This is one of those posts that’s about to get really, really popular across the mobile operator community. I know this, because previous ones on similar subjects have phenomenally high readership rates from the various operator areas such as Newbury, Maidenhead, Slough and so on. And executives call me about them too.
It is with this in mind that I have spunked £120 for your reading pleasure. It wasn’t deliberate, but since I’ve spunked it, I might as well write about it, yes? And therefore extract some value from the bollocks experience.
It’s also a really, really useful example of how operators are handling the data crunch. Sometimes folk don’t believe me when I’m jumping about on stage at events or briefing investment bankers about how dumb the infrastructure (and, often, the thinking and execution) is at operator level.
Right, let’s get to it.
I’ve moved house. There’s no internet connection — obviously — we’re waiting for BT to dance about doing the jiggerypokery that they do in order to make the broadband work.
In the meantime, I had a brilliant idea: Use the MiFi.
For me, that means using my 3 MiFi unit. It’s the one I rave about all the time. Regular readers know this — I do rave about it. (“Three MiFi success yet again: I love it“)
I’ve been using it perfectly fine for, I reckon, a year. Witness, for example, the post I did a few months back explaining why Premier Inn (and Spectrum Interactive) didn’t get any business from me thanks to my 3 MiFi service.
I’ve pummelled the unit. I’m sure I’ve used hundreds of megabytes in a single day. I’m sure I’ve used upwards of a gigabyte in a single day.
I’ve not once had a problem with the SIM.
I bought the MiFi unit last year in Richmond. I think I paid £59 for it, including a tenner’s worth of data (1GB). I went through that across the first month so I bought a few more gigs… and then I decided to take the SIM from my Nokia N86 and use that in the MiFi instead. This is because I’ve unlocked the N86 — and often, I use it without the SIM. I reasoned that I might as well stick it in the MiFi and get some use out of it.
I’m sure I read somewhere that you’re not quite meant to do this. I think it was Ben Smith who pointed out that there’s a rather huge inconsistency with the Three policy. (See point 1 in his overview).
Either way, I stuck the SIM in the MiFi and it’s been working perfectly for about a year.
Over the weekend I looked like a Demi God by supplying internet to my new household via the 3 MiFi. I just stuck it into a plug in the kitchen and it provided connectivity to iPads, MacBooks and even my other Three iPhone. (This is currently supplying the internet because of my borked MiFi SIM.)
My wife was delighted.
Wee Archie — all of 15 months — was supremely impressed at the ability for the Family iPad (WiFi-only) to magically update with new apps to keep him amused now-and-again. He’s teething so anything that keeps his mind off that and enables us to get food into him is a good idea.
I was pretty impressed myself.
The speeds have been near Desktop level. It’s been interesting watching my wife simply pick up her iPad and start using the internet across the weekend, without giving a thought to the actual bearer. It worked well enough that she didn’t notice the difference. This is a testament to Three’s super data network. I find it phenomenally good.
I think we’d used a few hundred meg but the time my wife decided to download an episode of One Tree Hill. Or something like that. She did ask if it would be OK. I said, ‘sure’ — knowing it would be slow, but knowing that a) Three could handle that and b) it would only be 500 odd meg.
Alas my wife fell for the iTunes trick: The first results they present to you are always the £2.49 HD episodes, aren’t they? 1.4 gigabytes.
I only found this out when my wife checked the download to see it was almost finished.
“Geez, that’s quite a lot,” I thought.
It downloaded fine.
I was very impressed.
I made yet another, “Three is flipping brilliant!” note to myself mentally and went about opening boxes and unpacking stuff.
I didn’t give a thought to the cost.
This is Three. Them of the truly unlimited data offering! Truly! They mean it!
Just, not for me.
Not on the price plan the N86 is on.
That was my critical mistake.
I only found out the problem when, today, my wife complained that she couldn’t use the internet.
“It’s saying something about running out of credit,” she said, over the phone.
“You what?” I said, knowing the SIM is running on a monthly contract. For hours I was convinced she’d some how put one of our PAYG SIMS into the MiFi by mistake some how.
I discovered the reality this evening.
Here’s the chronology that I’ve reconstructed from the sodding text messages that arrived into the MiFi warning me that I was exceeding my usage.
We start off with a warning message on Saturday evening:
From 3: You’ve nearly used your internet allowance. Check your remaining allowance for free at My3
This is very sensible. Provided I’m reading the text messages. But I’m not.
Now let’s get to the money texts. Here’s the warning that I’m about to get billed:
From 3: You’ve reached your internet allowance. You may be charged for further internet use. Check your usage free at My3
Right that’s not at all helpful. I mean, it’s useful to know. But what’s the sodding point in texting it to me? Why not DISPLAY something? Why not make me CLICK a button to continue during my web activity?
You have spent £ 2.61 on internet since 02/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mobil
You have spent £ 8.43 on internet since 02/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mobil
This does show the speed of Three’s network, both in terms of data, and in terms of billing updates. Anyway, one second later I got this…
You have spent £ 17.74 on internet since 02/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mobi
The billing system has noticed something might not quite be right, but things carry on. 43 seconds later, they sent this:
From 3:You have nearly reached your credit limit. If you would like more information or want to make a payment please call 333 or
A few minutes now pass as the system lets me carry on regardless..
You have spent £ 23.56 on internet since 02/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mobi
Now for a big jump:
You have spent £ 41.01 on internet since 02/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mobi
The outstanding balance has doubled in a few minutes. This is clearly a nice chunk of One Tree Hill downloading. Things are moving so fast that even the SMS delivery servers can’t react fast enough. One second later, this message arrived — rather late:
You have spent £ 20.07 on internet since 02/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mobi
And then it’s all good for another few minutes as the billing engine carries on counting the pounds from me before declaring:
You have spent £ 113.36 on internet since 02/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mob
And the final text? For some inexplicable reason, that arrived almost twenty minutes later:
You have spent £ 118.02 on internet since 02/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mob
And that’s it.
For some reason, the system decided not to bother texting me after that — despite the fact that I happily used data from it across the evening, although perhaps not much, given the fact that the final additional data bill is almost £120:
I really didn’t expect a bill from Three.
I thought they’d actually given up on this ‘fair usage policy’ stuff and actually just given everyone unlimited data. I just assumed (“makes an ass out of you and me”) that this SIM contract would carry over.
My real problem is the gratuitous way in which the company’s systems just billed me. I take full responsibility. I will most definitely pay the bill. I’m just seriously disappointed that the only mechanism they thought to employ to warn me was text messaging.
It’s just not very smart, is it?
The average customer would go absolutely spare at such an occurrence.
The experience really does bring home to me how shit the operators — well, Three in this instance — are at dealing with this kind of usage.
Don’t just send me a text.
How stupid is that? Oh, by all means warn me, but what about the smart thinking? What about the up selling opportunities?
KNOWING that I’m on a price plan that has a defined limit, why didn’t you switch off my internet connection and redirect all browser requests and ask me to specifically approve the STUPID amount of money I spent?
Why didn’t you use a bit of intelligence in the system? “Ewan, it looks like you’re using a lot — and, you know what, you don’t have much headroom in your allowance, so why don’t you buy a bolt-on for this week?”
Here’s the screenshot of the page my wife was talking about:
I don’t know why this wasn’t shown to me (or us) some way through 1pm on Sunday when we were already running up a bill.
I could have bought almost 5x £25 7GB options for the amount they’ve charged me.
I find this level of incompetence extremely irritated.
Yes I should have swapped to an unlimited price plan. I should. That’s my fault. Yes I should have monitored my data usage closely, again, my fault.
Whoever designed and manages the Three data billing policies failed me, utterly. You’re meant to manage the customer, right? Come on, this is donkey stuff. All customers are inherently stupid. And we want to avoid them phoning us up SCREAMING for the CEO’s email address to make a complaint, yes? So make the billing system and ESPECIALLY the bit that the customer interacts with waterproof. Stupidproof.
By not dealing with this issue — by allowing it to happen for whatever reason — Three succeeded in winding up an otherwise very happy customer.
I understand that the cause of the problem was me. I expected more from you, Three. I expected some smarts in the billing team to have identified this possibility and protect me from the shit and, most importantly, as a customer, isolate me from having to deal with exceptions like this.
How simple would it have been on Sunday afternoon?
“What’s this?” my wife would say, handing the iPad to me.
“Ah, yeah it’s ok — just tap on the 7GB option as we’ll be using a lot over the next week or so,” I’d have replied.