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Three Monopolists

Three

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 [1]. 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 [2] 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.

Optus

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).

Google

Finally while Google is admirably living up to their “don’t be evil” motto in regards to China [3] 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.

15 comments to Three Monopolists

  • James

    I can talk OK to Google Talk users if I subscribe to their XMPP account first.
    Google also scans Google Talk chats for URLs and feeds them to the Googlebot web crawler: http://twitter.com/erikarn/status/6566117450

  • Franklin Piat

    Russel said: “So I have now started using my Gmail address to talk via the Jabber [..]. This means that I have a TCP connection to Google [..]. But it doesn’t seem to really provide them a benefit.”

    I suppose google does benefit from have an open TCP connection… They can associate your [web browser’s] IP with you.

  • Veronik Kramsfield

    Don’t be stupid….. if they are not offering Jabber bridge its because they want the google client only supporting the gtalk protocol.

    Why you did not tell your client to use something like pidgin on windows which support all protocols.

  • Zoredache

    Google claims they do federation for google talk. See (http://code.google.com/apis/talk/open_communications.html#service)

    If you happen to be using ejabberd on your local system, they have instructions on what you need to setup federation (http://www.ejabberd.im/google-talk).

  • etbe

    James: That’s interesting, the scanning seems like a generally bad idea – there’s lots of other ways of notifying Google that I want a URL to be scanned. As for subscribing to XMPP, do you mean pointing your Jabber client at gmail.com as I did?

    Franklin: Even before doing that http://www.google.com had my Gmail address listed at the top right corner, so they knew where I was. Sure this could potentially allow them to track someone who turned off cookies, but probably anyone who turns off cookies to prevent Google from tracking them would also use a proxy for their Jabber connections.

    Veronik: I don’t always get to tell my clients what software they should use.

  • rod

    You deserve all that to happen. Are you mentally retarded, You use Dodo

  • etbe

    rod: Most of what I described had nothing to do with Dodo. The phone services in question were established long before Dodo had 3G net access, and the 3G net access plan for $15 per month was established before Dodo advertised 3G net access (not sure if they had it then).

    If Dodo sells 3G modems that are unlocked then that’s great! But apart from that they only offer a saving of $10 per annum.

  • Anon

    I run my own Jabber server (via jabberd2), and several of my contacts use Google Talk. I have no problems communicating with them. I sent them a authorization request, they accepted, and we both appear on each other’s buddy lists now.

  • jaymzjulian

    I can only say that google talk to my jabber server just worked, and i’m using a pretty old version of jabberd, so I dunno why it failed for you…. go figure.

  • another suicidal business practice:

    In a cafe or fast food outlet (KFC in this case): “can I have a glass of water?” “no we can’t do that, you can buy the bottled water” – hey mofo I’ve just bought a meal here, and you can’t give me some water? Even if I didn’t buy anything, not giving water is an instant way to lose me as a future customer.

    Also, overcharging is stupid: the pub sells me a can of coke with no glass for $3.50, what the hell is that? Am I paying for the pub bar ambiance? I won’t be going back there anyway! Telstra wants to charge $100 a month or whatever for 3G internet with stuff-all bandwidth, it’s just stupidly over-expensive, so stuff them; I won’t buy it.

    On the other hand, I’m impressed that National Australia Bank is offering accounts with no fees now (or so they say), sounds really good so I think I’ll be shifting to them (as the Commonwealth Bank has starting syphoning off my money now that I have a little bit). ANZ already lost my business forever by charging me umpteen overdrawn fees for things that weren’t even my fault, fees on fees or whatever. Hopefully the NAB internet banking is tolerable. Way to go NAB, hope you get lots of new customers!

  • “Freeware (from “free” and “software”) is computer software that is available for use at no cost or for an optional fee.”

    “free software” such as that covered by the GPL is “freeware” under that definition, supposing that someone will distribute it to youfor free, which is almost always the case. Perhaps Apple doesn’t care to specify what type of freeware it is.

  • drat, sorry Russell, I posted that in the wrong place! :)

  • etbe

    Sam: When I was in Paris a few years ago McDonalds gave free water to everyone. They didn’t bother trying to check who had bought anything (it’s too hard with that many customers) so they just gave water to anyone who asked. I didn’t observe that many people asking for it. I don’t know whether the same thing is done in the rest of France.

    There are a lot of fixed expenses in running a business, rental of the property, taxes, licenses (which are particularly expensive for a liquor license), and the wages of the staff. While in an idle time $3.50 is expensive, if the pub is busy someone who pays less for a Coke will take a seat that could be taken by someone who is doing some serious drinking.

    Telstra is very expensive, but they do have the best coverage in Australia. If you want a mobile phone or 3G data plan to work in random country regions then Telstra is the best option. It would have cost them a lot to install all those 3G towers so they charge a lot to recoup it. Maybe it would be better if they had a separate country network and charged extra to roam to it.

    I once read that the top 20% of a typical bank’s customers make 120% of the bank’s profits! The other 80% will on average lose the bank money. So if you don’t have much money the bank would prefer that you didn’t do business with them.

  • etbe

    http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/asrgi/i_recommend_that_everyone_avoid_google_talk_as/

    A comment on Reddit suggests that it’s my fault that my Jabber server doesn’t work with Google Talk. I’ve read the URLs that Zoredache suggested and my ejabberd installation already does it all. There’s no reason for Google talk to just email me telling me to sign up for it, if they sent an email saying “I tried to talk to you but your Jabber server had problem X, if you want to use Google Talk then here’s how to do it” then it would be useful. If it told the Google Talk user what was going on then that would be useful too. But it just sends email to me and does nothing else.

    One of the Google Talk users who was trying to communicate with me used to work for Google, while that doesn’t make him an expert on Google Talk it does mean that his chances of getting it going correctly are probably a lot better than the average IT professional.

    If your error handling method is to say to the user “here’s how to do something other than what you wanted to do, but which will possibly help you while incidentally giving me better market share” then you have to expect that some users will be a little unhappy.