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09 Jun 2010
By Rod Bruem
Jun
09
2010

Going bush? Check the maps first

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This week Telstra Country Wide celebrates its 10th anniversary and I’m among those celebrating.  Few people could have imagined a decade ago how far rural telecommunications would have come in a relatively short space of time.

Telstra’s controversial decision to close down the CDMA network and replace it with Next G is obviously the highlight of the decade.  It has allowed the company to focus on investing and improving coverage on one national system.  Growing up in rural NSW, I can remember having to deal with manual telephone exchanges in the not too distant past.  Today I can get the same fast broadband speeds on my laptop down of the family farm (400 miles from Sydney) as I can in my suburban flat.

Telstra’s competitors are still trying to catch up with Next G.  If you live in the country or like to go bush often like I do, then it pays to check out the coverage – especially if you’re thinking of buying products like the new Apple iPad.

Optus offers 3G services using two different frequencies. The problem is that some very popular devices, such as the iPad and the iPhone, are not compatible with the 900MHz spectrum that Optus uses for 3G coverage outside major metropolitan areas. The result is that the devices might still work, but at limited data speeds. So accessing mobile internet or email is a significantly slower experience and some of the cool apps won’t even work at all.
Australian 3G coverage map
This map  shows just how inadequate the Optus 3G 2100 coverage really is.

Even in the city the Optus 3G experience can be off the pace, as ZDNet reported recently.

Telstra never claims to have the cheapest prices, but as they often say in the bush, you get what you pay for.

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Posts: 11

66 Comments

  1. Bob says:

    Before Telstra was sold off it had about 21,000,000 Australian shareholders! If the even more obscene profits back then had been ploughed back into the telco instead of being redirected to general government revenue Australian telecommunications would have been the envy of the World.

  2. I have just had a nearly all-positive Telstra experience, so I want to share this here, since my experiences as a rural customer have previously all been startlingly negative. I hope this more recent positive experience means Telstra is changing (the above blog post aside).

    A few days ago, our landline started crackling like a scrub fire. You couldn’t hear the person on the other end, nor they you. Our ADSL also kept dropping out, since it depends on the quality of the landline. So I knew I had to call Telstra. Due to my previous experiences, I was dreading that. (-1)

    Since I am very ill and have neurological problems, I can’t get through the “your call is so important to us that we’re not taking it” delay process. I run out of concentration before I reach a human being. So I rang Telstra Disability Services … and was put into the delay queue. (-1) That was my main negative experience, and as a disabled person, it was very discouraging and confusing. Why have disability services at all, if you’re not going to be accessible?

    However, when I rang the direct Faults number, after inputting my details I was immediately put through to a very helpful service person. (+1) We worked through their process fairly quickly. (+1) She advised me that due to my severe medical condition, I could get quicker help by filling in a form and sending it to them. (+1) Unfortunately, the form required my doctor’s signature etc., and this step does reveal ignorance in Telstra about rural conditions (-1), as it takes three months to get in to see a doctor where I live (in a rural town on a national highway, only 250km from Adelaide).

    However, even without the form, I was told Telstra would act on my line fault within 72 hours. (+1) (That’s much better than access to doctors here!) The service person tested my line from where she was, then said she would have to send someone out. A couple of days later, the Telstra techie arrived at our front door, in the afternoon as I requested due to my illness. (+1) He (Angelo) was courteous, informative and effective. (+3) He tested our line from where we were, told us the fault was somewhere back along the line, and that he would keep us up-to-date. (+1) He rang my mobile a few minutes later, saying that the fault was fixed, and reminding me how to reactivate receiving calls on my landline. (+2) Upon enquiry, he explained where the actual fault was, and what caused it. (+1)

    Result: +9

    This was a positive experience for both Angelo and me, because the service system actually worked to support us both. The techie didn’t have to deal with a customer frustrated and materially disadvantaged by constant obstructionism in the infrastructure. The customer didn’t feel powerless and devalued (except for the disability-access and rural-awareness issues). The process was cost-effective both for Telstra and for the customer, since we didn’t have to waste more time and calls in trying to cross artificial communication barriers.

    To whoever in Telstra has proposed, championed and sustained these changes: it’s working. Please keep it up. We appreciate your effort. :)

    (Also, please address the issues of disability access and rural awareness. I suggest having enough staff to address immediate disabiity enquiries (rotate the rôle, and priority-flag calls to the disability number?). I also suggest for rural customers amending the urgent-medical-condition form to accept phone calls to a doctor and/or faxes of recent medical certificates or insurance forms signed by the doctor. You could amend this latter change if/when we regain effective health access.)

  3. Dean says:

    Interesting that many not so glowing comments have not been posted here, but this one has, hmmm.

    Anyway, glad you ‘finally’ had a positive experience with Telstra, Clytie.

  4. Thanks. It does give me a little hope, after so many years of frustration with Telstra. I don’t know if you had comments not posted here, but my two definitely not-so-glowing previous ones did show up.

    After posting here, I tried to recharge my daughter’s prepaid mobile via Telstra online. The site refused to accept my CC expiry date (which I use successfully in all my purchasing online). I used the contact form and hope for a useful resolution. :S

  5. Hi Clytie

    Just letting you know that we took your comment about disability access very seriously. There are several departments involved and they are all busily doing emailing and checking and cross referencing to come back to you here with a response and action plan if necessary.

    Cheers

    Kristen

  6. Thanks for the info, Kirsten. This kind of personal and prompt contact is what we all need, disabled or not.

    BTW, I notice blockquoting and other HTML (e.g. bold tags) doesn’t work in these comments. How does one quote previous comments? (Most blog software has a note underneath the comment entry field saying what code is accepted.)

  7. moose says:

    Hi I am a longtime Telstra customer, I would have like to see the maps but my Telstra service I really really slow.. I have coverage (3g home network) BUT soo slow. Telstra promises 500kbps but very rarely there. Not even enough to load the links to Optus maps.. and the more people that join the 3g Telstra network in my area the slower my speed. So I tell others in my area the I don’t think you can get Telstra out here.. Hoping they don’t join slowing me further.. If. Speeds were different I would be recommending it to everyone… Hope telstra get some good competition making them lift there service.(rural Victoria $79.95 6gb account average speeds 300kbps download TELSTRA)

  8. Hi Clytie
    Many thanks for your positive and useful feedback on the performance of our service assurance /fault restoration process, and for your thumbs up for Angelo.
    Angelo’s team manager is pleased for the feedback and will recognise Angelo as part of Telstra’s Reward and Recognition program for such great customer service.

    I’m sorry you had problems accessing our Disability Enquiry Hotline (I assume you were ringing 1800 068 424 for Disability Services). We’re at a loss as to why you experienced a long delay. The Hotline’s call handling performance is usually terrific, and compares very favourably with other Telstra call centres, with around 90% of calls answered in 60 seconds, and a successful call completion rate of over 98% month on month, and only a very small percentage of call dropouts.
    Notwithstanding, the Hotline Centre manager has offered to check if there were any particular difficulties/delays on the day you called, if you are able to provide any details of the day/time you called.

    Thank you also for your suggestions for our Priority Assistance (PA) validation process.
    Unfortunately, while acknowledging that many people in country areas may have more of a challenge getting to a doctor, it is not feasible for us to introduce the changes you suggest because of some privacy and resource implications for Telstra.
    However, there is good news: you may not be aware that Telstra customers can call us, and ask for PA over the phone. PA status is usually granted on request, straight away, on a provisional basis.
    Once provisional PA status is granted, we then send the customer an application form and provide customers, including those who live in remote areas, with what we believe is ample time to formally validate their PA status (i.e. for Telstra to keep recognising the customer as a PA customer on an ongoing basis) by way of filling out the application form and having it authorised by a doctor or other authorised person as per the application form.
    In the event a customer has not validated their PA status within 28 days, Telstra will issue a reminder letter giving them a further 14 days to forward a completed application form. If a customer is unable to complete the form within 42 days, they can ring the contact number on the reminder letter to request a further extension – in the case of people living in remote areas, that should not be an issue.

    Bert Ciavarra
    Telstra Disability Services

  9. Bert, thanks for your reply. I’m glad Angelo will get some reward for his good work.

    The point I was making about the Disability Hotline is that there shouldn’t be _any_ delay system built in. Any break in the direct communication, and especially music or a recorded message, makes it much more difficult to maintain concentration. If you have difficulty using the phone (as I do) due to cognitive difficulties, then you need direct contact. I could possibly hold concentration through 5 seconds of delay/distraction, but not 60 seconds.

    I suggested having enough trained staff to take disability calls on priority and rotation, while also making them available to handle other enquiries. If you have any better ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.

    Thanks for the further info about the priority assistance eligibility process. I can’t get in to see my GP for another two months, but if I can get the form, I can ask him then. Can I download it, rather than having to try and use the delay system on the phone?

    Since my condition is progressive, I hope you get the resources to provide direct contact for disabled people.

  10. Dear Clytie
    Thanks again for your interest.

    You can download a copy of the Telstra Priority Assistance brochure and application form from the following URL… http://www.telstra.com.au/help/docs/priority-assistance-c060-1209.pdf . If you prefer, you can email a request for a copy to disability@online.telstra.com.au , and we can either email you a copy or arrange to send you one in the mail.

    Regarding your suggestion that we employ enough trained staff to take disability calls on priority and rotation, while also making them available to handle other enquiries: we certainly do our best to resource our Disability Enquiry Hotline to answer calls as soon as possible. To facilitate this,
    • Our Disability Enquiry Hotline consultants answer calls as a matter of priority over other tasks such as processing applications, making notes for customer files or returning calls.
    • When there is a larger than usual number of incoming calls, centre management staff will put aside management duties to answer calls.
    • When DEH staff are ill or are on other, unplanned leave, consultants are recruited from other areas to assist as required

    We believe the current response time for our Disability Enquiry Hotline of around 90% of calls answered in 60 seconds (the centre manager informed me today that 83% of calls are actually answered in 20 seconds) is more than reasonable for a call centre where calls received are not for or due to emergencies (unlike calls to emergency services 000 for instance).

    Unfortunately, the resources required to ensure that all calls are answered by suitably trained consultants any more quickly than that are just too prohibitive, and commercially unsustainable.

    As an alternative to voice calls, customers also have the option of contacting our Disability Enquiry Hotline by Teletypewriter -- 1800 808 981; fax -- 1800 814 777 or email disability@online.telstra.com.au. While I acknowledge they are not immediate, fax or email might be a viable option for you to contact our hotline, should you need to.

    Bert Ciavarra
    Telstra Disability Services

  11. daveO says:

    the reception you get with next g depends largely on the handset itself an i-phone will get basically the same coverage with both but higher broadband speeds in still more places

  12. Robert More says:

    Inadequate? Is this how you describe Optus? Funny, I’ve just done an Internet Speed Test, on the CNet website [http://www.cnet.com.au/broadband-speedtest/], and gotten a grand result of 178 kbps on a Telstra USB modem (ZTE MF668).

    That is woeful!

    It probably makes Optus look like speed kings …

    This is Telstra and Bigpond we are talking about here. I really feel like asking for my money back, and getting a piece of Cat 5 and trailing it behind me all the way back to my house where I’ve got ADSL2+ with a 200GB download limit.

    I mean, really?

    178 kbps …

    Going bush? Check the maps, first.

    D’Oh, I got 1138 kbps last week. Somebody is sucking up the usage, somewhere …

    This is CRAP!

  13. Daniel B says:

    I have just returned from a holiday at Callala Bay on the NSw South Coast. I can assure you that Telstra had no mobile coverage in the area, yet Optus had quite a good coverage. We had no call drop outs and were able to pick up some moderate speed on data transfers. We also spent a day down at Sussex Inlet (1hour drive south of Callala Bay) and once again Telstra had no coverage at the few spots we checked on similar handsets. Yet Optus had coverage in each of these areas.

    Sure Telstra might have better coverage in your opinion, yet my experience both north and south of Sydney (coastal NSW) shows that Optus has significantly better coverage than Telstra. If you travel in these areas, then suggest you check out Optus.

  14. Brian McLean says:

    I have a dual sim smart phone with the 900 and 2100 band.
    Unfortunately I am unhappy to report that the Optus network south of Hobart Tassie, is almost non existant. On the other hand Telstra coverage is excellent. Optus purports to be 3G but my phone tells me it is only 2G this is not the case as when I switch to the Telstra sim it comes up 3G. If you are 20-25 kilometres south of Hobart and you with an Optus telco providor you are not going to do much talking on your phone. The Optus hype seems to be a con with telstra thankfully filling in the blank spots but at a price

  15. gideon says:

    Hi i was a country cdma phone user less than 1 hour from Newcastle in Halton, the cdma worked fine and i was assured when i went to the 3g network it would be equal or better than the service i already had, i had my doubts and waited to the last week of the cdma closure and switched, now i have no coverage at all, and it doesnt matter who you talk to there is no response from telstra as to what their plans are or an apology for misleading me and many others, since they have the monopoly we have no choice. while im on the subject the main road thru Halton runs all the way to the Barrington tops and back to Dungog, yep no coverage at all the entire way.
    People today wont go where their mobile coverage doesnt work, why is tourism in this area nearly dead, well its because people want to stay in sync with the world and this new mobile mentality. Telstra and local government should be bringing Tourism in the country alive, install the infrastructure and people may travel and stay past the last tower!

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