Lies, damned lies and telco stupidity

Summary:Earlier this month, Telstra put out a press release trumpeting that it's come up with a new phone coaching service to help people who are "bamboozled" by their mobiles. Another excellent example of wrong-headed thinking from the mobile industry.

Earlier this month, Telstra put out a press release trumpeting that it's come up with a new phone coaching service to help people who are "bamboozled" by their mobiles. Another excellent example of wrong-headed thinking from the mobile industry.

On the surface, it's a nice idea. You can't get your mobile working — go ask those nice people from Telstra to help you fix it.

But take a step back for a minute. What sort of company would think to sell a product that's so complex — so unworkable to the average Joe — that they need to get coaching before they can use it?

If reports are correct, Telstra is the type of telco that would chuck its toys out of the pram and lose the iPhone because Apple wouldn't put some Sensis content on the device. Why can't it then exert some pressure on Nokia, or RIM, or whoever else to make their software easier to work?

Surely the emphasis should be on the tech companies to make products that are easy to use, not on customers to work out how to puzzle their way through devices that are more like Rubik's Cubes than smartphones.

For all telcos' talk of putting the customer first, they clearly don't, as things like this show. More evidence, were it needed: Telstra call centres.

Apparently, if I have a query, I can ring up and talk to someone between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. Guess what? I'm at work then. I've got better things to do between 9 and 5 than listen to the crappy hold music. I'm at work. My employer pays me to work during that time. If I could take a break at any time for a personal phone call, I'd chat to one of my friends, not to a call centre worker.

If I could choose how to waste 15 minutes of my work day, I think just staring into space and seeing how long I could go between blinks would be better than hanging on the telephone waiting for my "valued call" to get to the head of the Telstra queue.

Try it the other way around, Telstra. How about your call centre worker takes 15 minutes or more out of their day to ring an aunt in Canberra, rather than getting on with their work. I'd imagine that would go down like a poo sandwich, no?

The same goes for you, Internode (note: your hold music sounds like the end of the world happening in 1983), and anyone else that thinks customer service should only be available during working hours. Look around you, my telco friends, the world has moved on and you're looking rather superannuated by refusing to move with it.

And while we're on the subject of telco irrationalities, let me also question a number of hoary old chestnuts that Telstra insists on peddling — via their drill instructor cum trained one-man-manure-distributor, communications head Phil Burgess — a man who was, I believe, once introduced to the facts. The meeting clearly didn't go well and they've agreed to part ways ever since.

Burgess often accuses the ACCC of using the UK's regulator's pricing for the unbundled local loop and simply converting it to an Australia dollar figure to get its pricing models for the Australian market. This has been dispelled as manure of the highest order repeatedly, but why let facts get in the way of some pointless regulator bashing?

Does anyone genuinely think that that's how the ACCC works? If that was their methodology, then I'm surprised they'd have the necessary cognisance to work a calculator. Surely if they were that out and out stupider-than-a-piece-of-toast barely sentient, they wouldn't be able to get their pants on unassisted, let alone hold down a job at the ACCC.

My favourite recent Burgess-ism however — aside from the geographically retarded "I didn't even know Iceland had people" (my aching sides!) — was that the UK broadband regime is a "disaster" that the ACCC shouldn't be allowed to let Australia to mimic its teeth-grinding awfulness.

Oh yes. During my time in the UK, I wept at the sheer horror of the freely available broadband subscriptions without up or download caps. I fell to the floor pulling out my hair as I handed over the monstrous sum of five pounds a month for my connection. I begged friends and relatives to put me out of my misery as I saw the incumbent undergo operational separation and still remain profitable while broadband prices fell across the board.

If Dante had a seventh circle of broadband hell, then this is surely it.

I now look forward to the screeds of talkback below accusing me of Telstra bashing. Yawn. For the record, let me say this: I was a customer of Telstra for a long time and I have found its service the shining example of adequacy. That said, I am also a journalist and duty bound to point out bollocks where I see it. And right now, there's more bollocks at Telstra than there is at a nudist camp.

And WiMax. Why all this holy war talk? I'm surprised at the sheer amount of hot air that got spouted about WiMax during the brief time that it looked like it would emerge as a major telecoms standard in Australia before it plummeted like a concrete kestrel.

The fact is that WiMax is a niche technology. The GSM evolution path, which leads to various iterations of HSPA and on to LTE, doesn't feature WiMax. Billions of people and all of the big name carriers have put their faith in GSM, not WiMax.

Technologically, WiMax may be the complete balls-out all-round last mile winner, but mobile operators have placed their bets elsewhere. In countries where telecoms infrastructure is not so ubiquitous or where WiMax has sopped up government cash like Amy Winehouse does chemicals, the technology has a chance.

Everywhere else (née Australia), chances are its going to the wireless equivalent of the old, toothless fella smoking a pipe in the corner of the pub telling everyone how he could have been someone important, before falling asleep and dribbling down his moth-eaten shirt.

I'd like to have seen WiMax get a run out and see what it could do, but it's just not going to happen, so all those Telstra execs' who spent last year bashing WiMax just ended up wasting their time. It's a feeling Telstra must be achingly familiar with after all those fruitless court cases.

Still, at least it brings them closer to their customers: anyone who's tried to get hold of a Telstra call centre worker on the weekend is all too accustomed to wasting their time.

Topics: Telcos, Networking, Telstra, Wi-Fi

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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