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Glitch cuts off some AT&T cell phones

A faulty software upgrade has kept some AT&T Wireless subscribers waiting for days to get connected to their cell phone service, as the carrier prepares for a rush of customer switching.

A faulty software upgrade is preventing some AT&T Wireless customers from getting connected to their cellular service, the U.S. carrier said Thursday.

AT&T Wireless subscribers have been waiting since Saturday to have their new handsets activated with their service, AT&T Wireless spokesman Mark Siegel said. The Redmond, Wash.-based carrier is blaming the glitch on new customer relationship management (CRM) software, which was supposed to make it easier for AT&T Wireless to sell cell phones inside its stores.

Instead, the software--installed Saturday--has kept the carrier from activating an undetermined number of its latest Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) customers. It usually takes between 15 and 20 minutes to activate new phones, according to Siegel.

"We apologize for the inconvenience, and we're working aggressively to get order completion intervals back to normal levels," Siegel said.

The glitch affects new AT&T Wireless GSM subscribers, whether or not they were a previous customer, according to sources. Siegel did not estimate the number of subscribers involved or the source of the software. "This is our problem, and we are trying to solve it as quickly as we can," Siegel said.

The glitch is also preventing existing AT&T Wireless customers from making adjustments to their own plans, like adding a second phone line. In addition, it's apparently keeping AT&T Wireless from deducting monthly payments from some subscribers' bank accounts.

The glitch comes as most U.S. wireless carriers are bracing for unprecedented stress on their customer sales equipment, caused by the introduction of number portability in the United States on Nov. 24. From that date, wireless subscribers will be able to take their old cell phone number with them when switching carriers.

Nearly a third of all U.S. cell phone subscribers are expected to switch carriers and generate an additional 100 million customer service calls, according to analysts. To prepare, cell phone service providers are bolstering sales centers with new software and more employees.