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AT&T Wireless customers still on hold

The company continues to work to resolve a customer-service software problem that's been inconveniencing customers for two weeks.

AT&T Wireless continued working Friday to resolve a customer-service software problem that's been inconveniencing customers for two weeks.

The problem began around Nov. 1 during an upgrade of the carrier's customer-service system. At first, it prevented the company from activating new Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) cell phones and servicing the accounts of its three million current GSM subscribers. Spokesman Mark Siegel said Friday that the company has made "exponential progress" since then, but has not yet completely solved the problem.

"We have cleared out a lot of backlog that had accumulated, and we are serving customers at near-normal levels," Siegel said.

One location still awaiting a fix is Pittsburgh, Pa., where database technologist Mike Woychek was waiting on Friday for a call from his local AT&T Wireless store to say his cell phone finally works. "It's a little ironic that they have to call me on my home phone," he said. "It's tremendously frustrating when they still can't get it done."

The problem comes at a bad time because every U.S. telephone company is gearing up for an unprecedented stressing of these same customer-service systems starting around Nov. 24, when telephone customers who change carriers can take their telephone numbers with them. The so-called number portability mandate will generate an additional 100 million customer service inquiries in the next four months, analysts say.

AT&T Wireless is not only wrestling with software issues, but also with employee numbers. A company spokesman said Friday that it has now raised to 1,900 the number of employees let go because of its ongoing "Project Pinnacle" restructuring project. In July, the carrier said 1,500 positions would be eliminated. But the company spokesman added that some of those vacant positions will eventually be refilled.