Unexpected change of Sonic Mobile/Desktop Communicator Policy

Fusion Voice service, features and help.
25 posts Page 1 of 3
by klui » Fri Aug 21, 2020 5:32 pm
I like Sonic. It is the ISP whom I compare against others. But recently things have changed that is concerning to me.

Back on August 10, I noticed my Sonic Desktop Communicator app (Accession/MaX UC) said I had no phone connection. It was strange because it worked for years ever since I upgraded from DSL to resold AT&T VDSL. The symptoms were I could authenticate and login. Providing a bad password gave the expected results. After login, after 15-30 seconds the app would tell me I have no network connection. The recent caller list would refresh within those initial seconds after login. I created a ticket to Sonic Tech Support but after about an hour my connection was fine again. The issue popped up again several days ago. I reverted to the previous version of MaX UC as well as the Sonic-branded version to no avail.

Last night I spoke with James towards the end of TS's business hours and asked him to inform me when it's convenient for him to do more investigation. He did so after hours and told me the root cause through email. Sonic used to allow up to 5 connections to their Metaswitch platform (including the ATA) and they had changed their policy from 5 to 3. Our household had 4 devices connected:
  1. The ATA
  2. My wife's phone
  3. My cell phone
  4. My desktop computer
After I logged off from my cell, my desktop's connection connected right away.

Here's the thing. If Sonic's operations notified their customers over this new limit a month before the policy change went into effect, it would have saved people like me and James the time needed to chase something that is not an actual problem.

What was the reason for this change? My beef here is why is the ATA included in that limit? We are probably one of the diminishing households who still relies on a landline. Granted the app is a convenience. More so on my desktop because I can use it while someone is using our home phone.

The second issue unrelated to voice is the new policy of this forum. Sonic used to allow guest logins but I don't see that option anymore. Again, a stickied post on the General forums would have been appreciated. Sonic prides itself in being transparent to their customers and these two recent examples are behaviors that go against the Sonic that I know.

If @dane is reading this, nip this lack of transparency in the bud. Ensure changes to policies are clearly communicated to affected customers in a timely manner: post in forums through stickied posts, use targeted email distributions. What's next? Change in usage caps policy?
by amayfield » Fri Aug 21, 2020 5:44 pm
As far as I am aware the metaswitch change was supposed to only affect new customers not existing customers already utilizing the mobile / desktop communicator. Thanks for reporting this I'll get it over to the team that manages the metaswitch to look into.

Regarding the forum changes, I'm sorry there wasn't an announcement about that - it was sort of a fluid situation. We used to allow anybody to post anything, then we started getting more and more spam that required deleting and our team struggled to keep up with that so we enabled moderated posts - anybody not logged in needed to have every post approved by a moderator. Eventually it got to the point where that was also no longer a viable solution so we made the switch to log in required.
Andrew M.
Community & Escalations Supervisor
Sonic
by klui » Fri Aug 21, 2020 10:31 pm
I appreciate your reply Andrew. Could that team reply to my ticket and clearly state what my limits are moving forward? I posted a reply last night after reading James's update but no notification reply came from tech support's mailbox.

Also please relay to the team that manages these forums because at the home page it shows the following in the login section:
Registration is disabled. Log in with your existing Sonic.net username & password or post anonymously as a guest.

Perhaps replace with something like
This forum is for Sonic.net customers and you need to login with your account credentials. Due to an increase in SPAM posts, we've had to disable registration and anonymous posts--we apologize for the inconvenience!
by amayfield » Mon Aug 24, 2020 10:05 am
The team that manages the metaswitch got back to me this morning - they made some changes and so you should be able to connect your four devices concurrently again. Please try it out and report back if you experience any issues. And thanks for the feedback regarding the forums login prompt, I'll get that on the radar of the folks who can make that change.
Andrew M.
Community & Escalations Supervisor
Sonic
by klui » Mon Aug 24, 2020 9:35 pm
Thanks Andrew for your followup. I'm now able to login on all 4 devices and all of them ring when we receive a call.
by ndwrmsv2 » Tue Aug 25, 2020 9:33 pm
I wish I had seen this thread last weekend. I had my ATA flake out on Thursday, and had to depend on an older cell phone because I'd been unable to register my newer phone with the Communicator app. Similar problem with a new iPhone that my wife just received a week earlier - the current phone had the app registered, the new phone wouldn't take. (The 4th device was an Android tablet.)

So until the replacement ATA arrived two days later**, I had to depend on two older cellphones that had been put aside in favor of newer equipment. They rang on incoming calls, and outgoing calls could originate on them (as well as the aforementioned Android tablet), but the ATA was dead, wouldn't register, wouldn't reset, wouldn't even show the blue power LED.

When the replacement arrived on Saturday afternoon**, I tried to install it, but it also wouldn't complete the installation. After a long time (an hour?) on the phone with Isabel at tech support -- who, by the way, was great, give her a raise - she came back after checking with a Tier 2 person, and lo and behold, I got the same story about the device limit being reduced from 5 to 3. (I'd never heard about it or any previous capacity reduction, although that too explains my problems in upgrading to new devices.)

Once I logged *everything* off, then the ATA registered and came to life. And then I could log in and register the new iPhone and my newer Moto G. But at that point, I was maxed out.

If the cap has been raised back to 4 devices, that's an improvement. I'll test that with one of the logged-out devices after I get done typing this.

But I completely concur with "klui", the user communications related to this sucked big time. The MOTD lets me know every time a router spontaneously reboots, or there's a fiber cut somewhere, or you're going to take down a piece of gear for an update at midnight. And then you let us know when the maintenance completes or the status of problems encountered in the process. Being a former project manager with one of the seminal ISPs, this is what I'd expect you to do, communicate with any subscribers that are interested enough to keep informed.

But here we have a configuration change that potentially affects many users, and you fail to mention it to the user community until people's devices stop working, and you fail to communicate the change to Tier 1 support, and what's worse, you do something with the potential to disable essential communications services just as massive wildfires blow up all around the region. We didn't discover that the ATA had stopped working until late morning. WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF CAL FIRE HAD ORDER AN EVACUATION, AND THE LINE THAT WOULD GET THE REVERSE E-911 CALL HAD BEEN DEAD? I might not be alive now to write this.

I am happy that Sonic is growing by leaps and bounds, that Gig Fiber is almost built to my neighborhood, that you provide a local alternative to the Comcast and AT&T monopolies. But I currently have FTTN/IPBB, and U-verse (which is AT&T's name for IPBB) stayed up and running, but the essential telephony service comes through Sonic, and that was dead for well north of 48 hours. If that's the future, it's not a promising one.

If, as I was told, not very many subs use the Communicator app for more that one additional device beyond their ATA, then there really wasn't any true need to lower the device cap. The occasional customer with 3, or 4, or even 5 devices wasn't going to overwhelm the Metaswitch. (And in fact, if it's currently running so close to capacity that this change is necessary to keep it from saturating, it's underconfigured and in need of an upgrade.)

One more thing: I'm a semi-retired project manager with an engineering degree and a career in I.T. which sometimes included telecomm/datacomm responsibilities. How many of your subscriber base are like me, verses "mere mortals"? How many of the latter are going to have the patience, knowledge or temperament to slug through all this the troubleshooting to figure out problems like this? You're either still marketing to Silicon Valley types, or you're doing gig fiber buildouts to conquer the world. (Or at least California.) But keep this up, and AT&T will end up buying all your newly built-out infrastructure in a bankruptcy court.

Lots of words, but also lots of frustration. Anyone care to comment? Dane?


** The ATA is a whole 'nother saga. It got ordered Thursday in the Noon hour, then UPS'ed out that evening, arriving on the Peninsula Friday morning. But... then (according to tracking) UPS drops the package at the local post office, too late to make the carrier's departure for his Friday deliveries, so the box doesn't show up until Saturday afternoon. I'd asked about how the replacement ATA would be delivered, and was assured it would be UPS door-to-door. Okay, an informational disconnect between Tier 1 and Shipping. But there could have been an even better, more timely solution. Sonic has an employee who lives only a mile away from here, who parks his (or her) Sonic-branded installer truck on the street in front of his house every evening, and which I drive by all the time. Why couldn't that tech carry a few spares in his inventory, drop off a replacement ATA (or passed it to me in front of his house), and then back-filled from the central depot as convenient? I could have been up Thursday evening, instead of waiting an additional 48 hours (during, remember, an close-by wildfire outbreak) to discover the actual nature of the problem. This is the second time I've been down for days because Sonic has a process that hasn't been fully thought through, and that doesn't seem to rate telephony an essential service.
by amayfield » Wed Aug 26, 2020 10:04 am
The metaswitch change to three concurrent users affects all customers. Initially the plan was to only implement the change for new users and grandfather current users into the old limit but somewhere along the deployment path that changed, sorry for the miscommunication from my end on that. The good news is we can increase the limit manually on a case by case basis when a user requests that of us, I've put in that request for you ndwrmsv2.

Regarding the motivations behind the change, it wasn't metaswitch saturation rather an attempt to reduce the vectors of potential fraudulent voice abuse which is and has been a pain point for us. I'm sorry Isabel wasn't aware of the change, we did inform our support representatives about the change though it sounds like we could have done a better job about explicitly detailing what that change means (E.G. it affects the Mobile Communicator).

Shipping right now is a bit of a mess - some of that is on us and we're working on sorting that out; and some of it outside of our control, once the package leaves our office it's literally out of our hands and we're at the mercy of the delivery service. The ATA needs to be configured for your specific circuit before being shipped out so an installer would need to go the office and pick up the configured device and then drive to your location to drop it off. Unfortunately we just don't have the workforce to be able to accommodate that right now.

I don't know why we didn't post an announcement about the Metaswitch changes, it does seem like the sort of thing we'd typically post an MOTD about. I'll ask around and see if I can get any insights there.
Andrew M.
Community & Escalations Supervisor
Sonic
by amayfield » Wed Aug 26, 2020 1:01 pm
After some digging around I did find that we had posted an MOTD regarding the Metaswitch changes (found here https://sonicstatus.com/2020/08/18/phon ... enance-56/).

However, that post does not articulate the nature of the work being done, nor how it may affect you (the customer) and your services. I'm working on starting a dialogue amongst all the teams here at Sonic who post MOTDs to get on the same page regarding messaging and how we can best keep customers informed about upcoming service and feature changes.

Thanks again for the feedback, it's appreciated.
Andrew M.
Community & Escalations Supervisor
Sonic
by klui » Wed Aug 26, 2020 2:36 pm
Operations manager must be new or on leave.

My suggestion:
  1. Update https://help.sonic.com/hc/en-us/article ... mmunicator and include your new policy. It was actually updated yesterday, too. It's ironic this thread is active but something caused "CES" to update that URL but ignored this thread.
  2. Post a sticky in the Voice category here and point to voice FAQs and the link for Sonic Mobile Communicator
Admins have updated the forums landing page's login area. A good start. Thanks for that!

It's not hard. But little things add up to a lot and if some admin is thinking "doing these things are beneath me," it creates a snowballing effect. I get it that if you voice the concern many times management will say "great idea, you do it moving forward and keep us informed." Thus, many purse their lips and keep quiet. But think about your customers' experience who are paying your salaries. What will they think? Here is some good advice on /r/sysadmin: https://www.reddit.com/r/sysadmin/comme ... ople_make/
by ndwrmsv2 » Wed Aug 26, 2020 4:48 pm
Andrew, thanks for your response to (what turned out to be) my rather long post last night. I didn't start out to write a novel, it just turned out that way.

A few comments: (1) Thanks for requesting to have my connection limit raised back. That will make life easier.

(2) Just so it's clear, Isabel may have been unaware of this change on Saturday, but she did call in to someone to get it clarified. It may have come as news to her, but the Tier One guy I spoke to Thursday (can't recall his name) never mentioned it as a possibility either. If he had been aware, I think he would have mentioned it. In fact, if you could take a show of hands - which would of course require the crew to be back in the office - I doubt you'd find many of your Tier One folks who had pre-knowledge of this change or the problems it would trigger.

(3) When I look at the MOTD you linked to, I remember reading it when it originally showed up in my inbox. And even then, it seemed pretty vague. There's absolutely nothing to imply user-impacting config changes were coming. So to echo "klui", one-or-more "someones" fell down on communicating to the world outside their cubicles, and that's an area for improvement.

(4) Again, echoing klui in his original post, the ATA should always be prioritized ahead of any other device connecting via the Mobile Communicator app. Maybe the solution is to reserve connection #0 for the ATA, and then have connections #1 and #2, and an optional #3, via the app. If the ATA is offline, the ceiling on the other devices won't increase. There should never be a situation where someone's ATA is locked out because the cap is maxed out due to other registrations.

(5) Someone needs to be ordained as the customer-facing point-of-contact who designs a standardized template for MOTD announcements, updates and completions. NOC, SOC, Engineering, management, janitorial, whoever, needs to go through that person before a service-related communication is sent to customers and employees, to insure it meets standards of accuracy, readability and basic grammar/spelling. (I wanted to scream when I saw the THIRD appearance of the phrase "On the Mourning of ..." in a recent MOTD. Nobody is perfect, but one time is a typo, three is just plain sloppy.)

I know everyone is working under multiple challenges, but internet connectivity has become an essential service in recent years, and even if it isn't, telephony sure as hell is. Whoever dropped the ball, whoever is responsible for one issue or another, the organization has to have it hammered into the collective heads that some aspects of your operation have to be taken with life-or-death seriousness, because (as I wrote previously) they literally have the potential to be life-or-death. You only have to look out the window and see (or smell) the smoke to know I'm not exaggerating.

Thanks, Andrew.

...Neil
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