T-Mobile: how massive do you like your fail?

T-Mobile: how massive do you like your fail?

Summary: Telephone companies have long had a reputation for corporate stupidity and rancid greed. Mobile phone network operators have earned that too, albeit version 2.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

Telephone companies have long had a reputation for corporate stupidity and rancid greed. Mobile phone network operators have earned that too, albeit version 2.0. T-Mobile, however, has redefined the phrase.

It's given all users, including long-standing customers, a 500 MB cap from February. Other companies have put caps on 'unlimited' data before, so what's the problem?

It's hard to know where to start. Was it the unhelpful, confusing, incomplete, inaccurate, patronising and badly written announcement hidden away on the web site? Was it not telling its own staff and PRs what was going on beforehand? Was it imposing a 83 percent cut in data capacity on Android users, while claiming that this wasn't a material change in the contract (I do so hope that goes to court)? Was it being unable to answer any questions, even now, about the details?

Perhaps it's the way that the company says that smartphones are not to be used for video, files, games and other downloads on the move, while simultaneously offering them for exactly that - at the old data limits! - on its website. Perhaps it was the way the company admits that it's broken the 30 days warning rule, is offering a fiver in compensation, but still won't admit that there's been a material change. Then there's the 'to maintain your service, you'll have to pay £12.99 a month extra' thing - but, of course, no material change. Or maybe it's the rumour that actually, iPhone users will be exempt from the cap.

Whatever the reasons - and I'm sure I've missed some, these are just off the top of my head - the result has been most gratifying. Unusually, the story's crossed the Atlantic and has been widely reported in American tech publications - mostly along the lines of "T-Mobile UK says don't use smartphones as smartphones". Over here, on consumer advice sites, mobile news forums, blogs and anywhere that users gather, the howls of misery threatens to crack browser screens across the land. People want out, and it's not really because of the data cap itself - those other operators have done the same and got away with mild sulks.

The real, underlying reason is contempt. Users - and here I include myself as a long-standing T-Mobile customer, and an Android user since the G1 - know there's a big gap between the magenta-hued wonderland of T-Mobile's marketing and the reality of dealing with the company, and that's OK. We allow them their fantasies. But when such a half-baked, quarter-witted assemblage of steaming incompetence is thrown at us to our considerable and actual detriment, dressed up with a stern 'if you used your phones correctly, there wouldn't be a problem' talking-to, it feels as if the company sees us as sullen teenage yobs barely deserving of the time of day.

I don't know whether the company really holds its customers in that sort of disdain, even though I've seen plenty of evidence over the years that it can do. It could just be industry-defining massive stupidity, matched with rancid greed. But I know how it feels - and I know that T-Mobile has done itself a great deal of damage. Could I recommend anyone move to T-Mobile? I could at the beginning of the week. I can't now.

If there is anyone awake in there, T-Mobile, here's a hint for next time: tell us you love us before you bend us over the barrel.

As it is, there's still time - just - for the flowers and chocolates. Apologise. Withdraw the changes for existing customers. It you really, really, can't manage your network without an 83 percent reduction in service for your most loyal customers, then buy us out. It's not actually our fault you can't deliver what you promised when we signed up, you know.

Pretending that it is our fault, while denying the blazingly obvious, is just insulting. Contemptuous. And a company that hates its customers does not deserve to survive, let alone prosper.

What's it to be, T-Mobile?

[UPDATE - three hours after this blog was posted, the flowers and chocolates have arrived. T-Mobile has out of the goodness of its heart/through legal advice (delete as applicable) said that the new caps will apply to new and renewing customers only. Existing customers keep their existing caps.

See what we can do when we do it together?]

Topic: Emerging Tech

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Great article, bang on the money about T-Useless and Nothing Nowhere.

    There is a template cancellation letter here: http://cantankerous.co.uk/?p=499
  • Just looking around people are very upset about all this T-Mobile changing the contract.

    My suggestion is to send this letter and cancel!

  • In terms of Protest I recommend everyone switch on your GPS/Google Navigation (recently upgraded) every time you travel/get in your car between now and 1st February 2011. Watch it pull that data from the t-mobile heavens and present an excellent vector driven map of your journey. If t-mobile thought they had enough capacity beforehand for legit use of its products built into the phone - this will show t-mobile they certainly don't for the average user's future use.
  • While I believe you meant "rampant greed" in the first paragraph, I kind of like the idea of "rancid greed" that's been left out and souring in the boardroom. :)
  • No, I meant rancid. That's how it smells and tastes.
  • Love it!

    Thanks to you and all the other journalists and especially all the little guys and girls (you know, the ones T-Mobile quaintly calls Customers) who emailed, rang and wrote to t-mobile and anyone else who would listen.

    Now we just need to get them to back down for the new customers .... :)
  • having used all the operators in rotation on a wide range of review devices, I continue to be a big fan of Vodafone's network, and of their approach that if you pay for what you get you get quite a good network. T-Mobile invested in software to refactor and transcode video inside the network to try and eke out their backhaul - the expensive bit they buy from BT 21CN - a couple of years back; does this look as if it's not doing as well as it hoped?
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • Mary, can you drop me a line re the video transcoding, please? Ta.
    Manek Dubash