AT&T, Cingular – Merging is not that easy

Like everyone else I have watched the more bars in more places advertising campaign by Cingular, touting its merger with AT&T Wireless, hoping for better coverage. Whenever I move out of downtown San Francisco, those claims ring hollow, and well I have observed an increased incidence of dropped calls. That, I can live with it, but what annoys me the most is the lack of real progress in the merger.

Merrill Lynch in a recent report cuts its EBITDA estimate for Cingular in 2005 and did a major mea culpa. “Frankly, we had overestimated the pace at which Cingular would execute the AT&T Wireless merger integration process—which has contributed to better than expected subscriber growth to date, but is delaying potential margin improvement until later in 2005.” Such honesty is not what you expect from Wall Street, but as a consumer who has borne the brunt of this bumbling effort, I can certainly agree with them.

Beyond the superficial merging of their store fronts and websites, the real merging hasn’t begun. For instance, if I want to use a Cingular Siemens SX66 Pocket PC phone, I cannot pop in my AT&T SIM Card. AT&T website, now re-branded Cingular, won’t send WAP settings to a Sony Ericsson S710a, because I have mMode and not Cingular’s Media Net service. Walk into their stores, and you still have to switch from one service to another, get a new plan, and lose all the perks you had. This is very frustrating as a customer. As a consumer, I don’t think the merger really happened. Perhaps they should go back to the old ads where Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens merge into a Frankenstein type creature. Because that’s what the new Cingular seems to have become. (I made the mistake of signing up for AT&T Wireless before end of 2004, one of the four things I most regret in my life.)