Vodafone’s overseas internet rip-off

I’ve blogged before about my unhappy experience with Vodafone’s mobile internet service. I explained how I found it almost impossible to get online. So it was a bitter irony to get charged £100 by Vodafone in June for mobile internet roaming charges in California – especially as I was careful to go online when wifi was available in the office and hotel in San Jose.

When I first complained in June, a Vodafone agent accepted I was not responsible but said that my phone was. She said the phone was online continuously for six hours – yet at the times she said this happened, I was mostly in the office on the work wifi network. (And, just as significantly, I was not using the phone as I was on my work laptop and wifi-only iPad.) Despite this, the agent said they could do nothing until the billing period was over.

False sense of security: the Vodafone texts

It gets worse. Vodafone send me texts (above) saying that I was halfway through my 5MB data allowance. At no point did they say I had used up the 5MB allowance. So I was appalled to get a further text saying I had used up 80% of the £100 cap on data outside Europe (below). So Vodafone’s texts to me went straight from saying I was more than halfway through a 5MB allowance and would be charged £15 for exceeding it to telling me  I had used £80 of data. How incredibly irresponsible and misleading. (I’m now been told I had used 30MB.)

Vodafone’s bombshell

Customer service woe

It gets even worse. When I complained, I got a phone call from someone from Vodafone. They asked me for personal information, including my date of birth. I said I was uncomfortable doing so without being sure it was a genuine call. The caller said they’d send a code by text – which never arrived. When I chased by email, Vodafone’s agent asked me to send my date of birth by email. I said I wasn’t prepared to send such an important piece of info by insecure email – only to be told:

“I understand your concern about the Internet charges, Rest assured, the medium to exchange the information via email is on secure server. Your can provide information over the email. We care about your personal information that is the reason we have developed a secure protocol.”

Quite bizarre, as the email exchange was not taking place within a secure section of Vodafone’s website but by ordinary email. So the security of Vodafone’s servers was irrelevant.

Nearly two weeks on, Vodafone’s customer service team is still ducking all my questions:

Why didn’t you tell me that I had exceeded the 5MB allowance?

Why did you wait until I had supposedly used £80 of data over six hours before warning me?

Your agent acknowledged in June that I had not personally instigated the data usage – so why have you charged me for it?

I’m still awaiting answers.

The Guardian investigates Vodafone

The Guardian is doing a good job exposing Vodafone’s practices. Its deputy personal finance editor Rupert Jones this weekend reported that Ofcom is investigating price rises on ‘fixed’ mobile phone contracts. Vodafone is about to sting 10 million customers with higher monthly charges. As the Guardian said:

“The signs say pay monthly, the contract tells you how much you will pay … then suddenly something which you thought was fixed is moved.”

This weekend’s Guardian Money also reported that Vodafone had charged a small business £17,484 for a stolen phone. The company told the Guardian that  “Vodafone doesn’t monitor accounts – this is the customer’s responsibility.” It could learn a lot from the banks and credit card companies, who have a good record of monitoring unusual transactions and warning the customer.

UPDATE: once again, Jenny and team at @vodafoneuk came up trumps, with an excellent, fast and generous response. A copy book example of great customer service through social media. Thank you!

Why NFC isn’t the future of mobile payments

You may never have heard of NFC – near field communication. It’s the technology that enables contactless communication between devices such as phones and tablets. Yet many in the technology and financial services industries regard it as the holy grail. They see it as a sure way to make paying by mobile phone as commonplace as using a credit card. They whisper the magic letters with reverence.

But this belief in the potential of NFC is almost certainly misplaced. It’s a classic case in focusing on the technology, rather than what it does, and what consumers and businesses want. Or, putting it another way, the classic mistake of assuming that if you ‘build it, they will use it’.

Not everyone thinks that NFC is so compelling. Contrary to speculation, Apple chose not to add NFC to the iPhone 4S. It may, or may not, be a feature of the next generation iPhone.

Another sceptic is PayPal. I explained why in an interview with TechRadar editor Patrick Goss. My point was simple: very few consumers have NFC phones. Retailers have to spend a lot of money on new in-store systems to take NFC payments. They need convincing that consumers are going to use NFC before making the commitment.

Just creating the technology isn’t enough. Tablet computers were invented years before Apple launched the iPad – yet it took Apple’s genius for making things easy and enjoyable to use to turn tablets into a mass market product. I sensed I was regarded as speaking out of turn when I expressed doubt about NFC at a London discussion about mobile payments this week – yet the enthusiasts seemed to assume that NFC was bound to succeed.

As I told TechRadar, “NFC may well be interesting and transformational in a few years time but the reality is that the world may well have moved on by then”.

Sometimes, simple, existing technology proves the answer. It’s already possible to shop and pay on your mobile, with apps, mobile websites and more. I showed Patrick how simple it is to pay for a meal at your table in PizzaExpress with a smartphone: NFC not required. PayPal handled $4 billion in mobile payments globally last year and expects this to rise to $7 billion in 2012. NFC barely features in this story.

Disclosure: I am head of PR for PayPal UK.