Vodafone – Staring into the Abyss

I have come to the conclusion that Vodafone will be roadkill on the path to ubiquitous connectivity. I’ve talked to several mobile operators in the past year and they all accept that they must become internet companies, they just don’t know how. This indecision will be fatal if Google decides to go global with Android and their spectrum purchases. Given my experiences as a simple punter in the past two weeks, can I beseech Google to buy the Three network off Hutchison Whampoa and show this relic of the 20th century what execution is all about?

Red Flag Act 1865

My experience with Voda recently involved them conning me out of money on the one hand and refusing to take my money on the other. It is truly a company that hasn’t the vaguest clue what its customers want.

In November I realised they were gouging me for a 15MB data plan at €8 when they also offered a 500MB data plan for the same money. I cancelled one and ordered the other. As they cannot help themselves when it comes to screwing customers, they did the cancellation immediately but did not enable the new plan until Dec 15th. I then received a bill for €289 which was mainly data charges.

It appears I’m not the only one who has been snared by this since a short conversation (with lots of time on hold) to customer service got me a full refund with no acceptance of guilt on their part and dire warnings to use Vodafone Live as my access point or it would happen again.

Which brings us to the second part of this sad tale where we move from ripping the customer off to just good old fashioned incompetence and misleading advertising.

So I’m signed up for 500MB “Mobile Internet”. None of the text or links on the entire purchase flow indicate ANY special terms and conditions on this plan. Silly me, it appears that as long as Voda have some Ts and Cs buried on a page somewhere on their site, they can get away with false advertising.

This “Mobile Internet” is nothing of the sort. It is some 20th Century walled-garden bullcrap with an internet makeover. From what I can gather on Jaiku, they insist on “Live” being used as the access point because they have no ability to meter on “Voda ISP”. That’s just laughable.

I tried using this joke of an access point on Thursday. My results using the phone browser:

  • Cannot log on to GMail
  • Cannot log on to Jaiku
  • Cannot log on to Twitter
  • Cannot use Jaiku Mobile app
  • Cannot use Fring IM app

Vodafone Live is not an internet connection, it is a bastardized hamstrung http proxy and the Advertising Standards Authority should come down on them like a ton of bricks.

But it gets even more ridiculous than that. I rang Voda to ask how I make use of the HSDPA 3.5G feature on my brand-spanking new N95-8GB (which I bought from them). I wanted to get their “broadband” package for it so I’d have 5GB for €14.99/€29.99 a month. The reply? They cannot provide this service!!!!! If I sign up for “broadband”, it is an entirely separate account for one of the sperm modems with a separate SIM. “Well you could put the new SIM in the N95, but of course then you can’t receive voice calls”. Well actually I could if you let me use VOIP on it, but you don’t.

I think I know what is going on here. Separate business units run “mobile internet” and “broadband” and they cannot figure out how to integrate the billing and/or metering. In other words they are a deeply dysfunctional organisation in terminal decline that sells devices it isn’t even capable of supporting.

To add insult to injury, I discovered that the Vodafone Live access point does work at 3.5G. It’s a pity none of the sites or applications that I use every day are actually accessible on it.

So here is my offer to Vodafone – I want to give you €29.99 a month. I want to use HSDPA on my phone. I want to use my phone as a modem for my laptop. I want access to every single site on the internet (no that doesn’t just mean the web) and I want no limitations on ports, protocols or payload. Wake up, smell the coffee and take my money in a honest transparent way. If you cannot figure out how to provide me with this, you’ll be a footnote in history like blacksmiths when the Model T took over.

About Conor O'Neill

22 Comments for this entry

Richard Hearne
December 23rd, 2007 on 1:58 pm

Amen. O2 are no better…

Unfortunately Ireland will probably end up being one of the last bastions.

Conor O'Neill
December 23rd, 2007 on 2:47 pm

They remind me most of DEC, Wang, Sperry, Univac etc. All were utterly addicted to their present revenue stream/model and were paralysed by a fear of damaging that. We all know what happened to them.

Have none of these companies studied Intel and how they exited the memory market? That’s how you show executive leadership.

Brian Greene
December 23rd, 2007 on 6:14 pm

Or how Nokia left jays fluid and toilet rolls behind.

the big companies are staring into a big black hole. they have done very well holding control of the network unlike the ISPs that bring google pages to us. mobile ops share of ring tone sales, their share of premium SMS, highest ARPUs in Europe, while we are the second highest talkers to the french.

here comes the future and they cant run from it or to it. they are giants and they are big and sluggish.

All business speak is about agility of company, agility of service, agility of code. They have none.

Invest in Lampposts owned by the local council, 4G needs 10M high poles with 240v. While they are installing the apparatus in the poles, they could alter the light pollution and give enviro a lose / win situation. As long as we don’t get Minister Ryan allowing privatised ESB network a licence to BPL the 3-30Mhz band over unscreened untwisted high voltage cables. If the do that the wires may fall on Ryans head.

Conor O'Neill
December 23rd, 2007 on 6:50 pm

How could I forget Nokia and the loo-roll?

I’d never heard about the lamposts idea. Neat!

Brian Greene
December 23rd, 2007 on 8:33 pm

Wireless from the lampposts is a John McCormack (HackWatch) quote. It was a vision from way back, say 5 years ago. Its gonna happen. As did the famous ‘McCormack Hack’ which takes out the Pay TV market.

William Graves
December 26th, 2007 on 7:15 pm

They took money when they shouldn’t have and wouldn’t take it when they should have? I’m not surprised the company is having troubles when it is being run like this.

January 5th, 2008 on 5:48 am

I recently moved back to Ireland after 12 years living and working in the US. one of the things I had been looking forward to was being able to get decent mobile voice and data (services that US GSM providers are pretty behind on) on an unlocked handset (a Nokia e90) that I already owned. When I started looking into plans I couldn’t believe how overpriced they were and what a poor range of services were available. I’ve been using a Vodafone pre paid SIM for the time being and it was only after finding this post that I realized why I could get web but not access Gmail using IMAP settings on the inbuilt email client or get a connection on IM or VoIP applications. It looked like 3 might not be so bad, but they then REFUSED to provide me with service unless I purchased a handset!

I mean, t-mobile US sucks but at least it’s because they have outdated infrastructure and not because they go out of their way to screw you.

Conor O'Neill
January 5th, 2008 on 12:19 pm

3 was supposed to be the first real competition in the oligopoly here. Unfortunately they haven’t delivered on their potential at all. If they’d provide reliability, cheap roaming and full 3.5G coverage then X-Series is what I’d be on.

Mike HH
January 6th, 2008 on 7:18 pm


I’d say ditch Vodafone and get an N series Nokia on an 02 account. I’ve been with 02 for 17 years and they’re fine.

Then just get Fring for free – it works perfectly on SIP VOIP telephony, MSN Messenger and MSN Telephony, ICQ, and Skype – and O2′s 34MB data + 500 minute GSM deal only costs about £37.

Conor O'Neill
January 6th, 2008 on 8:01 pm

UK right? Don’t think the deals are as good here. Also locked into 12 month contract on N95 with the VodaGougers

January 20th, 2008 on 9:08 pm

Signed up for a contract w/ 3 after the huge disappointment that was Vodafone pre-paid and they’re just as bad. The x-series ‘mobile internet’ package has not allowed me to access anything but web on the Nokia apps that came with my unlocked e90 or other 3rd party Symbian apps. The only non-web data services available are via custom 3 apps (such as their version of iSkoot/Skype). No Fring, no IM for Gtalk or AIM, no IMAP email via the Nokia messaging client (all fine via WLAN but won’t connect via the 3 access point). Oh, and they censor web content. Tried to link to an article on Maxim online (trashy, I know, but hardly hardcore porn and something I actually wanted to read) and got a ‘this web page is unavailable to view’ message. Customer service response ‘that is adult content. We don’t allow that on 3′, yet the ‘Planet 3′ homepage offers images of scantily clad ‘babes’ to DL as phone wallpaper for €2…

Customer service is a disaster. Average 45 minute wait time. Technical support only fully staffed 9:00-22:00 weekdays. Even the supervisors obviously didn’t understand the technical issues. Awaiting third callback from backend tech people in 3 days (first two never arrived). Lies and misinformation. Going to give them two more days to sort this out, then cancelling my contract (thankfully there’s a 14 day back out period) and try o2.

January 20th, 2008 on 9:12 pm

oh, and it’s not a handset issue. I caved and purchased a Nokia 6120 with my contract…same story re: blocking of anything but web and data over pre-approved 3 apps. It’s not even a question of other apps being unsupported. They must be actively blocked for the results I have seen to be occuring.

Conor O'Neill
January 20th, 2008 on 9:15 pm

You’d think that competing against the incumbents would be shooting fish in a barrel but it looks like 3 haven’t even figured out which end of the gun to hold.

April 22nd, 2008 on 12:31 pm

What a great post – v. illuminating for a non-techie like me. Found it after trying for three months to sort out this isp v vodafone live problem, while using my phone as a modem to connect with a nokia 770. Have been billed around €1000 in total, all credited eventually, but no sign of them actually being able to solve the problem. Yesterday they offered me 25MB a month for €15.99 instead of what I thought I was signing up for – 500MB for €9.99. I don’t even want anything very complicated – just something to read on the train : ( Can anyone tell me is it possible to use your phone as a modem using the vodafone access point taking advantage of the €9.99 data add on? Just for a basic service? Customer service reps tell me something different every time I call. Now they’ve just cut me off, but are saying they’re holding me to the contract.

Conor O'Neill
April 22nd, 2008 on 12:46 pm

I don’t believe it’s possible to use the Vodafone Live APN when using a phone as a modem (either cabled to laptop or bluetoothed to N770) so you will always be shafted since it will use the ISP connection instead. The reason for this is that Live is a useless piece of 1990′s CWAP (to use the technical term).

Until Vodafone starts offering proper data plans to people with HSDPA phones, you cannot use them as modems. I see no sign of them or O2 offering this. I don’t know whether it is due to the sort of bizarre business models that mobile telcos work under or good old fashioned incompetence.

The only option you have – and hilariously, O2 shops are telling people this – is to buy one of the sperm modems from Voda/O2/Three and put the SIM from it into your phone when you want to use it as a bluetooth modem. You’ll obviously lose SMS and have to pay the extra mothly data charge (but it’s less than €1000 per month!). I’m tempted to try it and see if Truphone or Fring+Blueface voice will work over the data connection. If it does, then forward your mobile number to your VOIP number and you’ll be sussed for calls too.

Conor O'Neill
April 22nd, 2008 on 1:00 pm

A little poll to see who I should use to run the Voice over IP test: http://poll.fm/boup

April 22nd, 2008 on 1:50 pm

That’s a great solution for me, thanks. I don’t really care about the voice/SMS issue, as I carry another phone anyhow – I just want not to have to lug a laptop around all the time, and I just find phones too fiddly for browsing. But this solution will work when I want to travel with my laptop as well as with the N770. Brilliant! But do I really have to ask for a “sperm modem”?

Conor O'Neill
April 22nd, 2008 on 2:05 pm


Check out vodafone.ie – they are flogging off “as new” ones cheaply. I’d almost go with O2 myself just to stick it to Voda. Note there is no relationship between your mobile phone account and any “mobile broadband” account. I don’t know if that’s because they are still running their billing on a PDP-11 or they can’t get their head around data. In any case, it means you could get an O2 data SIM and put it in a Vodafone mobile if the mobile is unlocked. Generally you just have to ring Voda and ask for the phone to be unlocked. They didn’t ask me why I wanted to do it (I did it to use a MAXRoam SIM whilst abroad), they just pointed out that I still was in contract with them.

Conor O'Neill
April 23rd, 2008 on 5:57 pm

Dee, today I got both the Vodafone and O2 broadband modems (I’ll return whichever one loses the face-off). So far it’s been a mixed bag and I’ll do a full blog post after more testing.

The SIMs from both work in my Nokia N95-8GB. O2 3G does not work where I live (bad signal) but Vodafone does. Both work in Bandon town centre. Truphone Voice Over IP and Fring Instant Messenger both work perfectly on both. Qik video streaming works well on O2 and poorly on Vodafone. A quick test of file download on both showed approx .30 Mbs instead of 3 Mbs but I need to run more tests on that.

Tomorrow I am going to test both on the train to/from Dublin. One in phone, the other in the modem and then reversed on the way back down.

Vodafone is €49 for modem/SIM and then €15 each month for 3 months. O2 is €89 for modem/SIM and same monthly pricing. Vodafone has 5GB cap per month, O2 is 10GB. O2 provides a slightly better modem which will support 7.2Mbs whenever that is rolled out. More as I find it.

Conor O'Neill
April 23rd, 2008 on 5:58 pm

Oh sorry, after 3 months both are €30 per month (or €40 on O2 if you are not already a customer).

Daniel Martin
July 22nd, 2008 on 1:50 am


The miserable sods (vodafone) did not repay me the price of the data modem (49.99) when I left it back (within the 10 days). Guy in shop took the package from me and told me ‘That would be alright’. I took this to mean that they would send my back the price of the modem when they checked it out etc. Two months later I got a bank statement showing a withdrawal for rent for the month (on the modem I was not using). The gobshits (vovafone folks) had not cancelled the contract.
Phone customer services to see what the story was and they told my they would cancel contract and return money. Four months later nothing. Phoned again. Got back money for rental but not for the modem (49.99) as they said this was ‘vodafone retails’ job to do.
Went into shop to ask for money on the modem back. They calimed that I had already got the money back the day I handed the modem back which was not correct.
Robben ba&*%”)&! (as we say down here).
The team leader at the customer services end suggested to call the police!!
Make sure you get money back for modem when left back if you are not going to keep it.
I intend to attempt phoing again but I shoud think it will be a waste of time.


Conor O'Neill
July 22nd, 2008 on 8:47 am

That’s terrible behaviour by Vodafone. I expected to be refunded via my bill too but luckily the guy in Oyster just handed me a €50 note in the shop.