How does the mobile phone company that claims "the best value mobile phone offer on the block" justify screwing its customers five times more than its competitors for casual data?
They may call themselves Virgin but they are not virgins when it comes to screwing subscribers big time for mobile data. According to numerous threads on Whirlpool, Virgin customers from time to time arrive back from holidays having used their new phone as a modem only to find themselves with a bill that has more digits than their phone number. Clocking up the bill from hell is quite easy to do if you haven’t read your contract carefully and mistakenly think you can use your phone for mobile data at a reasonable price.
Let's remember that Virgin Mobile are pitching their services at those who are frustrated by "long contracts, loads of small print, expensive products and companies who simply didn't 'speak' to their customers" so they should hardly expect their customer base to sit down and read all the fine print or to necessarily be tech savvy enough to fully understand the cost implications of hooking up their 3G phone to a computer to use the Internet.
If, however, you do read the terms and conditions of your phone service carefully (ignoring the "funky language" inserted by Virgin to make it more understandable for the hip generation, you will find that in most cases your cap does not include any mobile data so if you happen to use mobile data (either by accessing the Internet from your phone or using the phone as a modem for your notebook) you will be charged “casual data rates”.
Now someone has forgotten to tell Virgin that the cost of mobile data has come down dramatically since the days of GPRS because they are still charging the same data rates that the telcos charged back when sending data over the GSM network was very expensive. 1.5c per KB of data might not seem that bad until you do the math and realise that Virgin are screwing their customers a whopping $15,728.64 per GB for casual data. We fail to see how this can be justified unless Virgin is trying to force customers to subscribe to data packs.
What this means is that if you are naïve enough to connect your computer to your mobile phone and enable the phone as a modem you could well need a second mortgage just to pay your phone bill. At this rate if your computer downloads a service pack of several hundred megabytes (which is not uncommon) you could be thousands of dollars worse off for the exercise. Don’t even think about using peer to peer services unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to burn!
Of course you don’t need to hook up your phone to your computer to chalk up a monster bill either since many smartphones (and even many ordinary phones that run Symbian or Palm OS) regularly connecting to email (say 65Kb at 1.5c per Kb which equals 97.5c), download directions from Google Maps (say 200Kb or $3) and, of course, access the web. The Virgin Vibe might be free to browse but set outside of the walled garden and the charges keep mounting up!
The solution, according to the Virgin website is to purchase a data pack where the same 1Gb of data would cost you just $15 or approximately 1/1000th of the price!
By comparison, Optus (Virgin’s parent company) only charges $3,145.72 per GB (although the first 5Mb are capped at $9.90) whilst 3 and Telstra are a ‘bargain’ at just $2,048 per GB.
But even if you have a data pack with Virgin, this does not guarantee you won’t get a phone bill that could scare you (or your other half) to death. Go over your allocated data quota and your excess data rate is charged at the standard casual rate of $15,728.64 per GB! As is standard industry practice with Australian telcos, both uploads and downloads are charged when using mobile data so it would not take much web surfing on your PC or web enable smartphone to end up wishing that you never heard of mobile Internet. Whilst the other carriers also charge steeply for excess data usage, rates are more modest at around $256 per Gb with Telstra or $358 to $512 per Gb with Optus (depending upon your contract).
Now we can’t say that Virgin are sneaky as their prices are on the web for everyone to see but if you don’t read your contract carefully or don’t fully understand how much using data on your new 3G phone can cost, mobile data can become an extremely expensive exercise.APC confronted Virgin Mobile about this issue and were informed by Virgin's Media representative that after "doing some digging around... it appears that we are actually changing our casual data rates on the 1st Feb to 0.2c per KB ($0.002)" We also understand that customers are sent several warnings via SMS when they are about to exceed their data quota.