Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Curse of the Misleading Telco

Telcos (29th/52)My iPhone 3GS is celebrating its two year birthday this week. I have been known to criticize Apple’s closed architecture very often, but if I look on the bright side then I have to admit my iPhone is, by far, the best gadget I ever had. By now it’s old in the tooth and the battery is showing its age, but the good old 3GS still does everything I want my smartphone to do. Given that my Kindle is in charge of major entertainment on the road (now supplemented by a MacBook Air for when I’m truly on the road), my smartphone is there mostly to provide quick Internet access: you know, email, Twitter and stuff. The 3GS is perfectly fine in that domain, and the recent iOS5 upgrade made it even better.

To celebrate the conclusion of my two year contract with Virgin Mobile I changed my carrier to Amaysim where I expect my mobile phone bills to shrink from $35 to less than $15 a month. Both Virgin and Amaysim use Optus as their bandwidth provider, which means the quality of service is vastly inferior to Telstra’s. For example, watching a one minute YouTube video can take more than ten at the rate Optus will deliver, whereas Telstra will happily let you watch the video "live". However, given my use of mobile Internet is pretty much a leisure only affair I cannot justify the cost of a Telstra SIM; Optus it is.
Let me say that the transition from Virgin to Amaysim was rather “interesting”. I bought my Amaysim SIM card at a 7-11 shop for $2, then registered it on Amaysim’s website on Sunday morning. I knew fully well that phone numbers are only transferred during the working week, but I also knew there is no reason for the transition itself to take more than ten minutes. Instead, nothing happened on the Monday; on Tuesday, at about midday, I noticed that 3G was gone. A minute or two later all I had was “SOS only” reception. Then I switched SIM cards to discover I have no service at all; my phone was down for five hours before service resumed under the Amaysim regime. All and all, it took two days of waiting and five hours of denied service to switch from Optus to Optus!

The reason why I’m expecting to pay less than $15 a month with Amaysim is to do with my profile of mobile services use. I hardly make any calls, and the data side of things should be handled by Amaysim’s $10 for 1GB a month package. Or is it?
At this point I will break to mention that another mobile phone services provider, TPG, has been recently told off by the courts for its misleading advertising (see here). TPG’s crime was it hiding the nasty details of their Internet surfing packages in small letters. I will argue that Amaysim is just as misleading with its descriptions of its data packages; it actually does worse than TPG, because it abuses the fact most people are quite ignorant of how the nitty gritty of Internet surfing on their smartphone works.
My complaint is this: Amaysim advertises a relatively generous 1GB pack for $10, but obscures the fact it counts your Internet surfing in 1MB chunks. This hidden fact implies that what you’re actually getting is much less than 1GB of data: what you will be getting is more like 1,000 opportunities to access the web during a month. The two are not the same!
Allow me to explain. Every time you check your emails, whether you get new emails or not, Amaysim ticks 1MB down your bill. It gets "better" if your phone is set to check your emails every hour or so, because there goes three quarter of your supposedly generous download allowance! You can understand why my phone has been set to only check for updates when manually asked to. But it gets worse: a short YouTube video I’ve downloaded appears to have “cost” me much more than it should by virtue of the fact its download was repeatedly broken up by Optus’ lacklustre bandwidth and my phone having to repeatedly ask for more of the video in separate goes. That is, it seems to me as if I was charged for more bandwidth than I actually wanted to consume through the fault of the carrier itself!
On the positive side, prolonged and stable Internet usage works well. One of my vices is listening to Israeli radio (Galgalatz) during the day: Israeli night time transmissions offer uninterrupted mixes of nice music. However, that 1MB truncation is a killer, and overall I am getting the same or even less out of my 1MB Amaysim data allowance than I did with the 300MB a month that Virgin used to give me. I’m still better off financially, but the point is simple: Amaysim’s advertised 1GB does not count as 1GB in my book, nor should it count by anyone’s account. At best, I would call it misleading advertising.
It’s a bit of a shame, because otherwise Amaysim seems incredibly transparent about its ways: its billing is incredibly clear, roaming settings are easily managed through the web, and premium SMS services are under customers’ full control. It’s a pity, then, that they feel the need to mislead customers in the data department.

16/11/2012 update:
It seems as if Amaysim is not responsible for some of the things I have accused it of in the above test. Please refer to this post for further details.


Image by skippyjon, Creative Commons license

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