Sprint has updated their warranty policy, effective this week. The changes are some of the most broad and sweeping since the Sprint Nextel merger took place.
Sprint’s previous warranty policy (which ended Sunday) has been universally criticized outside of Sprint. The procedures made Sprint the only national carrier which charged for in-warranty service of their own devices. Sprint did this to upsell their Express Service and Repair Plan (ESRP). The $4/month plan offer expedited warranty repairs, a warranty extension, and (at one point) covered significant physical damage. Sprint required customers without ESRP, to either pay a $35 to $55 fee, or mail their phones to the manufacturer… often sitting for weeks without a wireless phone.
Now Sprint has fallen back to the pre-merger guidelines for in-warranty repairs. Customers will now be able to have their phones serviced at any Sprint Nextel service location at no charge. For out of warranty service, customers will pay a flat rate of $99 for phones and mobile broadband cards, or $119 for smart devices.
The one year warranty period will be determined by the date of original activation for the device. The ESRP plan add-on will now act as a standard extended warranty plan. Customers with ESRP will not have to pay for out-of-warranty service, but physical damage will still trigger the $99/$119 fee.
However, the changes are far from perfect. Sprint will now charge the $99/$119 fee for some routine maintenance events on out-of-warranty phones. Something as small as a software update or phonebook swap can trigger the fee, provided the phone is out-of-warranty.
Sprint has not said what policy will be enacted for phones that are more than a year old, and are issued a firmware update (as has happened numerous times in the past). However, as it stands, if the phone lacks Firmware Over The Air, those customers will be looking at paying a hundred dollars… for a software update.
Charging for software updates reinforces the stigma that customers should fear updates. PhoneNews.com has routinely advocated that the wireless industry waive all fees on routine software updates, and provide automated mechanisms that alert, and allow the end-user to opt-in to such updates easily.
Update: Sprint has responded to our reporting, stating that Software Updates are now free, regardless of warranty status. The confusion came from a series of instructions to store employees, which incorrectly grouped software updates and phonebook transfers in the same category as other services to not perform when outside of the warranty.
Under the old warranty policy, software updates were only free if they were deemed “critical” updates (otherwise requiring a $35 fee, which was waived if the customer had the ESRP plan). Under the new policy, all updates regardless of classification will be free.