Thought for the day: The real price of progress

Mobile gadgets offer a wealth of functions, but be warned, even if you find you can't use them, you will be charged, says Simon...

Simon Moores  

Mobile gadgets offer a wealth of functions, but be warned, even if you find you can't use them, you will be charged, says Simon Moores





I could almost hear the unspoken expression, “Oh heck” or worse, at the other end of the phone.

I had been speaking to a very pleasant young lady on the Vodafone customer service line, with what I thought was a simple query and which, in the end, became a little more complex than perhaps Vodafone might have liked.

You may remember that last month I decided to do away with my Compaq iPAQ PDA and replace this and my mobile phone with a Sony Ericsson P900 “Smartphone”.

All right, I had some teething problems. The manufacturer’s surprise that I had 5,000 names in my Microsoft Outlook address book - which took two hours to synchronise with the phone on the first attempt, its refusal to install firmware updates from the Sony site fun and games trying to make GPRS e-mail work smoothly. And, of course, its irritating habit of spontaneously calling my mother-in-law or Unisys in Uxbridge without any intervention on my part and with the key lock turned firmly on, which can be rather embarrassing.

Otherwise, the P900 is a useful piece of kit, basically its a Palm Pilot and a phone combined. But this isn’t a review, it's all about my first month’s phone bill, which was a little higher than expected.

I had noticed that on two trips to France in the past month, I couldn’t seem to collect my GPRS mail consistently.

On the Eurostar, I joked that the train was going too fast for the mail to catch up with me, but in Lyons, with no visible GPRS connection to my mail server at all, I even asked my wife to call Vodafone and see if its service was down.

GPRS mail does, I know, work quite well in most of Europe that I’ve been to.

I’ve road-tested both the Compaq iPAQ and the Blackberry and even filed my “Thought for the Day”, from a hotel room in central Spain. So Lyons and the Interpol building should, at least, be on the edge of civilisation as we know it.

“Why is my phone bill showing very expensive GPRS connections for mail access attempts that didn’t connect?”, I asked the Vodafone customer services helpdesk.

“GPRS doesn’t work well in Europe,” she told me. “We recommend that customers don’t use it when travelling abroad.”

At this point I became really quite interested and warned her that everything she said “was on the record”, prompting a short but almost audible silence at the other end of the line.

After being transfered, cut off and then after another long hold, a second lady confirmed that Vodafone did not recommend that customers use GPRS services abroad.

But I still had a bill for something I didn’t receive.

Apparently GPRS is no different from GSM. The moment you try and make a connection the billing starts and if GPRS continues to poll the Vodafone mail service in a vain attempt to download your mail, you pay through the proverbial nose as the foreign service provider charges you for the time the line is up, regardless of whether you receive any mail in return.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but you say you warn your customers about this, when?”

“When they complain about the size of the bill,” she replied.

“And so I will be doing Vodafone a favour if I warn my readers not to use Vodafone GPRS in Europe?” I said.

“It’s up to you,” she said but we have decided to credit back the charges on your account. “That’s very kind of you,” I said.

So there you have it. Vodafone appears to have a GPRS problem in Europe which should carry a health warning and costs customers the proverbial arm and a leg and which they only find out about after they have received their bill.

I suspect that this is the price of cellular progress, but others might see it as evidence of sharp practice in the European mobile telephony business.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit


Read more on Mobile hardware