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


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