Comment: The fall of roam

3 Aug 2005

At this stage of my ever-developing relationship with technology, I have to admit to being a confirmed ‘crackberry’. I know this because I find that, increasingly, I am being reminded by more socially aware wife that I am spending far too much time when we’re in company doing a thumb dance on the BlackBerry’s very neat and small keyboard.

But the BlackBerry has revolutionised our lives because of its very useful functionality and, above all else, its portability. With the BlackBerry you don’t have to connect to a PC with a cable because it all happens through the mobile phone system.

Admittedly I’m on my fourth BlackBerry at this stage — the current one being the most recent version of the original one I got about two years ago. The second and third were BlackBerry-enabled phones but didn’t stand up to the treatment they got from me — not, mind you, that I’m particularly rough. The original had to be replaced because one of the letters on the keyboard started to be difficult and, when offered a completely different and slimmer model, I jumped at the opportunity to get one that was easy to hold when using it as a phone. That and its successor developed personality problems that became too difficult to live with. But with the current and original models, I keep hitting the cancel button and losing calls because it’s like holding a plate to the side of your head when you use it as a phone.
At some stage during this evolving relationship I changed from O2 to Vodafone. Now if you happen to be driving along Kevin Street and passing through the junction at the garda station as you head towards the Coombe Hospital, you’ll notice a large poster proclaiming that with Vodafone you can be “out of the office and still in the loop”. Happy in that knowledge, I took myself to Vancouver — the one in Canada — the country where the BlackBerry was invented.

Because Vancouver is eight hours behind Ireland, when I arrived at about 3:30pm, I wasn’t surprised that I had no messages; after all it was 11:30pm in Dublin and all quiet on the message front. As I had travelled up from Seattle by bus, the messages had petered out so I was unphased by the absence of any contact. The following morning was a Friday and I noticed I had some voice mail messages but, when I went through the 171 ritual and pressed all the required buttons, I continued to get a disembodied voice telling me “That number is not listed, please enter your mobile number without the leading 0”.

Given that, at my 9am, everybody back at base was heading for the Friday 5pm libation, I made some quick calls arising from which I was told that I had “recently changed from O2 to Vodafone and they hadn’t registered me yet”. So a year is ‘recent’ for Vodafone — when everyone else talks of internet years as being four months. And the absence of emails, I was told, was due to the fact that I hadn’t logged on to Microcell, the Canadian GPRS people with whom Vodafone have the agreement.

But Microcell wasn’t coming up on my available networks screen. The only two networks available were Rogers Wireless and Fido. Rogers only gave me GSM facilities and Fido wouldn’t let me log on at all. But I found a Rogers Wireless shop and people there explained that Microcell doesn’t come up as an available network because it is branded differently in different parts of Canada. However, they assured me Fido is definitely Microcell.

So I headed back to my hotel and availed of the hotel’s free always-on high-speed broadband internet access to try to locate a Vodafone customer care centre. Full marks to the Vodafone site designers because finding a phone number for their customer care centre is not easy. It took me the best part of an hour to get something that looked like it might have an avenue to assistance. When I eventually got through to a human being I felt like screaming eureka! But I calmly related my tale to someone whom, it transpired, was rigidly programmed to keep repeating that their agreement was with Microcell and that I should log on to that network.

The thing about call centres of course is that they eventually force you to become belligerent, especially when the person to whom you are talking couldn’t give a damn whether or not you can get access to anything. They remind me of the story about the minister who phoned a colleague minister’s office and, when he wasn’t getting the kind of attention that he thought he deserved, he asked his interlocutor if he knew who he was talking to. He then introduced himself to the indifferent civil servant who enquired if the minister knew who he was talking to. When the minister said he didn’t, our dedicated official promptly said ‘good’ (or ‘buzz off’ or something similar) and then dropped the phone.

In this case, with my ire well and truly exposed, Vodafone agreed to check it out and phone me back — which it did, at about 6am on Saturday. I suspect my less-than-patient attitude the previous evening had prompted it to get someone with a good bedside manner to come back to me, because whoever the lady was, she was all sweetness and helpfulness. But alas, she too turned out to similarly stymied because she eventually reverted to the Microcell line — and like her colleagues, couldn’t help me with Fido. As my last request she gave me the number for Microcell and Rogers so that I could make local enquiries.

I then dialled Microcell in anticipation and I got a recorded answering service that told me they only worked 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday. But the best part was the opening line — “Welcome to Fido!”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the nice lady at Vodafone to tell her the good news. Instead I got yet another person keen to enlighten me about the Vodafone relationship with Microcell. I just gave up. So who’s in the loop at Vodafone?

By Syl O’Connor