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Vodafone aims to get real with Red plans

Vodafone Australia's new Red plans are aimed at simplifying mobile phone plans, but data is tight.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Vodafone Australia has followed its counterparts in the UK and New Zealand with the launch its new plans with unlimited texts and calls under the brand of Red, but data allowances have again been limited in line with the industry trend.

Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

The plans, which will be available in stores from Wednesday, are the first major push to win over new customers since the company's network and customer service overhaul under the reign of new CEO Bill Morrow.

Each post-paid 24-month plan comes with unlimited national calls and texts, with the breakout difference coming to data. The AU$65 per month plan comes with 1.5GB of data, the AU$80 per month plan with 2.5GB of data, and the AU$100 per month plan with 5GB of data.

SIM-only plans come in at AU$15 less per month if customers want to buy their own phones outright.

While the provision of infinite national calls now removes a set allocation of calls per month, data has remained stable. A current AU$60 per month plan will give you 1.5GB of data, while an AU$80 per month plan will give you 2GB per month, and the AU$100 plan will give you 5GB of data.

The plans are also the first to include the new AU$5 per day charge for customers visiting New Zealand, the US, or the UK to continue to use their phone as though they were in Australia.

Morrow told journalists on Thursday that in determining what customers want from their telcos, the company found that it isn't just about the amount of data they get per month.

"Value is the price, value is the simplicity to understand, it's removing the barrier to freedom and knowing you're not gouging me. To know you actually care about what I stand for, because you're looking for a relationship that is going to go for the long run," he said.

"These Red plans, we have taken that simplicity to a new level. For data, of course there are elements that you're still going to have to pay for [but] no one else out there offers with the degree of simpleness and the degree of freedom."

Morrow said that Vodafone's aim is now to be "real" to customers, and to avoid speaking to customers like a corporation.

"We're going to be as real as the day is long."

Vodafone's chief marketing officer Kim Clarke admitted that some customers will always want more data, and will be willing to sacrifice service for that data. She said they are not the customers for Vodafone.

"There will always be those niche value hunters. They have providers, that's not Vodafone. If you actually want a full service offering, then that is Vodafone, and that comes with Vodafone Cares and an onshore call centre. We've invested in that because that's what our customers have told us is important to them. It comes with roaming and it comes with 4G," she said.

Morrow said that since the infamous network incidents dating back to 2010, Vodafone had overhauled its 3G network, and is now in line with Telstra's Next G and is faster than Optus.

"I don't want to degrade our competition [but] we've listened to the issues, we've made a difference already, and we're only halfway through our program and by the end of this year, there's going to be another wave of 'wow, I feel, I see, I experience the difference'," he said.

"Our network is 40 percent wider than it was a couple of years ago, our outage time is 90 percent less than what we had a couple of years ago, our dropped call rate is a little under half of what it was from a year ago. Our data speeds have kicked arse and are almost at a multiple you can't get to."

The company has a long road ahead of it, and has shed over 1.5 million customers since 2010. Vodafone expects the tide to turn and customers to begin to return to Vodafone towards the end of this year, or the beginning on 2014.

Vodafone hasn't followed Optus in implementing data breakage plans, where customers who go over their monthly limit will automatically be provided with 1GB extra for an additional AU$10. However, the company has data packs on plans, and alerts customers when they're about to go over to add the new data pack. The first time a customer ignores those alerts and ends up with a data breakage fee, ZDNet understands that the customer can then ask to have the data pack retroactively added, and will then be encouraged by Vodafone to add it permanently if the customer frequently goes over their monthly data limit.

All eyes are now on Telstra, which is expected to release its new plans and make announcements around data breakage and roaming charges as part of those plans. CEO David Thodey has indicated that the company is not yet convinced by the announcements from Optus and Vodafone.

Josh Taylor travelled to New Zealand as a guest of Vodafone.

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