Friday, 30 August 2013

On mobile comms service, contracts, and landlines...

Over the last few years, the mobile internet, that is, 2G, 2.5G, 3G, and now, 4G, coupled with the changes in capabilities of mobile phones - almost invariably people are using a a smartphone these days - have tended to outstrip the service providers ability to provide a decent service in both the areas that they operate: Telephone comms and data comms. Before the mobile internet, it was a fairly easy thing to decide which provider you'd want to use, based on coverage: You had Cellnet (now o2), Vodafone (yep, still they're still here), and then one2one (then it was sold to become T-Mobile, and is now part of EverythingEverywhere), and then along came Orange (now part of EverythingEverywhere, or EE).

Those were the days, close to two decades ago, when life was a lot simpler and easier to understand. Of course, life has sped up by many orders of magnitude since then, as has the capabilities of information technology.

Now, there's a veritable smorgasbord of providers, many reselling the major players' services, with a re-branding and a few tweaks of what you get if you sign up to their services. Now, for a while, I've been considering which provider I wish to migrate to for a few reasons (noted below), and all of a horrifying sudden, it became massively personal to me when Dad died earlier this year, as I couldn't get a signal on Vodafone from outside the hospital.

This was the last straw for Vodafone and me, as far as I was concerned. One of the main reasons for possessing a mobile phone, is to have mobile telephony when you need it. In this, they failed massively. There was no point, at all, in complaining to them about this: It was far, far, far too late for that. Dad was gone. I'd had to use a hospital landline to call my immediate relatives. Vodafone's own coverage maps, however, showed that they had coverage at the hospital. You might infer from this that I'm still, some six months later, still very bitter about it. You'd be damned bloody right on the money.

This isn't the only time that a providers coverage maps have been - to be charitable here - misleading or erroneous; I've suffered this problem with most of the major providers over the last couple of decades (not Cellnet/O2... well, not yet, anyhow). And now, I'm also using the mobile internet. And I'm using that a hell of a lot more than I'd ever expected to, to the point where it's eventually going to be consuming vast amounts of data.

Add to this, and coupled with and related to the above, my reception at home with Vodafone is - at best - 2 bars, and is normally none, means that Vodafone is getting the push come October.

So, who to replace them with?

I had hitherto been considering the 3 network; they offer "All You Can Eat" ("AYCE") data plans, which includes 'tethering' (where you can hook up your mobile phone to your computer, thus removing the need for a landline broadband connection). However, having spoken to relatives and friends who use or have used their services, I have found that their telephony suffers as a result. I've researched this online, and it appears to be something to do with the way they manage their data-prioritised network: This network was built from the ground up to primarily support data communications, with voice communications being something they then tacked on, to make sure it was recognised as a telecomms (combined voice and data), rather than datacomms, network.

I was also told that the 3 customer services - again to be charitable here - sucked massively. I can't say the same, personally, although I've only ever had one - and only one - problem with 3, which was with my 3G computer dongle, which petulantly would not recharge it's Pay As You Go data over the air. On visiting a 3 shop that afternoon (not half an hour before they were due to close on a Saturday, even), I was informed by a reasonably pleasant  twenty-something lad, that this was a corrupted SIM card problem (he'd seen this before, apparently); given that it was out of warranty, and the cost of replacing the SIM card was exactly the same as recharging one with a gig of data, I replaced it - and have had no further problems with 3 services since then. Very much a "Job done", with no problems or hassle; my experience of Customer Services may have been unique, or not; I only know that my experience was neither positive or negative, and that I'm still a fairly happy 3 Customer for their PAYG data, which for a three-year customer is fairly good going.

I was recommended by the same relatives to try Virgin, but unfortunately, they no longer offer tethering, which I now consider to be a deal breaker, so it was back to 3 again; then, a brainwave. Get a contract with three for the AYCE data. And get a bog standard mobile phone, a cheap one, for telephony, on a different network/provider. This would be a pay as you go phone, for those times when I want to make a telephone call, and 3 isn't able to put the call through, for whatever reason.

Now, you could say that I could do that anyhow, and stay with Vodafone. Yeah, I could, but I'd be stuck with no decent mobile broadband plan, and crap coverage at home. So it's going to be 3 for the data, and someone else for the telephone; I'll also then be able to bin my landline at home, and kill close to 40 quid of combined telephony and (unlimited) broadband bills a month, there and then, as well as becoming truly comms-portable (in other words, not having to reply on a fixed landline to remain in touch). I don't have cable telly at home, instead, when I do watch the telly, I use Freeview (slightly less channels than cable, and still nothing on them!), so no worries or cost there.

Really and truly, at the end of the day, it's all about the money, I guess.

But, every so often, you can also get some small satisfaction at removing your custom from a provider who really doesn't measure up, and who hasn't got the gumption - or common decency - to admit that fact.

So, come October, it's going to be "Goodbye, Vodafone. Hello, 3"!

Frankly, it couldn't come fast enough.