I’m not sure which aspect of the iPhone (phone, music, internet) is more appealing to most users but to me it’s definitely the web on the go capabilities. And although in theory its probably the best option for that kind of thing before going to the next size scale of ultraportable PCs (think Asus Eee, MSI Wind, MacBook Air, etc), unfortunately the complete experience also relies on the underlying telco running the network.
The reason I’m being a bit doubtful comes from the practices I’ve seen from Greek telcos and in particular Vodafone. Apart from the general trend in the Greek providers to overprice both mobile devices and pricing plans there is some additional worrying indication. The Greek market (and I suspect this is the same for a number of other countries too) is not that mature in terms of online browsing. As a result there is a lack of respectable data plans; Vodafone at my last check had just an option for 30 MB/month for approx. 3 euros – after that there was a charge of 6 per MB (1 euro more than the EU average). Wind offers a similarly priced unlimited data plan but I haven’t had the chance to use it. In general, I get the impression that carriers (here at least) are still just experimenting with mobile web browsing. Hopefully the iPhone’s expected widespread adoption can help with that and at the very least urge all carriers to have unlimited data plans.
Even worse for Vodafone in particular, I encountered additional problems in my mobile web browsing. Now, I must admit that I’ve only seen them in my rather old K320i Sony Ericsson device but when I tried to get help from their customer support by filing a question I got no satisfactory answer. The reason as far as I could understand was a combination of my hardware and native software (i.e. my clunky mobile) and Vodafone’s configuration. They route data traffic through a different APN (wap.vodafone.gr) for my first 30MB free data package compared to the general purpose web browsing APN (internet.vodafone.gr) in which charges per MB apply immediately. Instead of sorting the problem with Vodafone, I tried using Opera Mini. That solved most of my access problems and decided to stop pursuing it with them.
All this knowledge of the inner workings of their system is not a result of me working for Vodafone Greece. Rather, I was forced to understand them when some unexpected charges appeared at my monthly Vodafone bill. The long struggle with their customer support system started then and it left me rather disappointed basically because I was expecting better response times from them, better knowledge of the problem and their system and a bit more interest in actually resolving the disparity. For the record, the overcharge was due to them not informing me when I first subscribed to the ‘first 30MB free’ offer how to activate that profile on my mobile. The problem itself was sorted after literally months of calls and waiting – a significant problem in itself. Fortunately, at least they eventually did the decent thing to refund the overcharging. (Hint: If you ever get entangled in similar problems, just ask directly for the manager – saves enormous amounts of effort.)
Ok, apart from the whining (which I just had to get off my system), it should be pretty obvious why I’m suspicious and where I’m getting at. Is Vodafone really ready to take on the web-surfing crowd? Other telco’s around the world should be facing a similar challenge. Some of their customers might be regular users who incidentally might add surfing to their habits. But I suspect that the vast majority of iPhone buyers will be more knowledgeable and expecting a higher level of services and support. Will telcos in mobile markets that are not internet-mature make it?
I guess a few of us will have to ‘sacrifice’ ourselves to test the waters. Oh, well…tags: analysis, product
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