Monday, May 07, 2007

Thursday, May 03, 2007

More operators go unmetered - ish!

In rapid succession Orange and Voda have announced new data packages which go some way to answering the existing unmetered packages from T-mobile and 3. First off I want to say that in general this is a good thing (tm) - an absolutely necessary step towards regaining consumer confidence in data services.

The issue of "consumer confidence" is really the crux of this. If users are uncertain how much they will end up having to pay then they are much less likely to use data services. With that in mind let's looks at the new offerings.

Orange's new package, which is available to both contract (£8pm, or £5pm evenings and weekends) and PAYG (£5 for 7 days), provides for unlimited "browsing". It is unclear as yet where precisely the bounds of acceptable use will fall here though the text reported by el reg ...

"modem access for computers, internet based streaming services, voice or video over the internet, instant mssaging, peer to peer file sharing and non Orange internet based video."

... suggests it is more or less in line with the lowest tier of T-mobile's contract web-n-walk.

The Vodafone package - which is dissected in some detail though possible a little contentiously over at disruptive wireless - is a little different. It is not an optional package and will be applied to all users from the start of June. It keeps the basic principle of metering by the kb used but only charges users for the first half Mb of data each day, and then any data used above-and-beyond 15 Mb in a single day. All data is charged at £2/Mb.

This is quite cleverly structured to encourage data use up to a certain level - i.e. if a user has used a small amount they may as well use quite a bite more that day since it will be free.

One major problem in user confidence terms is how traffic beyond the acceptable use criterion...

"Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype or Peer-to-Peer services (such as instant messenger services, text messaging clients or file sharing)"

... is handled. That will allegedly immediately be charged separately at the standard rate - and the user will only find out at the end of the month or when the unexpectedly run out of PAYG credit.

I can't help but feel that for the typical punter the Vodafone package doesn't really do much to help build confidence. The mechanism is complex and the possibility of paying more than you expect if you do the "wrong" things even if you do understand it is always hanging over you.

The Orange package is better in that regard - but it does crucially depend on how they implement the fair use policy. Hopefully they take a T-mobile style relatively hands off approach.

They key here is the consumer having the confidence that they won't run up unexpected charges when trying out services that they don't necessarily fully understand.