address, but it was a private IP, so we wouldn’t be able to whitelist it on the firewall without also whitelisting every other verizon client that happens to fall under the same corresponding public IP.
Furthermore, it didn’t even have an internet connection. The gateway assigned could not be pinged – the ARP requests failed. So the link to the internet was completely broken from the start.
If you google this particular problem you aren’t going to find anything, because so few people set up a cellular connection on a laptop. And for those that do set up a cellular connection, you aren’t going to find anybody with this exact problem – at least not in search results.
What to do next? The way I saw it, it had worked fine for two weeks and then stopped, and it was pulling an IP address through DHCP. I had taken every reset step possible on my side (replug SIM card, disable/enable cellular modem in Windows, disable/enable cellular modem at BIOS level, disable/enable the cellular network interface, reboots, etc) and none of them changed the result. So it seemed like the problems were with their network.
Another detail I haven’t yet mentioned is that when the cellular connection was originally set up, it took several days for it to pull the right IP. Apparently it takes a while for that request to go through in their system, or something, even after they told me over the phone that it should have been working already.
So by the time I had run through all the troubleshooting steps, I just assumed they had messed something up on their end.
Ring Ring Ring
So what did I do? I called support, that’s what I did. Definitely not because I was being dumb, that’s for sure.
When I had dealt with Verizon in the past, we had a specific designated business contact with them, so I hadn’t dealt with their general support. So I called the designated contact. Apparently they no longer worked at Verizon. Their voicemail message noted the number of the new business contact, who I proceeded to call. No answer. That voicemail message listed a general business support number.
I figured my issue was simple and shouldn’t require the designated contact – and, to be honest, I didn’t want to wait another day – so I called the general support line.
It seems like a fairly standard support line. You fill in some prompts and eventually get a person.
I do that and get to a person. I explain my problem. They say they can’t troubleshoot it at all until they verify me against the account. Ok, easy enough, right?
Actually not, as it turns out, because they need a PIN and I didn’t have it. Even though I was logged into the business portal and could order a brand new phone, I couldn’t verify myself against the account. You might think the PIN would be visible somewhere in the business portal, or that you can change it from there. Nope.
Apparently the PIN was a number we supplied to them when we setup the account years ago. Guess how well that PIN was documented? Not very well, that’s what. It was probably on some long ago archived paperwork, but nobody has time to go through that.
I tried pretty hard to persuade this account rep to help me – after all, I can prove I have access to the actual account even though I didn’t have the PIN. But they refused. “It’s policy,” they said. They then proceeded to go into great detail about how it was for my own security benefit. I know why they require it, but when you are the IT admin and still cannot do IT admin things because you don’t have a magic number… well, that is frustrating.
So I didn’t manage to solve the problem that day. I resolved to come back again once I had found the PIN.
We never did find any paper documents to the effect of “this is the PIN for the Verizon account,” but we had good guesses to try out, so I called in again.
Here is the first weird thing: sometimes the phone tree asks you to input a PIN, and sometimes it doesn’t. On this particular time it asks for a PIN, so I input one. It then lets me into the queue, and I eventually reach a person. Who asks me for the PIN. I give it to them again, and they say it is wrong.
Apparently, sometimes, if you enter in the wrong PIN on the phone tree, it literally silently fails. Not always, though. On future calls, I learned that sometimes it does tell you if the PIN is wrong. In any case, I had reached this person and didn’t have the right PIN.
They also wanted me to verify the name attached to the account. I gave them every name I could think of that might have been attached to the account at some point. Eventually I was successful when I gave them my own name. Well, sort of.
Apparently I had correctly guessed the last name correctly, but not the first name. But what are the odds that somebody else was on the account with my last name but not my first name, and that I wasn’t aware of this person? I am going to go with 0%.
As it turns out, the rep was trying to verify me against the personal Verizon account my cell phone is on. Not the business account I was calling in regards to. So they were comparing the PIN I gave them for the business against the personal PIN.
Somehow, despite my explanation of my problem and saying who I was calling in regards to, at no point did the rep ever say “this is the residential department.” The phone tree also gives no hint of this.
As it turns out, what I thought was the business phone line was actually just the main support line. It is shared by business and residential, and it can forward you to either. And so far, it had always forwarded me to residential.
As it turns out, when the phone tree asks you for a PIN, it checks it against the number you are calling from, which for me was my personal cell phone. So because I was calling in from a number tied to a residential support, it kept sending me to residential.
So I talked to this rep and tried to figure out how to get to the business support department.
The first thing is, if I called in from a line under that business account, it would send me to the business department. But I didn’t have a cell phone under one of those lines, so I had no means of doing that. They also confirmed that the default path of the phone tree, if you get answers wrong or don’t answer at all, is residential support. Which does make sense, when you think of it.
But that still didn’t help me get to business support. Apparently, according to the rep, the phone tree is supposed to ask you what number you are calling in regards to, and then it checks the PIN against that. Small problem – for the three times I had called in so far, it never asked me that question.
After I got off the phone with them, I tried this. I called in four times. Of those four times, it asked me that question once. Even though my answer to every other prompt was identical, it asked me the question I required to get to the business department only once. My inputs into the phone tree were exactly the same, so as far as I can tell their phone tree is literally random. That wouldn’t make any sense, but I tested this for a while and it seems consistently… inconsistent.
So I call in until it gives me the right prompts. This time, once it tried verifying me against the business account, the PIN was actually right. Great.
But then, sadness
So I call in to the business department with the right PIN. And they asked my name to verify against the account. There is just one teeny tiny little problem… I wasn’t listed on the account at all.
That in itself isn’t surprising. The account was set up years ago, and I had never needed to call support prior, so I never bothered to get myself added to the account.
But, as it turns out, in order for support to help you in any way, even if your problem isn’t specific to your account, they need to verify you by name AND using the PIN. So they still refused to help me.
Now, I knew the name of the person who was on the account, and… theoretically I could just say I was them? But I didn’t. Not quite sure what security requiring a person’s name on the account is if they all share the same PIN adds, exactly, but apparently that is the policy. I later learned they can have separate pins, but apparently you can authenticate with your own, per-user PIN or the business PIN, so again, it doesn’t really add security.
So I tried to figure out how to add myself to the account. You can add additional user accounts/logins for the business portal, but according to the business rep, that only controls access to the online account, and isn’t part of the database they use for the phone system.
In other words, there is no link whatsoever between accounts listed on the business portal and the support database. If I added myself to the online portal, that would never get me on the phone support list. The rep told me that people can be on just the support list, just the account, or both – there really is no sync whatsoever between them, which seems crazy to me.
How do you get yourself added to the phone support list? Well, you fill out this online form with the changes you want to make, and then they verify it with an existing verified user. So I needed help from somebody already listed on the account.
This was no problem, so I got that person to fill out the form. Theoretically some combination of email and/or phone confirmation verifies the primary contact’s verification status, and once verified the request can go through.
I was told the process can take up to 48 hours. So, we wait two days. At some point in those two days there was an email confirmation that the request had been completed, so I called back again.
And the system was down
I call in, and it turns out on this particular day, Verizon is having a bad time. An hour before I called in, they had some kind of service outage event. The support people couldn’t log into the customer information portal. They couldn’t even verify the PIN was correct, let alone find the names attached to the account.
By the way – the Verizon website is an abomination. It is slow, the navigation is terrible, sometimes it just doesn’t load at all. When I got my Google Pixel from the Google store and tried adding it to a line on the Verizon website, the website said it didn’t recognize that model of phone. Just recently I was helping somebody else add a device to a line, and the website was like
“Congratulations Person, you have successfully set up your undefined!”
Now as it turns out, their model of phone was not an undefined. But that really sums up what the website experience is like. Truly awful, and I want everybody to know that. Of course, it is pretty obvious if you ever have to use it.
But I digress. So like I said, their system was down that day, so I called in the next day. Apparently this time, my name was like… half on the account. The support rep said they could see my name, but the place they would normally check the PIN against wouldn’t work. They said this usually happens if the new contact addition information has made it to some but not all the backend databases. So yet again, I couldn’t verify myself. I asked them how long it usually takes for that stuff to propagate, even after we had gotten a confirmation that I was added.
The rep said it could be up to two weeks.
I was not going to wait two weeks for this, that is just not acceptable. So I once again tried persuading them to help me. And this time, they actually did, sort of. They couldn’t give me any information about our account specifically, as I wasn’t verified still, but they say they could help me with more general problems.
Why only the 7th person I called was willing to do this, I don’t know. In my mind you can always talk about generalized problems and solutions, but apparently if people don’t follow the policy to the T they go grab the inflatable hammer and go whacking or something.
But this one person was willing to help me. Of course, they were just an account rep – they weren’t actual tech support. So they decided that they would act as the middleman between me and their tech support.
I described my symptoms to them. It seemed like nobody there knew what a laptop was, at least in regards to a cellular connection. So between them not knowing anything about Windows 10 laptops specifically and this middleman situation, it was painful and it took way longer than it needed to.
So, this call actually resulted in the solution to my problem. It turns out that I had to reconfigure my APN settings.
Now, I couldn’t tell you what APN settings really are, between the fact it has something to do with a cellular connection. But I did find where you can change them.
The problem is that Windows 10, as far as I can tell, has a default APN profile but doesn’t tell you any of the settings it uses, which makes referencing what was wrong with it difficult.
I was referred to this support article in regards to what the correct APN settings are. Basically, I needed to use xx.vzwstatic for the name, where xx denotes a particular pool/server name. The support rep also told me what specific pool it was. I don’t know how you actually determine that, or if there was a way I could have done it.
In any case, I put in the new APN settings, which basically just meant that APN name and a lot of blank settings otherwise. And… it worked. It actually pulled in the right IP now.
The mystery I never did end up solving was why it worked in the first place. I used whatever the default out of the box APN settings Windows chose originally, and it worked fine for two weeks. So I don’t get it. But it has worked since then, so I guess that is the solution.
Overall, this support process was insane. It took over a week, 7 some calls to support, and at least three hours of time to get support for a problem that could have been resolved in 20 minutes and that had nothing to do with the account specifically, i.e. I never actually needed to be verified.