The Data Disgrace: Two readers sound off on their frustrations

Here’s an opinion piece on the frustration of data plans. Readers Patrick and Neil were discussing the issue on Twitter last week and asked if they could put their thoughts down in a post here on MIR. I readily agreed. If you’ve got an opinion you’d like aired, drop me a note —

Right then, over to Patrick first…

– – – – –

Hello, Patrick here!

Recently I saw a tweet by Neil Robertson from Speed Communications about the frustration he was having with his operator about the data allowance for his new contract. Like many people in this sector Neil wants to use more data than his package allows.

Neil and I chatted about it on Twitter, sharing frustrations and in the end decided to pen a few words for Ewan.

My situation is that I run two phones – a data phone and a voice phone. I’ve done this for years and I do it for two main reasons: battery life, my voice phone always has enough charge for me to receive a call and I don’t need to plug it in twice a day; to stop a divorce, I need to be contactable at [nearly] all times, but I don’t need to send that tweet or play that game of Angry Birds while I’m meant to be spending quality time with my wife, so I only take the voice phone out to remove temptation.

But whatever the reasons – that’s what I do and I’d like to be better serviced by the operators. I want better service in two specific areas.

1 – choice of “dumb” phone. There is a very limited choice for a good looking, but simple phone nowadays. Your choices seem to be: a phone that makes me feel like my own grandfather; a phone that desperately wants to be a smartphone, but in a candy bar body; or an actual smartphone. Why can’t they create some decent voice only handsets?

2 – data allowance. For my data phone, all I want is data, I don’t want minutes, in fact I’d happily accept a deal with no minutes, but the operators are still stuck in the past selling a broken model.

Neil sums it up better than me. Let’s hear from him:

– – – – –

“It’s the same dance every 12,18 or 24 months and to be honest the music is getting a bit tiring now.

I am of course talking about the process of upgrading your mobile phone. I’m sure that everyone knows the dance I’m talking about but it seems that despite handsets and consumer demands changing immensely, the operators remain as rigid as ever when it comes to what they can provide tariff-wise.

Let me give you some recent phone history. In October 2010 I joined Vodafone and upgraded to an iPhone4. Before that I was on O2 using a Google Nexus One (free from Mobile World Congress 2010) having previously upgraded (long-term O2 customer) to an iPhone 3G.

During that time (since the iPhone 3G launched), I’ve pretty much paid the same amount per month for roughly the same service and tariff, although maybe it was around 500mb of data back in the days of the 3G and 200mb before that with my Sony Ericsson.

It’s no secret that since the iPhone exploded on to the high-street, the operator’s world was turned upside-down and data became a huge demand from Joe Public.

Every time I’ve upgraded throughout the last decade, data has been a greater part of my daily life.

Today, Speed Communications provides me with an iPhone4 (which is due for an upgrade come November), but my personal phone, which is also an iPhone4 is coming to the end of a 24 month (ridiculous length of time in mobile) contract with Vodafone and so the music starts and I try to renegotiate what I want from my provider and what I’m willing to pay. At the moment I get about a billion minutes, unlimited* text messages and 1GB of data with ‘free’ access to Wi-Fi hotspots, for around £35 a month. What’s slightly frustrating is that both Vodafone and I know that I don’t get anywhere near my minutes during the month and I pretty much burn through my data but there’s no negotiation for change on this. If I want to cut my minutes down, my data has to be chopped down too.

Vodafone aren’t alone, everywhere I look it seems to be the same story. In this day and age where we can send a robot to Mars and have it transmit live images back to Earth, I’m astounded that an operator can’t let me choose the things I want to have on my tariff and then charge me for it. Use sliders on the site, make it easy for people to choose what they want, charge them for using that amount of bandwidth. Maybe even give people the opportunity to change how their tariff is made up every six months or something.

It seems that if you want one of the latest phones, a reasonable amount of data and cant’ afford to pay for it outright, you’re doomed to enter in to a two year contract that doesn’t quite suit your needs.”

– – – – –

And coincidently as Neil was writing this, he got a call from Vodafone:

“… a Vodafone representative called me this afternoon about potentially upgrading and when we got talking about my needs and what I could get, I asked her about why I can’t sell back my unused minutes or even exchange say a hour of talk time for 10mb for example and why, if I want a tariff with high data do I have to have an unnecessary number of minutes? There wasn’t really an answer, just the inevitable “that’s the way it is and I’m afraid I can’t change it”.”

Now I’m pretty sure that operators *can* do what Neil and I (and many, many others) are asking – in fact I’m sure a client of mine FTS could help them to do it. So it would appear that they’re choosing not to do it. What a massive missed opportunity.

– – – – –

Thank you Patrick, thank you Neil.

Sometimes I really don’t know what our operators are thinking.

I think the sad reality is that they are (perhaps rightly) too afraid to make any sweeping changes in case it seriously damages their already challenged revenue growth.

At some point, someone will fix this whole issue. And when they do, it’ll be entirely unpleasant and utterly unavoidable for the rest of the industry.

Anyway thank you Patrick and Neil. Patrick Smith runs Joshua PR, Neil works for Speed Communications.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

5 replies on “The Data Disgrace: Two readers sound off on their frustrations”

The tariffs supplied by the mobile operators are probably ‘fine’ for 90+% of the population. That sucks. But let’s remember we’re not dealing with regular companies these are mobile operators here so give them credit where credit is due. Well done for 90+% mobile operators, have a biscuit and concentrate on keeping your network up.

What you want is achievable but you need to get away from the my-operator-gives-me-a-bundle-of-everything-I-need mentality – you’ve already determined that their packages don’t fit you. First step give up with their idea of you buying your devices from them (go to a bank if you need a loan to pay for your device up front) and get going with their SIM only tariffs. There’s plenty of options out there for data sims with various bandwidth limits – and some of the lower end offerings (eg GiffGaff) will almost certainly be perfect for you. Since you’re not taking a big loan from them then you’re not having to make year+ long commitments and can have the flexibility of changing your package as your usage increases over time.

It’s worth noting that 3 do allow unlimited (not tethering) data to be added to any contract for £3/month. So that could be a bare bones/low minutes contract – of course such contracts offer less handset subsidy but may work for some.

I happen to have an old 3 “3togo” contract at £0/month for 0 minutes/0 texts, but I added unlimited data for £3/month. Sadly I use it infrequently as 3 coverage is non-existant at a) home b) work c) where I go walking. Hence I’m with vodafone and have had the exact same discussion about “exchanging” minutes for data as above….

Definitely agree and there’s no doubt that 90% of the country are happy with their tariff, it’s just unfortunate that we do happen to fall in to the minority. I’ve been considering taking the ‘buy the phone outright’ approach for a while now and to be honest i think it’s going to be the best route for me, especially looking at the likes of SIMplicity from O2 and the Sim only deals you can get. Thanks for the comments.

There is plenty of scope for a disruptive operator offering. 3 have done pretty well IMHO with their “the network for data” shtick, but aside from that, is there anything distinctive about any of the carriers?

How about offering unlimited data and texts on a monthly plan, but with PAYG minutes?

Or offer something genuinely useful rather than tinkering with the price plans. My operator has control of my PHONE NUMBER. That’s so important to me. Make it more useful with your network than any other, so I don’t want to port. Add Hullomail intelligence to your voicemail. Give me web-based access to my SMS, and allow me to control it like I do email – auto-replies, Gmail-style easy search and archiving.

While you’re at it, make it easier for me to interact – let me send a blank SMS to your customer services, and get a call back, rather than wading through your God-awful IVR.

None of this is very hard, so I can only assume the operators prefer to lazily trade punters on the way to becoming bit-pipes.


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