Uber To Dump Hundreds of AT&T iPhones, Switch To Verizon

Uber is a black car service that you can schedule via a mobile app. It’s slightly more expensive than taxis, but it is absolutely worth it, and I now rely on it to get around in San Francsico.

The way it works is that black car drivers have an iPhone with their own special Uber app. When someone requests a car, the drivers close to that person see the request, and any of them can grab it. They then pick up the passenger and take them to wherever they want to go. Everything is tracked via GPS and billing is automatic to your credit card.

It’s perfect. Except when it isn’t. Yesterday I requested a car and even though the app showed the car as arrived and on top of me on the map, it was nowhere to be found. I called the driver (a handy feature in the app), but our connection was so bad that we couldn’t communicate. So I hit “cancel” (a $10 charge to me) and walked to my destination instead.

I tweeted my feelings on the matter. Uber CEO Travis Kalanik replied. My problem wasn’t Uber, he said. It was AT&T.

All those drivers with all those AT&T iPhones. “Connectivity is a systemic problem” he tell me, saying that about 1% of trips end up involving customer service, usually because the driver doesn’t have the connectivity to hit “start trip” at the beginning of the ride. But it also means that drivers often don’t see new trip opportunities because AT&T is down in their area. So the closest driver doesn’t get the trip, and the passenger has to wait longer for someone farther away to come to them. Or situations like mine, where connectivity issues caused the app to fail to update location information. And the backup, the call to the driver, didn’t work either because of AT&T.

So Uber says they’re very likely to dump all those AT&T iPhones and get new Verizon iPhones for their hundreds of drivers in San Francisco and New York. That’s quite an expense since they have to buy the phones outright. Kalanik says it doesn’t matter. “We take a very Zappos-style approach to delivering Uber,” he says. And he says if that means buying all new phones that work and throwing away the old ones that don’t, they’ll do it.

All this is great. But what I’m wondering about is, where’s my $10?