Vodafone’s 3G service proves less than acceptable

Vodafone 3G customers may have a nasty shock in store - traffic charges for GPRS

Vodafone 3G customers who find themselves transmitting data on the slower GPRS network could be in for a nasty shock when they receive their bill. A billing problem has seen one company charged extra for GPRS traffic regardless of how much 3G traffic it had remaining.

One Wellington company is so unhappy with Vodafone’s 3G Mobile Connect data services it’s moving to Telecom’s T3G network instead.

Food and Commodity Brokers planned to use data services over Vodafone’s network to operate a mobile office, connecting a Wellington-based server to travelling salesmen. It was recommended the company move from GPRS to 3G because Vodafone was offering a free upgrade to existing GPRS customers provided they were on a 24-month 50Mb data plan.

The 3G cards were installed and tested but when the laptops were moved to the Wellington office, the signal quality was poor. The card would connect in 3G mode, then default back to GPRS or alternate between the two, meaning the applications using the 3G link would fail or report errors.

Observatory Crest, which installed the software, contacted Vodafone and asked for an external antenna. It was told to go to a Vodafone WOW store in Wellington.

Staff at the WOW store told Paul Grover of Observatory Crest he was running an old version of the software (though the website said New Zealand should be using version 4.02) and he was given version 5.02. However, when the staff at WOW tested the external antenna, they did not see any improvement in signal quality. They advised that to stop the 3G card from alternating between the 3G signal and GPRS, the card should be set to 3G only.

“In areas where 3G reception was good, the cards performed well, but in areas of marginal 3G performance, the cards performed badly,” Grover says.

“However, if the GPRS profile is selected or used, the user is charged casual data rates for GPRS connection. The data plan selected for 3G is irrelevant and the user receives additional charges on the monthly bill. Costs for using 3G can become unmanageable if they occurred outside a 3G region.”

Grover says he contacted the Vodafone helpdesk again and was told the WOW store had given him the wrong version of 5.02 and that he needed to download the New Zealand version. “However, the software was identical. The WOW store then suggested we try version 6.0, which had not been officially approved for use on the New Zealand network. At that point, we gave up and are now migrating the customer to Telecom’s 3G network,” he says.

“Despite Vodafone spending a year installing and testing their 3G network, it simply isn’t up to an acceptable standard, especially for those people who simply need it to work without having to debug it or think about how to operate within in.”

Vodafone says it is very disappointed that Food and Commodity Brokers did not receive the level of service Vodafone aspired to provide.

It acknowledges that in a fringe 3G area it can take some seconds to hand over between networks but says this isn’t completely controlled by the card because the network will assist in providing the best service possible, based on load and coverage among other things.

It says customers on a data plan should be charged the same amount to access information regardless of whether they are using 3G or GPRS services. Grover says Vodafone had admitted there was a billing problem and had given Food and Commodity Brokers significant credits to offset the charges.

With regard to its helpdesk, Vodafone says 90% of calls about technical issues are answered by technical staff but it doesn’t have an unlimited number of such staff.

It is reviewing resourcing of these more complex solutions, a spokesman says.

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