The 23,000 Vodafone customers who registered interest in a class-action suit against the company over its 3G network issues back in 2011 will need to sign up and give more information to law firm Piper Alderman in the next three months before the firm determines whether the suit will proceed.
The suit, launched off the back of the "Vodafail" complaints in 2010 about the 3G network's poor data performance and call handling, had picked up 23,000 customers who were interested in seeking compensation from the ailing telecommunications company.
Sasha Ivantsoff, Piper Alderman's lead partner on the suit, said that over the last two years, the firm has been conducting "extensive investigations" into the network issues, and following backing by LCM Litigation Fund, the firm has funding and the risk of the case covered.
Piper Alderman estimates the worth of the case to be tens of millions of dollars, with money being paid back for services not rendered, as well as compensation for businesses who have suffered from a lack of connectivity on Vodafone's network.
But those 23,000 who registered in 2011 will need to re-sign up to the suit in order to participate. People wanting to register will need to have been Vodafone customers in 2010 or 2011, and will need to go to the firm's website and provide contact details and monthly Vodafone spend.
Since 2010, the company has lost over a million customers, and most who were on the longest two-year contracts with Vodafone would have either ended their contract or stayed with the company in that time. Nevertheless, Ivantsoff was confident that more ex-Vodafone customers would be keen to sign up.
"There were about 7 million SIM cards on issue in 2010. Since then, we know that about 700,000 SIM cards are no longer active, so we assume 700,000 people have left Vodafone. We'd like to capture all of them and some more," he said. "We are confident that there are enough disaffected people who have suffered a loss."
Vodafone told ZDNet this morning that Piper Alderman is "known for promoting class actions", and has not been in contact with the telco. Piper Alderman managing partner Gordon Grieve said that the firm has three to four class-action suits in play at the moment.
"We're not a firm that runs around trying to get class actions up all the time, but when we see that there's an opportunity to assist people in this sort of environment, then we're quite happy to look at it," he said.
The firm plans to file the suit against Vodafone by the end of May, if it is not resolved with Vodafone beforehand. Piper Alderman has not yet been in contact with the telecommunications giant.
"There was a little bit of press last night that was a bit unhelpful, I think. We haven't contacted Vodafone; we will do that in due course. We are ... under professional obligations to try to resolve issues before going to court."
He said the reason why Piper Alderman has not been in contact with Vodafone is that he needs a case to put to them.
"We need to have something meaningful to put to them. We need to know how many people are in the class. We need to know how much each person spent and what their losses are."
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) spokesperson Elise Davidson said in a statement that those hit by Vodafone's network problems in 2010 would be better to take their complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).
"Vodafone has already compensated some customers by providing discounts on monthly plans or waiving them altogether until the network was improved," she said. "We suggest those unsatisfied with Vodafone's response to their complaint contact the TIO, which is a free, independent service set up specifically to resolve complaints between providers and their customers."
Davidson said that the class action would take a long time to play out, and there is no guarantee that it would succeed.
"Our fears are that this will turn into a lawyer's picnic," she said. "It would be a better outcome for consumers if Vodafone was able to invest the money it will spend defending this class action into further improving its network, which would result in a better service for its customers."
Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) last night reported an AU$817.6 million loss for 2012, and Davidson said consumers would be worse off if Vodafone exited the market entirely.
"If VHA decides to exit the Australian market, we will be left with a network duopoly — Telstra and Optus. We don't think this will be a good outcome for Australian consumers," she said.