Can we have our roaming back, please?

As Britney Spears can testify, some things can be brought down all too easily by their own popularity -- as Vodafone's not-so-merry Christmas shows.

As Britney Spears can testify, some things can be brought down all too easily by their own popularity -- as Vodafone's not-so-merry Christmas shows.

ZDNet Australia has had heard from several readers complaining of unreliable roaming service and, in some cases, no roaming service at all -- problems which rather unfortunately coincided with the holiday period. Apparently, the trouble was caused by a large number of Vodafone users who took a holiday at Christmas.

It's not just all those lucky enough to be abroad who experienced ups and downs with their service -- those locally enjoyed the festive fun with all manner of text problems. Vodafone customers -- a couple on the ZDNet Australia staff -- reported dropped calls, coverage problems and issues with sending SMSes abroad. I say issues -- I mean complete inability to contact friends and relatives outside Australia.

Vodafone's problems weren't just confined to this side of the Tasman either -- reports have also come in of text messages going into several hours of hibernation over New Year's Eve before being delivered, in some parts of New Zealand.

The root cause for both the New Zealand text problems and for the roaming stuff-ups seems to have been the catch-all "network congestion", according to Vodafone -- shorthand for too many people on the network trying to do too much at the same time.

Over the roaming issues, Vodafone pointed the finger at friend, rival and supplier Optus, saying requests for more capacity had gone unheeded. Not our fault, said Vodafone.

Not because you inadequately forecast the demand during the period? queried ZDNet Australia. Not a chance, said Vodafone. Not us, guv.

I'll leave it with you to figure out whether or not Vodafone should have predicted people would go on holiday during the holiday period. But the repeated network problems that see New Year's Eve text messages delivered late, calls unable to connect and all-round network shoddiness as the clock strikes midnight, every year, regardless of operator? I would be tempted to call that inadequate forecasting.

If mobile networks' best men and women can't figure out they need to boost capacity for New Year's Eve, they should be hung by their heels and have some sense beaten into them by irate mobile users. Of course you're going to need a dirty great wedge of increased capacity every New Year's Eve. It's a fact even more predictable than Home and Away plotlines.

So, it's unlikely operators are surprised by demand, and yet networks take a dive with all the regularity of Italian soccer players. Is that inadequate forecasting? If it's not, then it certainly smacks of old fashioned stupidity or crappy customer service, which I would venture, is somewhat worse.

If it's just a question of economics -- shoring up the networks to a sufficient degree for a period of a few hours is simply too costly -- then I suggest it should be weighed against the negative feeling generated by poor service. Either that, or send each and every Vodafone customer a few bucks to make up for the annoyance.

Only don't send it by text eh?


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