Feb 1

My loathe affair with Optus

Category: review,technology

So in Australia we have two main telephony providers: Telstra (formerly a state owned monopoly, now privatised) and Optus (owned by Singtel which is itself owned by the Singaporean Government). They provide the most comprehensive coverage for mobile telephony and outside of most major centres are the only reasonably options for 3G coverage (or any coverage at all). Vodafone exists and has half decent coverage but don’t expect any more than 2G beyond the major centres – if you’re lucky enough to get coverage at all. “3” also exists as a 3G only network however it really doesn’t have much coverage beyond the capital cities.

A long time ago I was a reasonably happy Telstra customer. I think I’ve mentioned this before. But then I got sick of the lack of features that they offered me (or the features they didn’t offer me) since I was a pre-paid mobile phone customer. The feature that really hurt was the lack of international roaming. I tried hard but they wouldn’t offer it so I went off to look at my options: Optus and Vodafone. Optus had the slightly better international roaming coverage due to their Singtel links and covered more countries that I cared about than Vodafone. Vodafone’s coverage leaves a lot to be desired where I live so that helped me go to Optus.

When I left Telstra they had this interesting way of handling credit. If you bought a three month duration of credit, you got three months added. If in a month you added another three month amount you got another three months added – so at that point you had five months left. Optus didn’t have it this way and in Optus land you choose between having reasonable deals or having reasonably long lasting credit. The default option was a TurboCap which was limited to a month expiry (and in most cases a month renewal but there are two week options) and the alternate option was a two month expiry with much less options. I went for that as I didn’t much use my phone so the TurboCap didn’t interest me.

My girlfriend all of a sudden got me an iPhone and on a new prepaid item so that meant a new phone number. This new one was on Optus’ TurboCap because it was the only prepaid option that provided data with it. But here is the trick that isn’t documented in their terms and conditions however there is actually an absolute limit. Yes, there is a point where Optus won’t accept your money any further. There are all sorts of limits on their extra cap features (MyTime money, MyBonus) which I understand however the MyCredit has a limit of $300. That means that once you hit this limit YOU CAN’T RECHARGE AND LOSE ALL OF YOUR MONEY. I can’t emphasise this enough. Optus have an arbitrary limit not described in their terms and conditions. I walked into an Optus store and the girl told me what was wrong and said it was in the terms and conditions. She pulled out a brochure and went looking through it but couldn’t find it. I ended up ringing Optus to complain about it and they offerred to kindly resolve the situation by removing $30 off my account so that I could recharge and not lose all of my credit. Thanks Optus. But whilst I was on the phone, the bloke dropped another pearl of wisdom. If you don’t recharge more than $40 on the TurboCap your data credit doesn’t roll over. Since I recharge from my NAB ATM I only have the option of $30, $50 and I think $100 I have as my recharge options. So I have to get $50 every recharge to retain my data. I tried a $30 recharge and with the previous $50 recharge (less lets say $10), it took me a week of normal data usage and almost no phone calls to burn through all the credit. So to retain my data credit I need to get $50 each month (there is no cheaper option with data on it). Since I don’t use the phone much it means that in 5 months I’ll be at the point where I’ll be unable to recharge properly again. At this point I guess I can let my data credit expire and use my data to burn through everything. But I’d rather not.

So the next Optus product I bought was a wireless broadband package. Optus again had the better deal and half decent coverage where I want to use it so they won. Plus they threw in a small booster antenna that I don’t think makes a difference but anyway. They also had a money back deal where if it wasn’t working with coverage then I could return it. Telstra didn’t seem to have that and to be honest that’s what sold me to Optus (yes they can do good things when they try). I got it home, it worked and continues to work reasonably well. But here’s the rub: periodically it decides that I don’t have credit. It’ll drop out a few times or just stop and redirect my browsing to a no credit page. This has happened a few times even though I’ve had credit and it annoys me. If it drops out then that is fine, wireless does that. But to drop out repeatedly, direct me to a “zero credit” screen and then drop out a few more times before working is just down right annoying. Plus I’m sure they debit me 10MB of credit each time it drops out and I reconnect (around 60MB, or 1% of $100 worth of credit). So after a few times I’m seeing a few percent uselessly disappear from my account. So today I actually ran out of credit. Helpfully it sent me an SMS (that I can’t read since I’m online) when I had 20MB left which was approximately 10 minutes before it cut me off completely. Useful. Of course Optus will tell me that I need to use their crappy application or something to view stuff however the supplied device barely installed on Snow Leopard, it required me to extract the package archive to get to a sub installer for the driver to get things to work and then manual device configuration. Thank the internet for instructions because Optus’ own instructions didn’t work. I also tried registering for the Optus Zoo and it just claimed that the mobile number was invalid so I can’t use that to check my balances online either. Thanks Optus.

Some of the reason I prefer prepaid is that I only pay for what I use not a fixed amount and then get charge an exorbitant amount if I all of a sudden go over. Prepaid works for me this way. I have a VISA debit card for similar reasons – I prefer to spend what I have rather than getting a “loan” where possible which is what a credit card or a post-paid mobile phone is. I prefer that control of my own and I get repeatedly shafted by either Telstra or Optus for wanting this control. Other issues are also there such as arbitrary limits not defined in terms and conditions annoy me especially when you get hit by them out of nowhere. All in all it almost makes me feel like making that faustian deal and going with Telstra. At least then I’d get faster internet and better signal coverage. Might even be cheaper.

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