Internet issue could take out mobile connectivity

Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V) and Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFTbid to put Windows Phone back into the mix seemed to be heating up.  The world's largest phonemaker, Nokia, moved 1 million Lumia phones in Q4 2011 despite its absence from the world's top two smartphone markets -- China and the U.S.  And in Q1 2012, it sold more than 2 million Lumia smartphones according to just released figures [source].  And the Lumia 900 LTE -- Nokia's U.S. flagship phone -- looked off to a promising start with a sweet $99 U.S. price tag and $100 offer for new subscribers, which left the phone essentially free.

I. A Poorly Executed Launch Mars Generally Polished Product

But the highly anticipated launch of the Lumia 900 LTE on AT&T, Inc. (T) had some major hiccups.

First, Nokia and Microsoft's "Beta Phone" campaign received mixed reviews.  And by aggressively mocking pass mess-ups from the likes of Apple, Inc. (AAPL), Nokia put a great deal of pressure on itself to have an error free launch.

The Nokia Lumia 900. [Image Source: Nokia]

Launching on Easter Sunday was another poor decision.  Customers were left with no open AT&T stores to assist them with questions, and were only able to get the product from online purchases.

II. A Crippling Bug

But the biggest issue came when a number of users began to report Wi-Fi connectivity issues.

Lumia 900 connectivity issues
Many users were left with no conectivity (Note: pictured connectivity loss was triggered by an AT&T black-spot, not the glitch; highlighted add for emphasis).
[Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

Ed. Note: As a Lumia 900 owner, I used Wi-Fi over the weekend without issue.  My phone had another minor problem -- it did not come with activation instructions.  Rather than dig around online, I opted to activate it on Monday. 

The reports began on Nokia's support forums and Windows Phone related forums.  On the wpcentral forums, "Cartman" wrote:

Just an update to the data connection issue for me. I turned off my phone last night. After turning it on this morning by plugging it into a power source I no longer have data.

I am in an AT&T LTE area. Have a feeling that 4G would work fine. Dont know if I should replace my device at this point but not having reliable data is a big issue for me as it affects the ability to due my job.

User "kltye" suggests the issue is SIM related, writing:

I had my data go out twice at exactly the same time each day (hard reset fixed it the first time; didn't want to do that again today). I talked to a rep in the store and they were immediately aware of the problem - it's the SIM card. They apparently received a new batch of SIMs over the weekend to fix the problem. They provisioned me with a new SIM, but it took almost a half hour for it to start working again.

An interesting trick I learnt from them is to push the volume up, power, and camera button while the phone is on, and hold it until it reboots. Apparently it "resets the network", but I'm going to take it with a grain of salt for now. (As an interesting note, I did that one last time after my new SIM was provisioned and then data worked after that, but I chalk that up to coincidence, because they did that a million times at the store)

The rep had a 900 with working data; he swapped out his SIM and mine and my phone came to life immediately. Goes to show it's the SIM.

III. Nokia Offers Quick Fix, $100 Cash to Buyers

After a flood of criticism, Nokia was relatively quick to respond.  Late Tuesday, the Finnish phonemaker owned up to its mistake and said there was an issue with the phone's software -- specifically a memory management issue -- and not an underlying issue with the OS or network.

While Nokia won't drop its over-the-air fix until next Monday, Nokia's U.S. chief Chris Weber told All Things Digital that the in-store stock might already be fixed.  He comments, "We’re already manufacturing devices with the new software.  Those are being shipped to AT&T stores."

He adds sheepishly, "Obviously you don’t want these things to happen."

While a "current investigation" is pending at Nokia as to how such a serious issue could slip through the cracks of the testing process, Nokia is responding in a big way for customers.  Any customer who buys, or has bought the device before April 21, gets a $100 USD credit.

Nokia hundred dollar bill
Nokia is giving customers $100 compensation for the bug. [Image Source: U.S. Treasury]

AT&T was already offering a $100 promotional credit for new customers, taking the phone's $99 sticker down to "free".  It is unclear whether customers will be able to apply the second credit towards their monthly bill, but Nokia claims it applies to all customers, so presumably savvy new customers who ordered online will be getting a free phone and $100.

IV. Lesson Learned?

The Nokia phone is not the first flagship launch to be marred by connectivity issues.  The iPhone 4 from Apple infamously had issues with dropping calls at launch, which led to its CEO proclaiming, "You're holding it wrong!"

"Death Grip"

Ironically, Nokia parodied this statement in its advertisements, only to fall victim to similar issues itself.  To Nokia's credit, Apple only offered customers a pseudo-fix in the form of insulating free cases -- Nokia is offering a fix and $100.

This is not the first Nokia Lumia product to be marred by software bugs, however.  Early Lumia 700 and 800 purchasers in Europe reported the phones to be suffering from poor battery life, a problem Nokia tracked down to a software bug.

Hopefully Nokia has learned from these incidents, but customers have at least learned that the company -- while flawed -- does try to take care of them when things go wrong.

Sources: Nokia [Connectivity issues], [Lumia sales], All Things Digital

"Spreading the rumors, it's very easy because the people who write about Apple want that story, and you can claim its credible because you spoke to someone at Apple." -- Investment guru Jim Cramer

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