Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The latest Telstra bungle

Just hours after Telstra switched off its CDMA network, farmers, bushfolk and residents of regional Australia are eager to determine whether the Next G network is equal or better than the old service.

Telstra already has heralded the conversion as a success but Don Jackson says many of his neighbours in Osborne St, Scarborough, would disagree. Mr Jackson lives just a few minutes from Redcliffe City, but still needs an expensive external aerial to make a call on his Next G-compatible mobile from the comfort of his lounge. "Scarborough is not exactly an Outback suburb," Mr Jackson, 76, said. "If it's not going to work in the middle of civilisation, I can't see how it's going to work in the back blocks."

Mr Jackson said he bought his Next G-compatible mobile phone a few months ago in anticipation of the changeover. While he conceded the problem existed since he bought his mobile, he said the Next G network was not equal or better to CDMA, as promised by the Rudd Government. He said a Telstra employee showed him a map, indicating he could get reception from his street. He said his partner could get reception from her Optus phone in and outside their home. But because he couldn't, he had to cough up about $200 for an external aerial. He said that if he stood in the middle of his street he could sometimes get reception without the aerial. "Once you get past Oxley Ave, you lose it," he said.

The Courier-Mail rang Telstra on behalf of Mr Jackson and was told his story was "strange" because it would know if there was a blackspot in Osborne St. The spokeswoman said Telstra would send someone out.

About 550km northwest of Scarborough, at Banana, Tim Larsen remains sceptical of the Next G network, although he admitted he had no problem with it yesterday. Mr Larsen, 38, said he was angry at what the change had cost him. His car needs a special kit which has to be installed by a professional. All up, he faces up to $700 in costs. "What's annoying is the cost of the outlay . . . was made by someone else for me," he said.

It's the same sentiment for Mark Driscoll, a cattle farmer on a property about 100km from Moura. "Frustrated, you've got no idea," Mr Driscoll said. "I've never spent as much time on an issue as Telstra in the last three-to-four months." He said he had rang Telstra about 17 times without success to find out how the new service would affect him.

Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce said 25 per cent of the service was not equivalent or better. And Nationals stalwart Ron Boswell said many telco providers, including Optus and Pivotel Globstar, which piggybacked on the CDMA network, were shut out of the market, leaving only Telstra with the infrastructure to service customers.

Telstra said the switch-off at midnight on Monday went to plan without incident. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who approved the transition this month, said Telstra would be forced to reveal its drop-out rates.


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