Mobile data mayhem

After some five years as a Telstra mobile customer I’m almost certainly going to churn when my two-year contract concludes next month.

Now there’s something to ponder – where the hell does one go to for decent mobile phone and data service in this country?

Right now I don’t use much mobile data, but that’s because Telstra doesn’t let me. Why should I pay Telstra an additional timed service rate for mobile data use on top of my cap? I don’t want to leave Telstra, that’s why I went to a store and asked one of the reps whether it offered any data access as part of its mobile caps. The answer is no. The problem I have with that is I want to begin using mobile e-mail, Web, etc in a moderate fashion. I live on the Internet most of my life so I think I’ll take baby steps when it comes to mobile data use.

In a nutshell I’m after a plan that reflects my needs. Capped mobile phone use (voice, SMS) with a little data time thrown in.

I also need a new phone. My Motorola V3x is starting to play up and looking tired compared with modern units from Nokia and (heaven forbid) Apple.

This is a brief summary of my wishes:

– Capped calls and text messages
– A bit of OPEN mobile data for e-mail and Web surfing
– Prepared to pay a little extra for mobile data, but this should be fixed and predictable
– Don’t want a “mobile e-mail package” like those offered with BlackBerry. Remember, I just want the option to send and receive e-mail on the road using the revolutionary “pull” e-mail technology.
– A new phone with the plan
– Must not lock me into any particular device
– Might consider iPhone but have heard too many conflicting reports about its features. Wouldn’t even think about its MobileMe service for reasons which have surfaced in the past week.

Since I’ve already asked about data and the answer is no, Telstra has ruled itself out. For all the babbling on about how wonderful the Next G network is the data allowances (and expense when you dare go over it) are woefully inadequate. Take the iPhone data plan – at 5MB a month it was laughed upon by my iPhone-carrying comrades in the IT journalism community. Moreover, the Big T will only offer me the Moto V3xx or some Samsung as a phone upgrade. I’m hesitant to take either as I think I’m being held back by their operating systems and functionality. Telstra shines in three areas – coverage, coverage and coverage. I have nothing morally against the Big T and like to give credit where it’s due. I actually left Vodafone for Telstra five years ago due to coverage issues with voda. Is there a point in having a mobile phone if you can’t make out what the person on the other end is saying?

Optus made a lot of noise this month with its unlimited phone plans with a some data included. Great idea, but at around $100 a month its double what I spend now. I hardly see how checking an e-mail on the train when I should be reading is worth that much. As for Optus’ regular mobile caps, they too treat data as a premium service and charge accordingly. Perhaps more investigation is needed here, particularly around the iPhone plans. Word around the campfire is Optus’ iPhone plans are the best for data allowance. I may pay Optus a visit later this week. No idea about Optus’ coverage as have never experienced it.

Vodafone is in a different league in the sense it includes data usage as part of its post-paid cap plans. Ie, you can use data charged at some price – $1 for 5mins or something – and the charge is deducted from your monthly cap total ($310 or whatever). I haven’t heard much from users of this type of cap so I’m reluctant to dive right in. I may stop by another Vodafone store and hope the rep has half a clue. I spoke with one over the weekend and mentioned mobile data and she nearly dragged by the neck to the iPhone stand. I asked if the other caps include mobile data access. She said no and handed me a brochure which makes it quite clear mobile data use is included in the cap. Feel free to tell me what the story is voda. Voda has the Nokia N95 on a $49 cap. This could work well if voda can make up its mind whether data is included in the cap or not. If so, great. If not, can some data be added for a nominal fee? And. perhaps most importantly, has voda upped its network coverage and voice quality in five years?

The other option is Three. Three’s head office is just up the road from ours so I can duck into the store and get word from the source. One would hope the reps in Three’s flagship store can tell you what’s on offer. Three has a good range of phones on its $49 cap, but again it does not include any data other than what Three lets you access as part of its new news, sport and entertainment packages. If I want to send an e-mail it will cost 20c – so there! However, an interesting option with Three is the ability to add 20M of mobile data and unlimited e-mail to your standard cap for $5. Not bad. I can live with sending as many damn e-mails as I like from my phone every month for $5. The biggest problem with three is the roaming issue. Step out of Three’s coverage zone (metro areas) and you hop onto Telstra’s GSM network. Great if you want coverage, pathetic if you want data. All of a sudden you’re paying $1.65 per MB on top of your cap. And this directly impacts me as I spend a lot of time out of the Sydney metro area. Alas, however, unlimited mobile e-mail – even through your own POP or IMAP server – is still included in your package (the $5 part, not the $49 part, of course). So, according to Three, a person can send as many e-mails as they like within all coverage areas (effectively Telstra’s area) for $5 per month. It’s ironic that this rate is cheaper than Telstra’s casual data rate if you go mad and initiate a data session on its network.

So, if I understood all that correctly, and there aren’t any surprises from here to mid-August (don’t think there won’t be), I might give Three a go with its optional data pack and stance on unlimited open (ie, POP and IMAP, not GmYahMe, etc) e-mail.

I tell you great things would happen in this country if mobile data access became as pervasive as capped broadband. Worried about fair use? Choke those who overstep the boundaries. A few months back I was speaking with someone from the US about this very topic and he told me he was on an UNLIMITED mobile data plan for $20 per month.

I’ll let you know how I go. It’s time for our mobile carriers to wake up and realize mobile data is a value-add, not a value-all. Promote mobile data from the phone and don’t just see it as a high-end offering for business notebooks. And be fair with data allowances.

Who the hell am I kidding, we’ve fostered a culture of monopolistic telecommunications services so that’s what we are living with.

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  1. What about Virgin? They use the Optus network and you can add a data pack to any post-paid plan for $5 (30mb) or $10 (300mb).

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