The Problem With Australian Telcos

Anyone who has ever had a mobile phone service in this country — be it pre- or post-paid — has a bad experience to share. Bill shock, bad service, crappy coverage: we’ve seen it all. But there’s one overarching problem that is more significant than all of those combined: the idea of “the average customer”.

When a telco considers how to change or adjust its consumer offerings, it will call a bunch of people into a room to figure out how a proposed adjustment might affect people. There are then clever forecasters in the background who look at the information collected and compare it to the usage currently on the network. Who is using what, when and by how much is the question they look to answer.

These forecasters then prepare pleasant looking graphs and PowerPoint presentations to tell bigwigs what they found, and in these meetings, people always talk about “the average customer”: the middle ground that will presumably please the most amount of people at once, while driving simplification of a product set.

What we’ve noticed over the last three years in particular is a good response towards the needs of voice and text customers, but a terrible response to the needs of data users.

The punch line? An ongoing downward spiral if data allowances across the big three telcos –Telstra, Optus and Vodafone– paired with more expensive plans. Less for more is the new and disturbing industry standard.

Even as recently as this afternoon, Optus reduced its data allowances yet again, giving customers less for their money when it comes to data. Admittedly, Optus is being more flexible about adding more data when people go over their allowances to reduce bill shock, but that’s far from the point.

The point is that by averaging out the needs of customers — the needs of high-usage customers like you and I and the relatively low-needs of people like our parents — we’re left with an awkward middle ground that is too expensive for low users and too limited for high value users.

The last thing this industry needs is more product simplification. Simplification is fantastic for handsets, but when it comes to data plans in particular, there is no such thing as too much diversity.

The ACMA found in a recent survey that the only way data usage is going is upwards, but the only way data allowances are going is down. Mobile data usage close to doubled in 2011-12, and this trend is expected to continue.

Telco industry watchdog, ACCAN has also noticed the decline. It praised Optus for more flexibility and better plan structured, but the downward slide of data allowances continues to trouble.

“However we’re disappointed the new plans don’t come with more included data given the booming rates of data consumption. Virgin for instance offers 3GB of data for around the same price as the optus 1GB plans. Separately, Optus has also changed prices on its mobile broadband plans recently and reduced included data,” noted Asher Moses of ACCAN.

Time to change the record, telcos: let’s have more choice, more data, more plans and less “average”.

Shouting man image via Shutterstock

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