Saturday, December 27, 2008

Optus gets nasty on Christmas eve

ANGRY customers have accused Optus of greedy behaviour after it cut off their access to cheap international mobile telephone calls on Christmas Eve.

The company texted customers this week telling them they would no longer pay local mobile-to-mobile rates for services that use the internet to make overseas phone calls.

The move forced at least two businesses offering the service to pull it from Optus customers on Christmas Eve, just as many were preparing to call family and friends overseas.

"I spend two hours a day calling India and the US," an Indian student studying in Sydney, who did not want to be named, said.

"It affects me because I have to pay $100 per month as according to my [phone] contract but now I have to spend more on using a calling card."

Consumers have flocked to companies offering the cheap service, which uses voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology to redirect national mobile calls overseas at no extra cost to the telco or customer, according to one provider.

The system allows customers on plans offering, for example, "10c for 10 minutes" or unlimited voice calls to networks within Australia, to call mobile numbers overseas but not pay any more than the price of a regular mobile call.

Telstra, Vodafone and Three all allow their customers to use the services but Optus texted its pre-paid mobile users to warn them they would be charged at international rates of 29c a minute.

Nizi Bahandari, from Freedom Calls, one of the businesses offering the service, said Optus was effectively overcharging customers for calls that did not cost the company anything extra. "We're not using the Optus network," Mr Bahandari said. "They just want customers to pay the premium international rates."

An Optus spokeswoman said she could not comment on whether the service was costing Optus more than the cost of a national mobile-to-mobile call.

But she said the pricing change was in line with the terms and conditions of its timeless and cap plans, which exclude international calls.

But Mr Bahandari said Optus should not be applying international call rates to telephone calls made over the internet and on another network.

"The number [that customers call] is on a Vodafone network and Vodafone gets paid [a termination fee] by the other networks," he said.

The decision has cut Freedom Calls traffic by 50 per cent because most customers had signed up to Optus plans in the belief they could use the mobile-to-VoIP services.

"We used to connect 15,000 to 20,000 minutes of international calls per day … now it's only 6000 or 7000 [minutes]," Mr Bahandari said. "[Optus is] trying to conquer the market by getting a really good plan and a good offer and suddenly they're changing the offer by saying it's not to their benefit because customers are using it for VoIP calling. It's the wrong thing to do."


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Account checking service disconnected without warning

Holders of Optus prepaid mobile accounts used to be able to ring 5555 and get an immediate readout of how much money was left in their account. Telstra has a similar service on 1258888.

Sometime in the last week or so the Optus service has simply vanished -- with no redirect.

So I had to go online and spend half an hour setting up the service there. I now need a username and password to retrieve info that I once got simply by dialling 4 numbers.

Optus really have utter contempt for their customers.


How about that! The new number is 555. I used the old number lots so I know what it was. I have it written down in front of me.

But it took a commenter here to advise me of the change.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More woeful service from Optus

And, as usual, Optus doesn't care

The Optus 3G mobile network is on its knees with customers reporting performance problems and an unusable service in North Sydney, but Optus refuses even to acknowledge the problem.

The carrier's heavy promotion of aggressively priced wireless broadband and iPhone 3G plans has resulted in the network being overloaded with users, leading to widespread network performance problems and frequent outages.

The worst of the complaints have come from North Sydney, where users have been forced to drop down to the inferior 2G network just so they can receive calls.

So far regulators have done little to compel Optus to improve its 3G network performance and customers have been left in the lurch because they face significant fees should they terminate their contracts early.

In the US, Apple and its carrier partner AT&T are being sued by a customer for allegedly deliberately overselling the iPhone 3G, resulting in network overload and speeds far below those promised by the companies.

A global survey of iPhone 3G users by Wired magazine found Optus offered the slowest network speeds of any iPhone carrier worldwide.

Users of the Australian broadband community site Whirlpool have flooded the message board with tales of woe.

They report being unable to send or receive phone calls and texts or to browse the internet when on Optus 3G. Their only option is to drop down to the slower 2G network.

Compounding matters is poor Optus support, with customers reporting being bounced around incessantly between departments and huge waiting times.

For many, the only viable solution has been to switch providers.

Tom Piotrowski, managing director of North Sydney IT security company Unixpac, bought an iPhone 3G the day it came out and has been experiencing issues ever since.

His office is situated 300 metres from an Optus mobile tower yet he is unable to get any 3G reception at all.

"Our modern 3G phones need to be switched to 2G while in North Sydney, otherwise chances for getting calls through or being able to call out are very slim," he said.

Using an iPhone speed test application Piotrowski recorded a transfer rate of 20Kbps in North Sydney compared with 390Kbps at his home in Collaroy.

Mark Novosel, telecommunications analyst at IDC, which is also based in North Sydney, said three of his colleagues who were Optus 3G customers experienced severe service problems.

Two of them downgrade their phones to 2G while in the office so they can reliably make calls, he said. One was able to convince Optus to waive its early termination fees so they could switch carriers.

Despite Optus's coverage maps indicating there are no problems in North Sydney, Novosel said Optus customer support staff had admitted there was a "black spot" in the area.

A spokesman for the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman said the regulator would look into Optus customer complaints only if customers had obtained a coverage map from the carrier when buying the service and could prove the coverage did not match up to Optus's promises. [The TIO is pretty useless in my experience too]

Optus spokeswoman Tracy Monkman said there was no 3G black spot in North Sydney and many factors could affect speeds "including traffic, your equipment, location, software and the source of your download".

In an apparent admission that its 3G network was overloaded, last week Optus quietly ditched the 3G wireless version of its Fusion bundle, which includes broadband and telephone services.

The plan, heavily promoted by Optus, had only on the market only since August. Optus said it was axed "to ensure that we deliver an optimal service to our customers".

In addition to the surge in wireless broadband subscribers, the Optus 3G network has also been strained by an influx of iPhone users. Optus was able to secure a large chunk of iPhone early adopters when the device was launched in Australia in July because it offered the best value pricing packages.

A study by mobile communications company Amethon found iPhone customers were more demanding on the carriers' networks than users of other phones because they were performing far more network-intensive tasks such as web browsing.

"We're seeing iPhone users browse more pages than the average mobile user - almost twice as many pages," Amethon CEO Michael Stone said.

"The average browsing session of an iPhone user is [about] two megabytes, versus [about] 300 kilobytes of an average mobile user."

The Optus 3G network has had four outages in various parts of the country since July. The carrier announced in May it was rolling out expanded 3G network coverage and would eventually reach 98 per cent of the population


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Optus: Customers not important

SOCCEROOS supporters who rose early to watch the boys in green and gold play a crucial World Cup qualifying match on Thursday morning received a rude awakening when they discovered that their Optus cable and pay-TV services were not working.

A planned outage in Optus's Belrose exchange near Sydney's northern beaches knocked offline the telco's cable services including telephone, internet and pay-TV for eight hours from 11pm on September 10.

But while Optus said only a few hundred customers were affected by the outage, customers as far away as 30km reported they were without services too.

One Optus subscriber from Pennant Hills who contacted The Australian expressed their frustration that the telco failed to warn any of its subscribers about the impending outage.

"What if someone had a medical emergency and couldn't ring 000?" asked the subscriber. "In fact, I nearly had a heart attack when I was trying to figure out how to watch the Socceroos' match!"

According to an Optus spokesperson, the planned outage wasn’t important enough to warrant telling customers about it.

"This maintenance involved less than a few hundred customers and was timed to have minimal impact to them. We deemed it unnecessary to contact customers in this instance," the Optus spokesperson said.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Letter to Prepaid mobile accounts, Optus

Re: 0423 248 xxx

Dear Sirs/Mesdames,

What the hell is going on?

I received this morning a message on the above phone saying that my SIM card needed recharging. Yet I have used it hardly at all since the last recharge and it has remained in my possession at all times.

Then I rang the usual number to check on my account (5555) and was simply told that the number had been disconnected. No alternative number was provided. Is it chaos manor there?

If the card is indeed in need of recharge it may be connected with the recent Queensland service outage. Excessive billing at that time by you has been widely publicized. Failing that, someone else has hacked into my account. Please clarify this matter and provide me with a record of all alleged calls.

Unless the matter is resolved to my satisfaction I will have to conclude that I can no longer afford your dubious service. I will of course be posting this letter and your reply on my Optus blog:

Yours faithfully,

Dr John Ray

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The problems keep on coming

FLAWED software patches from Nokia Siemens Networks have crippled Optus's 3G mobile network in Brisbane, the telco said.

Since 6am yesterday, Optus subscribers in Brisbane suffered from intermittent transmission of data and voice services as Australia’s number two telco battled to reconfigure a recent upgrade to its new 3G software platform.

The upgrade, which has been applied to all Optus 3G mobile switches nationwide, was supposed to provide efficiency gains in speed and capacity load. Instead, it triggered three separate network failures which combined to cause chaos for Optus customers in Queensland, NSW, the ACT and Victoria last week.

As a result subscribers were left without mobile phone services for about 10 hours.

While the upgrade was successfully rolled back in Melbourne and Sydney, the problem again reared its ugly head in Brisbane.

"We had a new patch put in place in the affected areas by midday last Friday but we now have a re-emergence of a similar problem in the Brisbane area," Optus spokesperson Maha Krishnapillai said.

The network in Brisbane was online at 7am but went offline an hour later. At 4pm systems went down again.

"We're not sure how long it will take to fix this problem again but we hope soon," Mr Krishnapillai said.

He said Optus could offer no guarantees that the problem would not recur as it was related to a Nokia Siemens software fault.

"Nokia's latest version of the software was in effect 'contaminated'. We had a bug in the software so we have had to roll it back.

"The issue for us is that we have put the upgrade in other areas and have had no problems whatsoever - so it’s a bit of a lottery."

Engineers from Optus and Nokia Siemens were both responsible for the patch installation.

He said Optus was unsure why the patch had worked in some areas but not others.

"There was extensive testing on both our parts and we were also assured by Nokia Siemens that the software would work in different (network) environments," he said. "But when we went live it was a different story."

"Now we’re just hoping the patch will hold. We can’t say for sure whether or not we will have more issues over the next week in Brisbane," he said.

Nokia Siemens declined to directly address Mr Krishnapillai's claims, saying it valued its close relationship with Optus.

"We're proud of both companies' shared goal of providing a superior mobile service in Australia. Experts from both companies are working in partnership to resolve any remaining network issues, as is always the case when any outage occurs," Nokia Siemens spokesman Ben Roome said.

In the meantime Optus has requested network engineers from Nokia Siemens' Finland headquarters to rectify the problem on-site.

"We have told Nokia to fly out some engineers because we certainly won't be flying them here," Mr Krishnapillai said.

Mr Krishnapillai suggested Optus would be reviewing the service level guarantees it had in place with Nokia Siemens.

"We do have some service level guarantees with them and we will clearly be looking at whether in fact the software they have given us is up to scratch," he said.

Mr Krishnapillai ruled out Optus pursuing legal action against Nokia Siemens or seeking compensation.

"We are not looking to sue them on this, what we are doing is looking to work with them to fix it.

“As I’m sure Nokia would tell you, we are their most important customer in Australia and a very important customer throughout the SingTel group ... they will clearly want to make sure they work with us to fix this problem," he said.,25197,24141034-15306,00.html

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Nuisance text messages: Letter

PO Box 306
Salisbury South
SA 5106

Dear Sirs,

Please stop sending me promotional text messages on my cellphone no. 0423 xxxxxx. They distract me and take time and attention I do not wish to devote to them.

I look forward to your early reply to this request. I will post this letter and your reply on my Optus blog:

Yours faithfully,

Dr John Ray

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Optus overhaul misses deadline

It has been a torrid three weeks for the nation's second-largest telecommunications provider, Optus, and there's worse in store.

Following a series of network bungles, Optus has failed to meet a landmark deadline in its $160 million technology transformation overhaul.

The final leg of Project Reitz, the telco's ambitious program to consolidate its billing and customer relationship management systems, has stalled, as it has yet to finalise selection of software and systems integration suppliers to complete the project.

Optus had a self-imposed target of mid-July for the selection. The last stage of the project covers its business, wholesale and hybrid fibre coaxial residential networks. An Optus spokesperson could not nominate a new date.

"This is a complex project with many elements, therefore we are taking our time to make sure we get it right," the spokesperson said.

Accenture is currently the telco's main systems integrator and software from Oracle and its subsidiary Siebel are widely used throughout the company.

In the mix is software from Optus parent company Singapore Telecommunications.

Project Reitz is aimed at reducing myriad legacy systems as the telco moves towards a self-service model so customers can manage their subscriptions themselves.

"Like all the large IT operations companies we are looking to reduce the number of systems and we will try quite hard to use what we have.

"We are certainly looking for systems integration partners, as that has worked well for us," said Lawrie Turner, Optus's chief information officer in an interview with The Australian in mid-June.

In May 2006 Optus pledged $100 million towards the project but at its recent full-year results briefing Optus chief executive Paul O'Sullivan said Project Reitz had cost $160 million as of March 31. It was unclear how much the next stage would cost. The total could be as high as $260 million, industry observers said, and completion could take until 2010.

The project is named after Bruce Reitz, who performed the first successful heart-lung transplant in the early 1980s, and Optus has its own triple bypass tale. It began on July 14 when subscribers in Queensland and northern NSW were left without phone, mobile or internet services for more than four hours.

Two incidents merged to create the ensuing blackout: a contractor operating a backhoe on a building site at Molendinar on the Gold Coast accidentally severed a fibre optic cable. A back-up link should have kicked in but the telco's Stanthorpe point of presence had a hardware failure.

The state's peak industry body for business, Commerce Queensland, estimates that compensation claims could run into millions of dollars.

The outage drew the ire of Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, who expressed her dissatisfaction with federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Then, a little more than two weeks later, Optus experienced a second body blow when its 3G mobile network on the eastern seaboard was crippled.

Subscribers were unable to make or receive calls and internet access was disabled for more than eight hours.

To compound matters, Optus technical support personnel were providing wrong information to customers on how to overcome the issue. Instead of advising them to manually switch their mobile phones to GSM mode, users were told to keep turn their handsets on and off every second hour.


Monday, August 4, 2008

The bungles continue

OPTUS appears to be suffering another network outage, as customers in Melbourne and Sydney report problems accessing the carrier's 3G mobile phone network. Customers in Melbourne said the 3G network had been down for several hours, while the GSM network appeared to be intact. There have been similar reports in Sydney.

Optus has about 1.5 million 3G users in Australia.

One customer said he was told by an Optus representative this morning that the 3G network in Melbourne would be fully functioning by midday. "I've been unable to make or receive calls on my mobile all morning," he said on the Whirlpool broadband website.

"After a 50 minute wait listening to the Optus telephone on-hold rubbish, I was told by someone... that service will be (affecting) quite a lot of Melbournians at least till (sic) midday."

Optus spokeswoman Elizabeth Greene confirmed that there were issues with the network in Sydney and Melbourne, but did not know what the cause of the issues was. She said it was believed the Victorian network was the first to "experience issues".

In May Optus announced a $315 million 3G rollout that would introduce 750 new base stations across the country, leading to 98 per cent network coverage by the end of 2009.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Big Optus meltdown

OPTUS 3G customers on the east coast were unable to use their mobile phones for up to 8 hours after an unknown failure crippled the telco's network.

To make matters worse, Optus's support crew were giving customers the wrong information on how to overcome the problem. [Why am I not surprised?]

One Optus 3G customer, based in Sydney, said each time she tried making a call, "connection error" would be displayed on her phone.

"I can't make calls, can't receive calls, can't access the internet ... it's a lemon," she said.

Another customer in Sydney's Milsons Point reported similar symptoms, saying that although their handset indicated a 3G signal was available they were unable to use their phones.

Optus 3G subscribers in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Maitland, Lismore, and Melbourne have all reported similar problems.

Optus has over 1.4 million 3G subscribers locally.

An Optus spokeswoman confirmed the carrier's 3G network was experiencing problems but was unable to pinpoint the root cause.

"Our 3G data services in Sydney and Melbourne are currently affected by an unknown problem," she said.

The spokeswoman said Optus customers in Melbourne were without 3G data services since about 10am AEST.

The Optus spokeswoman said customers could work around the 3G outage by re-routing to the carrier's GSM network.

However, most subscribers would have to manually change the settings on their phone to Optus's 2G network.

3G subscribers to Virgin Mobile, a wholly owned subsidiary of Optus, also reported similar network failure.

Optus technical support staff advised customers that the outage affected the entire eastern seaboard.

Support staff could not say when the network would be online; instead, they were advising customers to switch their mobile on and off every other hour.

"Why didn't tech support tell me I should manually change to the 2G network? Someone hasn't briefed their people on what to say," one disgruntled Optus user said.

Today's outage is the second major network failure to hit Australia's number two telco in the past 15 days.

In mid-July Optus suffered a major communications meltdown in Queensland after a construction worker severed a major fibre optic cable on the Gold Coast.

An Optus-owned redundant route should have diverted the traffic along another path but an earlier hardware failure at the telco's backup site resulted in what Optus dubbed a "one in a million" complete network failure. [Just bad luck, Eh?]

In the ensuing communications blackout more than a million Optus customers were left without phone, mobile and internet connections for four hours.


Thursday, July 17, 2008


I did get a reply to the letter below -- in which they politely told me to bugger off -- but the fascinating thing about the letter concerned -- I am almost inclined to scan it in -- is something I have noted before:

Far from there being a return address on it, there was NO ADDRESS OF ANY KIND on it.

They REALLY hate talking to their customers!

Just to upset that applecart a little, the address I used for them -- which works -- is:

PO Box 306
Salisbury South
SA 5106

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

TO: Optus accounts. Re: Prepaid A/c 0423 248795

Dear Sirs/Mesdames,

I am writing to you in this matter because I find great difficulty in understanding Indian English -- which is all I seem to get from your helpline. The fact that I suffer from age-related hearing loss probably contributes to my incomprehension.

I want to know why all the money suddenly vanished from my a/c.

I use the phone only a little so when I checked a fortnight ago and found I had only $6 left, I did not use the phone subsequently. Yet my A/c was at zero this morning. Where did the money go?

I understand that I had until the 27th to top up so I discount the possibility that I had run out of time. If however that is the explanation, I think it is very petty and offensive that you stole that $6 from me. Please restore it to my account.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ben the bull-artist has shown what he is

Optus PR man "Ben" (ph. 9085 9197) thought he could palm me off with corporate emollient (not that he would be bright enough to know what that word means. It means "soft-soap", Ben). He was wrong. I wanted action, not verbal puffery. When I insisted that he track down the offensive member of Optus customer-relations staff, he simply hung up on me. That was all he had left in his repertoire after the bull did not work. Taking a real interest in a genuine customer complaint was beyond him.

Prior to that, however, he had promised me that he would get a member of Optus accounts staff to ring me and explain why the information on their account checking number (5555) had been wrong in my case.

Nobody has called. So Ben is not only a bullartist but he is someone who does not keep his word. I cannot say that I am surprised.

So Optus still has two problems: Rude staff and an accounts department that does not give customers accurate information. Time for me to get back to Singtel, I think. I am sure they would be horrified to hear what cowboys their Australian representatives are.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Optus hangs up on me

I have just had another call from my contact at Optus -- Mr. 9085 9197. He had two bits of news for me:

1). Last time he called, I queried the fact that I had got a message saying that my prepaid account was about to run out. That was crazy because a call to the account-checking line (5555) told me that I had a balance of over $80 and that it was usable up until June.

His feedback? He said: Yes. My account WAS about to run out but that he had kindly added $60 to it as an ex-gratia gesture. I appreciated the gesture but I was quite dumbfounded by the state of the Optus accounting system. It's worse than the Left hand not knowing what the Right hand is doing: The Left and Right hands are contradicting one another! It's a madhouse! Customers obviously cannot trust the Optus account-checking line.

My contact was flummoxed by my report but did promise to get someone from accounts to call me. I await that call with interest.

2). In my previous conversation with him, I asked him to track down the person who sent me the contemptuous non-letter. When he rang back just now he said (predictably) that he had not succeeded at that. I pointed out to him that there would have been only two or three people who had dealt with my matter so had he actually interviewed them? He said he had not. When I pressed him to do that, he got very abrupt with me. So I asked him at that point what his name was. He refused to give it to me and hung up on me! That's PR Optus-style, apparently.

It does appear however that his first name is "Ben". I am inclined to write to Singtel about him. He is not fit for his job.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Contacting Optus

I had the rare privilege of a phone call from Octopus yesterday -- a guy who even gave me his number to call him back on: 02 8085 9197.

His call was in response to my letter to the TIO. He noted, rightly, that most of my complaint had already been sorted out as a consequence of my email to Singtel, the parent company of Optus. I think it is now the third time that I have had to write to Singtel to get basic civility out of Optus. They really are meatheads there but the polite Chinese in Singapore hold them to a higher standard.

I did however insist to my caller that the meathead who replied to my initial complaint by sending me a blank letter with only the date and my name on it should be traced and transferred to less demanding duties. We will see what becomes of that.

The meathead's actions did of course constitute a very vivid message about how contemptible and unworthy of reply he thought my complaint to be.

It reminds me of a time many years ago when I had some sort of disputation with a person of European origin. He disliked my letter of complaint so much that he sent it back to me torn into pieces by way of reply.

I must have incensed him rather much, however, as he also sent me a letter of his own a few days later abusing me.

I of course then tore HIS letter into pieces and sent it back to him! I learn fast!

But, getting back to Optus: One of their peculiarities is that they often send out letters with no return address on them! They do not even give a phone number -- mighty strange for a phone company! They just do not be want to be bothered by the unclean herd who are their customers.

So I note with some glee that the clever-dick blank letter that I received was on a letterhead that DOES give contact details. It says that their address is 367 Collins St, Melbourne, Victoria, 3000 and that their P.O. Box is: Box 53, Collins St West, 3000. And their phone is 03 9233 4000.

What a treasure-trove of rare information!

Hey! There is a fax no. too: 9233 4900

Give 'em hell!