Oct 22, 2017

Dancers are the athletes of God - Albert Einstein

Vodafone Mobile Broadband – Cost Problems Using Abroad – Be Very Careful. Also Poor Customer Care.

I’ve just been over to Turkey for 4 days and it was also the first time to try out my Vodafone Mobile Broadband modem abroad. The reason I went to Vodafone (who don’t supply my mobile phone – that’s T-Mobile) was because they do reasonably cheap use abroad – £9.99/day for up to 50Mb. That’s not all countries – the list is here: http://www.abroad.vodafone.co.uk/index.cfm?do=abroad.blackberry&me=a3&nu=1&le=3&business=true&sn=s7&wtcgn=(business)Using%20your%20data%20abroad&wtcgs=Costs

Before going I checked that Turkey was in the £10/day footprint and I also downloaded the latest version of Vodafone Mobile Connect which in the release notes mentioned having a Turkey specific update, though I can’t recall what now. Although I download the full version of connect sometimes the system just seems to use the Light version on the USB Modem – an E172. Before going I also did all the Windows updating – although I never have it setup to auto update, just warn me if there are updates, I don’t want to run any risk of Windows forgetting and downloading huge updates.

In Turkey the link seem to work intermittently – picking up different providers I think, but I didn’t take a note. I did though see if the software could bring up a list of providers that I might select from, but could find no option like that. But I don’t think I should need to do any of this – it really ought to just sort itself out and that’s what it did. I was able though look at the graph of Use on the Connect software and it was showing 25Mb for the month, which was after 2 days use – so nowhere near the 50 MB per day. And that’s intuitively correct – I just want to check emails and do some light surfing while away enjoying myself. Then the modem just stopped working. I had no idea why.

I got back to the UK yesterday and tried and use the modem today and still it was not working. So I try to login to my account on the Vodafone website using normal broadband – and the account seems to deactivated.

So I ring up and get put on hold while investigations are made. The lady comes back saying the bill was very high because I had been using the phone (its not a phone!) abroad and its £10/Mbyte. So I explain its not a phone and it only cost £10/day. And she says that Turkey isn’t in Europe and it doesn’t count. And i say I checked the website and it is in the plan. More consulting while I am on hold. And then she says I must have used more then 50 Mbytes and then it £5/Mybte. And i don’t believe this.

So I ask how much do I owe and she says she doesn’t know. Credit Control apparently  disabled the account and there is talk about £120, but no detail and the detail will not be known until the next bill. So Vodafone might be claiming I used more even

I’m now very nervous:

1) I’ve used the system as advertised and not excessively and yet I am being told I owe a lot of money.
2) Vodfone send no email or call or anything to warn me that the account was suspended – appalling.
2) Vodafone customer service don’t really seem to be at all familiar with price plans – I find myself talking to somebody who was clutching at straws to justify what had happened rather then realising the price plan I was on and really understanding what may have happened. Even with the detail numbers  known I worry about having a conversation with the ordinary customer care people who seem to front things.

I am now very, very nervous about using abroad – the only reason I’m with Vodafone. Luckily I am not going abroad for a while now. But this is not good.

I’d welcome other views and experiences and war stories about who one should ask to talk to if one finds oneself in this position. Also when will costs be known? What might have happened etc.

But for the moment I remain very apprehensive of Vodafone’s ability to deliver a solution (PC hardware/software and billing/roaming) that properly honours the sales proposition and just seamlessly works at the cost stated.

Vodafone Mobile Broadband via USB Modem Stick

Background
In an ideal world your mobile phone would act as a broadband modem for your PC. And as part of your package you would get a lot of internet use built in regardless of if you used the net on your phone or were doing things on your portable PC. This is possible but things conspire against it. You need the mobile to have Bluetooth to link to the portable – which rules out the iPhone for example. You also need a provider that doesn’t differentiate between phone and modem use – you have to dig around a lot to see what is possible but some only seem to do deals giving cheap prices for phone surfing.

And then there is what happens when you go abroad when you get stuffed at £6+ for a MB of data to a phone and your bill can rocket into hundreds. A trip to Majorca with my iPhone and T-Mobile sunsequently calculated I owed them £700+ and this when I have Web and Walk access that allows me ‘free’ net use in the UK. The bill was reduced to less than £100, for which I am grateful, but it also underlines that the price in the first place is based on silly money rather than actual real costs to provide the service. In Majorca, and anytime I am on the road, I really want good comms at a cheap price.

If you use a mobile as a modem then you also have battery life problems potentially. Putting it all into one I decided that I would shell out £15 a month on one of the USB modem packages that most mobile providers are doing now. And for a 2 year deal Vodafone currently chuck in their highest speed USB Modem – the E172. The call it a USB Modem Stick and it can do speeds up to 7.2Mbps (twice ‘normal’ speed). They are rolling out the higher speed across the country but all you need to know is that it’s fast enough already really. For the £15 you get 3GB of monthly use and £15/GB if you go over – not the end of the world but not something you want to do. More details here:
www.vodafone.co.uk/mobilebroadband

The reason I went with Vodafone is that they are always said to have the fullest network in the UK and sometime I go up to the Outer Hebrides where mobile connections can be very hard to find at times. But the clincher was that in Europe and (currently) USA, Australia and a few other destinations, you get mobile for £10/day – up to 50MB anway. That’s not a lot of data but it is enough. I’m not aware of any other provider offering such a deal. So my 2 weeks in Majorca would have cost £140 rather then £750 (and for much, much, more data too).

Vodafone USB modem in use.
It’s nominally easy to use – plug in and it bursts into life running Vodafone Mobile Light which is held on the modem itself. There are some gotchas

1) It doesn’t seem to like being plugged into some USB hubs and either doesn’t work or locks up. I can only currently get it to work by plugging into the one USB(1) connection I have.

2) Using the Light software all the images presented on web pages are sent in a highly compressed form and look terrible. If you need to show clients pages, it is not good. It’s a shame you can’t configure the standard software another way.

3) To get decent pictures you have to download the full version of Vodafone Mobile onto your computer. You then plug in the Modem – it fires up the Light version and then you run the full version which after a while, displaces the Light. But I’ve occasionally had problems when it does not and there seems to be a tussle wbtween the two for conrol of teh hardware. It’s not as slick as it should be really.

Checking How much Data you are using
Given the costs of going over I want a rock solid way of measuring how much I am using. The Vodafone Mobile software tracks this but how well I don’t know. However while its nice to have a good local way of monitoring use the thing that ultimately matters is Vodafones servers and how much they think I have used. So it makes sense to register with the website and get access to definitive information on use. Sadly this is not at all slick.

Registering with Vodafone and checking data use
Registration problems.
As part of registration Vodafone send a message to the mobile you are using and you type that message immediately into a box to complete registration. But I don’t have a mobile so can’t do this!

I rang up support and got a nice lady who took a long time to realise she didn’t have a clue and I got put through to somebody technical who was very on the ball. And it turns out to be a problem they know about but don’t have a decent solution for. The proposal was that you plug the data Sim into a mobile phone in order to see the registration message they send. I pointed out to the man that most phones were locked to the mobile comms supplier and I was not with Vodafone… But there was no other advice and definite ‘not possible’ when I asked if teh account could be manualy setup by them. 4 phones later I found one I could use and manged to register. How rubbish is that I ask you.

Seeing Data Use
What you want is something like this:

Account Plan:     3000MB/Month
Used to Date (*): 40.6Mb
Estimated Use for month: 2345MB
(*)up to midnight last night.

You obviously want to know where you are, what your allowance is and if you carry on as you are what you are likely  to use in the month.

What you get is tens and hundreds of line entries of what data connections were made. This is nice info but what you need is a total of all these entries and you don’t get it. You can though download all the data in a form to run through Excel but even that is a pain because each data item comes tagged ‘109.085 KB’, so you have to get rid of all the ‘ KB”s from the column before you can sum it up to get the big number. I assume Vodafone make this difficult so you are more likely to go over limit and incur extra costs.

I guess what I will do is compare what the Modem tells me on use and what Vodafone servers say and hopefully after finding full agreement will just use the Modem numbers.

Asus EEE 900 Linux and Vodafone USB Modem Stick
I have one of these and I plugged the Vodafone modem in and it worked. I have no idea if optimal drivers are being used but it seems to be as fast as on Windows and I think its brilliant of Asus to arrange this – deeply impressed that I don’t have to do anything. That said Vodafone also have a Research group site and one of the things they seem to have is software for a variety of devices in the pipeline (and it was another reason I plumped for Vodafone in the first place):
http://www.betavine.net/

Current Conclusion
It works fine – but as with much technology it’s not actually as slick to setup, end to end, as I had hoped.

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