For a while now (in fact as long as I can remember) people have been complaining about Australian telecommunication companies, in particular Telstra. Well today I decided to do the rounds of Optus and Telstra to see just how bad they really are. A couple of weeks ago I got a 3 mobile broadband data card for my laptop so I got to experience that process too. Here's a bit of a wrap up about my experience in each case:
The 3 Network
Out of the three networks I sampled 3 was by far the cheapest in terms of mobile data packages - $29 for 1Gb and combined with their capped plans is probably the best for the average business user. Unfortunately they don't support devices that aren't HSDPA compatible, so my HTC Touch won't even connect to the phone part of the network. Their plans are also excessively long, requiring you to commit to 24 months (this might be true of the other networks but I didn't get to the point of asking!).
In terms of customer services, once someone realized that you were waiting, and not just specing out phones, they were quite attentive. That is until you agree to purchase something at which time their brains seem to drift off and the process which should have taken 5 minutes took almost 20 minutes. Most of the staff, while friendly, are completely useless as they have shallow, if any, knowledge of either the phones or the network itself.
This network was by far the worst for customer service. I guess it didn't help that I went in at lunchtime and there were a number of people waiting to be served. Being slightly impatient I decided to grab one of their information brochures and flip through it. Coming across their data plans I noted that at $29 for something minimal like 100Mb they were almost 10 x more expensive than 3.
When I finally did get served, by a staff member who was hiding in the back room despite numerous people waiting, I asked why this might be they said "because that's the price it is...." - not very helpful. I asked whether that was it, or whether he was able to provide any further assistance before turning on my heels and leaving.
As I walked into the Telstra shop I was immediately greeted by on of the sales assistance who wasn't at all pushy but was able to provide useful/knowledgeable information on their network and their pricing. Whilst Telstra also charge an arm and a leg ($29 for 70Mb) they were at least able to give a reason - This price applies to both their HSDPA service (NextG) but also their GPRS data (3 charge like a wounded bull when you drop back to GPRS mainly because it isn't their network). Telstra also has much better coverage than any of the other carriers which helps to justify the high price.
The big word of caution about the Telstra network is that you have to use a Telstra approved device. Even if the device is marked as supporting HSDPA it might not work on the Telstra network - big gotcha for rookie players. They also don't support people with 2G only phones that want to move across without going up to NextG plans.
In summary, Australia is in a sorry state of affairs - how can data be so expensive for mobile users and the carriers be so incompetent?