My phone company is going to hell in a merged hand-basket!

Vodafone is destroying my phone company

Not happy, Jan. Not happy at all.

For the last four years I have been a customer of 3-Mobile Australia. Prior to that I had both analogue and digital mobile phones with Telecom / Telstra for 13 years. Telstra became a nightmare – no matter what plan I was on or what “special offers” they gave me, my monthly mobile phone bill was too expensive. And it fluctuated wildly from month to month despite my attempts to keep it at a manageable and regular amount.

There was no such thing as a monthly ”cap” with Telstra. It was just expensive and it was combined with indifferent customer service. I was going through a very, very hard time financially and I needed to make a lot of drastic changes to my normal way of doing / buying things. That’s where 3 Mobile comes in.
Suddenly there’s a new player in town offering $29 a month “capped” plans and the ability to see how much of the cap you’ve used right there on your phone. I could sign up for 2 years, get a not-so-nice 3-G mobile for $29 a month or I could do that and pay an extra $8 a month to get a mobile I was comfortable with. The LG U300. So that’s what I did.

I popped into their Marrickville store, signed up and my number was transferred over to 3 a few hours later. It was effortless, painless. The first month I got bill-shock because I didn’t understand the concept of a “pro-rata month”. My bill came in at almost $100 at the worst possible time. But that was the last time I suffered bill-shock and that’s four years ago.

3-Mobile aren’t perfect. But they’re okay for what you pay. I was disappointed when my gorgeous LG U300 became loose and split in half one day and they made me pay for yet another mobile on a monthly payment system. I was still paying monthly for the LG U300 and then there was yet another $10 a month for the U310 (just about the cheapest they had on offer at the time). There were very limited (and very expensive) pre-pay phones available on 3 at that time so I just had to suck it up.

Also, their customer service is based in a country somewhere just outside the third world and they don’t speak English so well over there. So it can be very frustrating when you have a genuine problem and you want to deal with them.

My final beef was that when my most recent contract was nearly up and I wanted to get the Nokia e63, they did f-all to assist. I had to fully pay out my previous contract and then sign up for a new 2 year contract and an extra “pack” for $8 to read email and for basic use of the internet. I felt my loyalty might have counted for something but, like Telstra, it counted for f-all.

So that’s the bad stuff….but there is much good stuff. Starting off with this: I know what my bill is going to be every month. I’ve got Yoda on 3-Mobile now and so we can call each other for 200 minutes a month for free. That’s fantastic. I can use any cap amount left over near the end of the month in international calls….to call Gustav in Sweden, for example. Lovely.

When I’m in the UK or Sweden, I’m in a “3-Like Country”…even though none of my calls are included in my monthly cap, they don’t cost a fortune…you get special international rates when you’re in a “3-Like Country.” I like, I like a lot!

Generally the mobile phone call connections are good and the mobile internet is okay. It isn’t super-fast but again, I knew all that when I went into my contract with 3. That’s the trade off for the pricing I reckon.

So what’s happening now?

Well 3-Mobile and Vodafone are merging. Which, in fact, is a load of dogs balls because what it really means is that 3-Mobile is disappearing and everything is becoming Vodafone. I stayed away from Vodafone for a reason when I decided to change phone companies. Vodafone is a shit company, a shit telco and, right now, is in the middle of being investigated by the Australian Consumer & Competition Commission for their lies about their service (snail-like-speed of mobile internet, calls dropping out etc. etc.) And Vodafone is out there selling, selling, selling to customers – promising the world and delivering nothing in return. Nada. Nil. Nought.

So this is the company that is taking over my phone company. Vodafone is taking over 3-Mobile, getting rid of the 3-Mobile brand (on which untold millions were spent in establishing) and basically making all 3 customers into Vodafone customers. Let’s get this in perspective: for the last few months Vodafone customers in Sydney CBD haven’t even been able to make calls reliably. Forget about the outer suburbs or the country – this is right in the heart of the Sydney central business district. And there’s recently been a case where someone was injured and needed to call for help…but couldn’t because Vodafone’s mobile service flaked out yet again.

I won’t even go into the issues of less competition in the market and how that leads to increased prices and less value for Australians generally….that’s for someone else to dissect. I’m just saying this: For the last four years I’ve been with a mobile phone company that isn’t too bad and one that has introduced me to new services like reading email on my mobile phone, checking newspapers on-line and even Twittering on the go. On the whole, I like being with 3-Mobile but now I’m going to be stuck with godawful Vodafone Australia. All 3 customers are.

Right now I want to talk about getting an additional handset or an upgrade but I can’t…just about every phone on 3-Mobile is “out of stock” and they recommend you go to a Vodafone shop and sign up with them. Oh great, thanks….so I go and sign up to pay more and suddenly have my calls drop out all the time. Thanks, but no thanks.

I want to get a Nokia e5 and I want to stay with 3 but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t want to change phone companies again (I like to find something I’m happy with and then stick to it for a decade or two!) but I’m facing the awful prospect that I might have to reconsider going back to the evil empire…Telstra. They’ve started to catch up…slowly…with capped plans and such. Optus seems to have turned into a dip-shit kind of organisation since it was taken over by SingTel…so Telstra is looking like my only option.

The thing that gets me is this: Vodafone has always had a bad reputation in Australia whilst 3 has been seen as kind of hip. Why would you destroy the branding that millions were spent on to introduce to the country just a few years ago….and keep the branding of a company that everybody thinks is crap. And, with this ACCC enquiry, everyone KNOWS is crap.

In a couple of years time, when they’ve lost market share to Telstra, Optus or even a new-upstart company, will there finally be a management meeting where they say “THIS WAS A STUPID IDEA!!!” Already, the merger has been a disaster…everything was supposed to happen much faster…but it has been a disaster at every step. The integration of the two companies, their back-ends and their customer bases has been a nightmare….one step forward and four backward. The technical side of it has been causing them hell. Like trying to mate a cane toad with a koala. Hey guys, you don’t think all this might be a less-than-subtle message from Jesus to you saying “STOP!!!! THIS MERGER IS A STUPID IDEA…YOU’RE DESTROYING 2 MOBILE PHONE COMPANIES!”

As much as we all hate and loathe Telstra, I think they’re going to be the main beneficiary from this Vodafone takeover of 3-Mobile. It doesn’t matter what plans you offer people or how much monthly data you try and bribe them with…if they can’t make a reliable mobile telephone call to their husbands, wives, kids, friends…they’re going to be looking to get the hell out of there. Telstra offers the most reliable network in Australia at the moment….their pricing and nasty attitude to customers has seen them drop market share massively over the last few years. They’ve slowly started to pick up their game but I wonder how much longer they’ll have to….their new marketing plan might just need to be “Sign up with Telstra…your mobile phone calls actually go through with us.”

Meanwhile JudgeG is back in a mobile-Twilight Zone hell. There is a monster out there eating the wing off the plane…and it’s called Vodafone! Arghhhh!

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