July 07, 2009

Change of alliegance...

Goodbye T-Mobile, hello O2.

I know I was very pleased with the service I was getting from T-Mobile, but there are a few things that had started annoying me somewhat and the quality of service has dropped considerably over the past few months. Not to mention that T-Mobile UK is about to be on the menu with other UK mobile network operators gearing up for a feeding frenzy.

In short, it was time to jump ship.

Having recently managed to get a wireless network adapter to work with my laptop, the ability to use my phone as a modem has become far less of a requirement than it was. I do still require "unlimited" internet usage on the handset itself. I also use messaging fairly intensively, but don't make very many calls. I therefore need a plan with plenty of bundled messages, unlimited internet access but not much in the way of bundled minutes.

Having shopped around it became obvious that there were only two serious candidates, and they were T-Mobile and O2. Trouble is, I was already with T-Mobile and dissatisfied with the service. Let me elaborate on that point.

T-Mobile have a great network with extensive 3G and 3.5G coverage. Unfortunately, they must be rapidly approaching their contention level because the data connection is, to all intents and purposes, useless. Even if you have a full 3.5G signal and your phone is indicating that you're connected, no data actually flows sometimes. Or if it does flow, it's slower than if you force your phone into GSM mode and use a GPRS connection. Sometimes it'll work at high speed (up to maybe 500 or 600 kbps - nothing like the 3.6 mbps that the phone can handle, let alone the 4 or 5 mbps that T-Mobile advertise) but only for 40-60 seconds. Then it'll cut out for up to 30 seconds and then resume as before. Lather, rinse and repeat. This makes it essentially useless for streaming even audio data from internet-based radio stations. Forget about streaming video.

Then there's the issue of picture messaging. While there are no problems sending MMS messages to users on any UK network, I happen to have many contacts (not least of whom my father) living in continental Europe, mostly in France. Now, cross-network MMS isn't as straightforward as you'd think. The sending and receiving networks have to sign agreements and get their protocols matched up before it'll work. Until recently, T-Mobile had no such agreements with any of the three networks in France. They do now have agreements with SFR, but that doesn't help me for most of my contacts, who are on Orange France. If a T-Mobile UK user sends an Orange France user an MMS, all the recipient will receive is a text message (in English) with a link to a page on T-Mobile's site and a password that will enable the user, provided they can read English and can guess that they're supposed to enter their mobile phone number in international format, to view the MMS online.

I've called T-Mobile repeatedly about this situation and have been spun various stories. The first time I was told that they knew about it and that I should check back regularly since new foreign networks were added regularly to the list of those able to recieve MMS messages from T-Mobile UK users. The second time I was told that roaming agreements were in place and that it should work (how stupid do they think I am?). The final time was when I was giving the reasons why I was leaving T-Mobile UK and the person I spoke to agreed that the roaming agreements story was just that, a complete cock and bull story, and nothing else.

As of this month I am using O2's "Simplicity 20" plan. It's a one-month rolling contract that costs £20/month and gives me a monthly allowance of 600 minutes, 1200 texts (or 300 MMS messages as each one counts as 4 texts) and pseudo-unlimited data. Pseudo-unlimited because you can't use it for VoIP and they get a bit antsy if you use more than a gigabyte a month.

I can now send MMS messages to friends in France and elsewhere in Europe, and they receive what I sent them, not a text message in a language they don't understand giving them directions to a very unintuitive online service. I can also listen to internet-based radio stations without the sound stopping for 30 seconds every minute or so.

The only downside to O2's SMS service is an apparent unreliability and clogging up of the pipelines. I have a friend on the "3" network who sometimes receives my messages many hours after I've sent them, usually if I send another message later, at which point both arrive at the same time. There's no point asking O2 about it since they're a mobile network operator who, by definition, must be infallible. The fault has to lie with "3"... I'm hoping this will sort itself out in time.

On the whole, though, I'm pleased with the service. I'm getting more for my money than I was with T-Mobile, the services being sold to me actually work (except for the delayed SMS problem but that should put itself right in time anyway), I'm paying just over half of what I was handing over to T-Mobile every month, and I'm free to jump networks whenever I want if someone else starts offering a more attractive plan.

Update 22/08/2009: The delayed SMS thing still hasn't sorted itself out but it doesn't matter now anyway. The friend in question is fed up with the braindead customer (dis)service at "3" and moving to Virgin Mobile. After a few tests carried out yesterday we know that there are no problems communicating by SMS between O2 and Virgin. His number should be ported on Monday some time.