This afternoon I tried to unlock my old Three mobile phones for the purpose of getting cheap net access as described in my previous post . I wanted to use Dodo 3G Internet (via the Optus network) for my parents which would cost them $139 per year and I wanted to use my old Three phone tethered to their PC as the 3G modem (cheaper than buying a new 3G modem). I took in 3 Three phones to the Three store to get unlocked, I actually have 4 old Three phones (my wife and I are each on our third Three phone) but I seem to have misplaced one. It turned out that the two newer phones (LG U890) can’t be unlocked as they are permanently locked to the Three network. The older LG U8110 can be unlocked, doing this took 30 minutes of the Three employee speaking to other Three employees on the phone and I will now have to wait 4 days to receive an SMS with the unlock code.
So the Three anti-competitive behavior of making it unreasonably difficult to get a phone unlocked and of selling phones that (supposedly) can never be unlocked wasted them 30 minutes of store employee time when other potential customers were queuing up as well as 30 minutes of employee time in their call center. If the call-center employee was based in Australia then as the minimum wage is $14.31 per hour  that would have cost them at least $14.31 for 2*30min of work, as a rule of thumb it’s generally regarded that the costs of employing people are twice the salary (including costs of maintaining office/shop space, paying managers, doing paperwork, etc). So it probably cost Three about $29 to unlock one of my phones and tell me that the others can’t be unlocked, when I find phone 4 it will cost them another $29. As $29 is my typical monthly bill this has got to make an impact on the profitability of Three. If they were smart they would have sent me an SMS when I got a new phone telling me whether the old phone can be unlocked and if so giving me the code to do so. For phones that can be unlocked I doubt that would make anyone unlock their phone who wouldn’t do so anyway, and for phones that can’t be unlocked they could encourage the owner to give the phone to someone who wants a phone for pre-paid use (thus locking in a new customer).
It probably won’t be worth the effort of cracking an LG U890 phone to save my parents $10 per annum. As I couldn’t get the LG U8110 to talk to my laptop I guess that forces my parents to eventually use Three for 3G net access. But they could have just matched the Dodo price and got the same result without having me spend half an hour in their store.
Update: I just enquired about ending my Three contract for 3G net access ($15 per month for 1G of data) in favor of the yearly prepaid option of $149 per annum for 12G. The prepaid option would save me $31 per annum and allow me to use more than 1G in the busy months. But it seems that I subscribed to a two year contract for that one and I have 6 months to go. Over those 6 months they will make about $15 extra in revenue from me while annoying me in the process, this probably isn’t a good deal. As my 3G modem is locked to the Three network even if I didn’t have a contract I would still be unable to use a different provider.
My mother phoned Optus about her Internet connection and discovered that she had supposedly renewed her Optus cable Internet contract in September last year. Presumably someone from Optus phoned my parents and asked what seemed like a routine “do you want to keep using the Internet?” question but was really a “do you agree to a 2 year contract with a $250 penalty clause for exiting early?”. This isn’t the first time that Oprus has scammed my parents (previously they charged them rental for a phone that they never supplied), I guess that they have a practice of pulling such stunts on pensioners. I guess I’ll have to call the TIO, which will end up costing them more than the $250 penalty clause.
The irony here is that as Dodo uses the Optus network I would have used Optus by choice for my parents, but now that they are being scum I will willingly pay the extra $10 per annum to use Three (which while annoying aren’t actually hostile).
Finally while Google is admirably living up to their “don’t be evil” motto in regards to China  their conduct regarding Google Talk leaves a lot to be desired. Two employees of a company I work for use Google Talk for their instant messaging, this has a Windows client but also allows general access via the Jabber protocol. So these two guys wanted to talk to me via Jabber but Google would just send me email saying “X has invited you to sign up for Google Talk so you can talk to each other for free over your computers“, I received 5 such messages from a colleague who was particularly persistent. It seems impossible for the Google Talk server to send a chat request to my personal Jabber server (which works well with a variety of other Jabber servers).
So I have now started using my Gmail address to talk via the Jabber protocol to other Gmail users. This means that I have a TCP connection to the Google servers open most of the time and Google can boast of having one more active Gmail user. But it doesn’t seem to really provide them a benefit. I am going to keep using my main email address as my primary Jabber ID and only use my Gmail address for talking to Google Talk users – and only when paid to do so.
But as a result of this I recommend that everyone avoid Google Talk as much as possible. Use open Jabber servers such as the ones run by Jabber.org.
It seems to me that none of these companies are really gaining anything from trying to lock customers in. They would be better off spending their efforts on being friendly to people and making them want to be repeat users/customers.