Thursday, August 20, 2015

H2O Wireless just redid their prepaid accounts. Might be time to abandon ship.

H2O Wireless has been a rock-bottom ultra-cheap prepaid AT&T MVNO for our kids phones. I’ve used ‘em for years Our #2 son, who never uses his phone, cost us about $40 a year ($10 minimum payment, lasts 3 months). #1 son costs us more, about $150 a year, largely because we use Find Friends to track his cycling. HIs data use on an unlocked iPhone increases costs. #3 (daughter) was costing about $20 a month in texting fees alone; we relented and put her on our AT&T mobile share plan.

Alas, our H2O days may be ending. Today I’m unable to access my H2O account. Sometime in the past 1-3 weeks H2O redid their account system for prepaid users. Each phone must have its own account, and for web access each phone must be registered with a distinct email and password. It’s no longer possible to manage multiple phones from one account. In an extra twist our phones may be orphaned — our account number was my personal AT&T mobile number, and that’s not an H2O number. Their system upgrade didn’t account for that possibility.

Well, I knew that was a risk with a bottom-feeder service. I’ll have to see if I can salvage one of the accounts — it has a fair amount of credit on it (since I had to pay $40 a year to keep #2’s account open, but he rarely used any service). I can setup redirects on one of my domains, so I'll create unique emails of the form, give each account the same password, and see if I can salvage one or two accounts. I think it’s time to try again (ain’t easy, carriers cheat on portability rules all the time) to port #1’s primary number to AT&T.


On further inspection there’s good news and bad news. 

The bad news is that the chat service rep had no idea how H2O wireless accounts work. I actually called a second time and that chat rep was following the same incorrect script — their documentation doesn’t match the site behavior.

The good news is that in reality the system hasn’t changed that dramatically. The contact number on the account doesn’t have to be an H2O number. You add H2O numbers to the account one at a time, entering a passcode (seems to make it rather easy to steal numbers, but there you go). Since I only learned this by experimenting with a new email address I seem to have moved the numbers from my old account to the new one, with balances intake.

The really bad news is even the 800 support number people have no idea how the web site works.

Oh, and one number won’t transfer. I think I just need to port that one to AT&T and live with the other two...


I now have 3 devices that use H2O. One is an iPhone belonging to #3; his pattern of phone use means he costs $40/year still. I have another H2O SIM in a voice-only emergency phone and a $100 Android phone I bought for a book project. This is what I’ve learned with their new accounting system:

  1. There doesn’t seem to be “privileged” phone number, the system lets me associated an H2O number with an email address based account. This seems to be one-time procedure, once associated you can’t move number to a different account.
  2. For a new number you first activate it using their standard procedure, then from your H2O account you “add a number” They send a text code, if you enter that code you get the association. It sometimes shows an error message even when it works. 
  3. My latest SIM was an LTE SIM, but the standard data activation stage failed. I found a manual configuration page that worked even though H2O’s web site claims data activation requires a prepaid plan. I activated it constrained to 3G, but I found LTE works, so that was probably not necessary.

No comments: