Trouble with (mobile) telcos

I wanted to start this post by asking “How can you tell if a mobile phone salesman is lying? Because his lips move!” but I’m slightly concerned that might be slanderous, or libellous, or something – so let me just say that I’m talking about a hypothetical salesman and it was intended as a joke, so don’t sue me. OK?

As for what caused me to say that – well, given the trouble I’m having with not one but three of the UK’s five mobile network operators, I think I’m entitled to a slightly jaundiced view of the “services” that they provide.

O2

When I bought my iPad last year, I signed up for a monthly rolling data contract with O2. One of the reasons for selecting O2 was that the tariff included access to BT Openzone Wi-Fi hotspots. Except it’s not that simple as the BT Openzone SSID is used for three products: BT Openzone; BT Business Hubs and BT Fon. At first, I couldn’t get my iPad to work on any BT Openzone hotspot but, even since that was fixed by a support call to O2, I’ve found that many “BT Openzone” hotspots still require payment. Without the benefit of bundled Wi-Fi, I considered switching networks but had built up around 5GB in unused data that was rolling forward each month.

Until today.

I received an email from O2 advising me that payment for my 30-day rolling contract had been declined. Realising that I had been issued a new debit card recently, I updated the payment details but I still couldn’t make a payment. I phoned my bank and they assured me there was no problem their end, so I called O2. As friendly as the call centre staff were, they were unable to help me because, by then, my account was frozen for 24 hours. In a few hours time it would be cancelled, before the 24 hour window expires and with it goes my 5GB of unused data.

So long O2 – if this is how you repay me, I’m off to another network.

Three

I don’t know what Orange/T-Mobile’s data coverage is like but voice coverage where I live is terrible. Meanwhile, my Twitter followers have been extolling the virtues of Three to me, so I thought I’d save myself £2.50 a month and give them a try. On the way home, I dropped into a Three store and bought a 3G micro-SIM for my iPad. The guy who served me in the London Baker Street store could barely string two words together as he grunted at me (presumably he doesn’t make any commission on SIM-only sales) but he was clear about two things:

  • The SIM was already activated – and would work within a few minutes.
  • I only needed to call if I wanted to set up a rolling contract – otherwise I could just start using it.

Wrong. And wrong again.

When it became apparent that the SIM was not active, I called Three, who took me through the credit check process and set up a monthly payment. At the end of the call I was told that it would take between 3 and 24 hours to activate my SIM.  Not quite the instant access I was promised when I bought it. No mobile communications for me on the way home tonight…

Vodafone

As an aside, my employer is currently moving their corporate mobile service from Vodafone to O2. We have a block of numbers allocated exclusively for our use and, for the last few years network coverage has been good, right until we started the migration. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for me to have no signal in the office, where previously there was a good reception. At home my wife often has a full signal, while I have none. And calls frequently go straight to voicemail without the phone ringing. Could it be that Vodafone has prioritised traffic on it’s network so that +44786782/3xxxx numbers are no longer treated as a “valued business customer” and are instead bumped off the network when required? I can’t prove it, and I’m sure Vodafone will deny it, but I’m not the only one experiencing these sort of issues.

As bad as each other?

Time will tell how my new mobile data contract with Three works out, and my O2 signal at home is okay so hopefully it will be fine when my company phone is migrated too. In the meantime, I have to say that I’m underwhelmed with all the UK’s mobile telcos: there’s plenty of room for improvement and whoever can deliver excellent network coverage for a competitive price, backed up with excellent customer service, has the potential to clean up. I suspect that might be a while coming…

[Update 4 May 2011: O2 responded to my whinges on Twitter – but were too late to stop me from leaving as I’d already bought the SIM from Three by then. They have also promised a credit to my mobile phone account to compensate me for the lost data but could not match the deal I’m getting from Three for mobile broadband. It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t help when I first called but they have at least taken steps to retain me as a customer]

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