Friday, 13 August 2010

Orange mobile services sucks. Failing customers on clarity of pricing plans

There are times when we must stand up for the rights of people, and fight improper business practice and those organisations whose ethics are suspect. At the Centre for eScience we look at new emerging mobile technologies with a view to delivering our services across them. Recently, we took delivery of a new HTC Wildfire, to evaluate how our Sakai based technologies could be delivered. And here begins the story on a complete lack of clarity on call charges that is likely to affect many 1,000s of Orange customers in the UK...

I am a low usage Orange pay as you go customer. Low usage means that I use less than £5 of credit per month. At present I am a Dolphin user which the Orange website tells me means: free internet and texts (see here to view the price plan for Dolphin). I was curious about what 'Free Internet' means, after all it does cost money to provide data, and services must be limited in some way to reflect this cost. On reviewing detailed Dolphin charges it soon became clear that Orange were not happy to divulge the true cost of internet usage on this Pay as You Go contract type. The only detail it has on costs and internet is the statement, "Maximum daily charge for mobile Internet browsing £2". Surely, if I download a 0.5 gigabyte movie file it won't be capped at £2? I checked for small print documentation and could not find any on the orange site. Next step, call customer services for clarification...

On my first attempt I was put through to customer services and I asked 2 things. First, please clarify what internet use means. Secondly, please guide me to documentation on your website explaining in detail internet charging structures. The person on the other end of the phone explained that for Orange, free internet is not free internet, only free Facebook. What? I don't even use Facebook (see my earlier blog on the risks associated with use of social networks)! How can Orange equate internet use with just Facebook? Surely this is mis-advertising? Isn't that illegal in the UK? So, the question became, how much do you charge for non-Facebook internet? Aha, the real story begins to emerge! The lady explained that for non-Facebook internet, users on Dolphin are charged £4 per megabyte transferred. Not a cheap deal as it is advertised. I probed deeper and asked where this information was stored on the Orange website, she was unable to show me. I explained this this position was not satisfactory and that Orange were likely to be breaking the law by advertising their product in this way. The phone went dead...

Now, phone lines can go dead for various reasons. This call was probably directed to customer services in Middle Asia, and I'm guessing that the recent Perseid meteor shower knocked out communication between Middle Asia and Europe momentarily...

I dialled again. I was put through to customers services again. I requested all of the information a second time. The customer service representative was exemplary and knew her plans and charges by heart. Service was with a smile also. She explained concisely that internet equals Facebook only, not internet per ce? Again she explained that I would be charged a fee £4 for every non-Facebook megabyte downloaded. She could not explain clearly what the £2 maximum daily charge was however. Again I asked her to locate on the Orange website clear data charge structures that would be available to all customers. She tried and tried and could not locate the information for me. At this point I decided to blog the event in the hope of reaching out to users to make them aware of Orange's less than ethical approach to dealing with customer charging. In view of this activity I have decided to veto any use of Orange services and would recommend that you all do so.

Does this sound a bit like sour grapes? I bet your thinking this guys come back from holiday with a £200 unexpected data charge. Nope, I've spend about £6 on data before realising the real cost. I feel quite smug that I checked. What is important is that we have a place to go where we can complain. My blog is my conduit for complaining. When this blog becomes Google searchable, maybe Orange will find it and get back to me.

A final element to the puzzle. Why do most countries have Telecoms Regulators? In the UK we have OFCOM. OFCOM adjudicates telecom market pricing and networks and forces changes if imbalances are found. Unfortunately, they are always chasing their own tails as the telcos employ teams of people strategising how to get more money from consumers. During a Telco conference I attended about 8 years ago, one CEO proudly exclaimed that they (the Telco industry) now had a high profit instrument that would keep shareholders happy for the years to come. This was text messaging. During the presentation he was proud to announce that for every text send the consumer was charged 20 pence, but it only cost 0.0001 pence to send via their networks. The question that OFCOM must now address, is what is the real cost of sending 1MB of data across mobile networks. I bet it's really cheap to do so...given that I can buy 30Gb of download from British Telecom for £25 on a broadband service. So, data is now the money spinner of the mobile telcos, I'll be looking forward to see how OFCOM deal with this, but I am also concerned that funding cuts will limit their ability to control them.

Ok, I'm off to buy a non-Orange pay monthly sim. I can't wait to get into the new HTC phone, so far I am really impressed.


  1. Good article. I have been searching for this info or the lack there of in this case. This really is outrageous business practice at its very worst! What pay as you go service did you decide to go with in the end for reasonable mobile internet?

  2. Apologies for the delay Made in Machines. In the end I went for a contract with Vodaphone. Their pricing schedule for data was much clearer.