Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: Wake up, Vodafone. Your paying customers aren't happy

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Vodafone acknowledged that its cable network customers have experienced "issues" over the past year. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
Vodafone acknowledged that its cable network customers have experienced "issues" over the past year. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

A few weeks ago, I was covering an event live (Apple's WWDC) and needed a working data connection to file my stories. The Wi-Fi at the conference centre got overwhelmed within seconds, but I had my 3G/4G mobile data connections as a back-up, so I was safe, right?

No: I was roaming in the United States using Vodafone's $5 a day deal, and it was unusable mostly. The problems have been around for a while - I complained about the slow performance while roaming in January last year and since then, Vodafone has done nothing to fix the issue.

At the time I thought traffic tromboned via New Zealand, but apparently it's more complicated than that: when you're on AT&T's network in the States, data goes first via Europe, then to NZ, then to the US, and back.

That's because Vodafone and AT&T interconnect in Europe, and not in the United States, I gather.

I'm still to verify that the roaming is set up this inefficiently, but either way, the result is huge latency and packet loss that means web sites, email, just about everything on the internet stops working.

Trickles of data are being sent and received when on 4G, but on 3G with its substantially higher latency? Forget it, nothing works.

There is a workaround of sorts here: force your phone to connect to T-Mobile instead of AT&T, and you get a slow-ish data connection. It isn't great either though.

Vodafone's roaming in the States should work; there's no reason why not. Spark seems to have their US roaming sorted out, judging by the journalist next to me from a competing New Zealand media organisation who was happily live blogging and posting stuff.

Trickles of data are being sent and received when on 4G, but on 3G with its substantially higher latency? Forget it, nothing works.

Kudos to Vodafone's customer service though, who refunded the $15 of additional charges I incurred on the unusable roaming service, quickly and politely. If you have experienced unusable roaming overseas like I did, ask for a refund.

I'd rather the roaming was fixed though, but Vodafone's clearly slow to address the problem. For now, save that five bucks a day and spend it on a local SIM instead. Use an over the top service provider that sends calls and text over the internet instead of via a telco's cellular network and everything should be good.

It seems Vodafone which once tried hard to stay on top with good service and technology upgrades has become yet another complacent telco that doesn't really care too much about its paying customers.

Evidence of the slackness can be found in this thread on tech user forum Geekzone about really bad performance on Vodafone's cable network in Wellington and Christchurch.

The thread started a year ago, and it's still growing. Currently it's at 203 pages, and yes, Vodafone has noticed it with the telco's reps hopping in to answer user complaints.

It's the same cable network that Vodafone chief executive Russell Stanners in 2014 said was so good that there was no need for need for the government's Ultra Fast Broadband fibre-optic service.

It's the same cable network that Vodafone chief executive Russell Stanners in 2014 said was so good that there was no need for need for the government's Ultra Fast Broadband fibre-optic service.

Luckily for Wellington and Christchurch broadband customers, minister Amy Adams received proper advice on that claim, and went ahead with the UFB build instead.

That said, maybe the slow cable network performance issues are about to be sorted out. Vodafone acknowledged that its cable network customers have experienced "issues" over the past year, and says it has worked hard to boost network performance across the board.

Capacity upgrades have been put in place for the cable network I'm told. Vodafone asked TruNet to test the effect of those upgrades and reckon the 100 megabit per second download service now provides average peak time speeds of around 105 Mbps, whereas the 50 Mbps plan delivers 57 Mbps.

There will also be a gigabit service over the cable network coming later this year, Vodafone said, and it'll be interesting to see how it fares when users load it up with high-definition movies and more.

There's money in the kitty to merge with Sky, billions of dollars in fact, so spend some of that on keeping existing customers happy, Vodafone.

Going back to the slowness to respond though, if Vodafone sells a product or a service that promises to deliver a certain something, paying customers should expect to get it there and then, and not a year or more later.

Yes, it'll cost money and require listening to the techies that still remain at Vodafone NZ, but the telco's management really needs a cattle prod up the backside on this because it's just not acceptable that customers pay for something that they do not receive.

There's money in the kitty to merge with Sky, billions of dollars in fact, so spend some of that on keeping existing customers happy, Vodafone.

And where's our telco watchdog on the issue? There would've been complaints filed for a long time now. The lack of action is reminiscent of the bad old days of Telecom that we just can't go back to, not in 2016.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

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