Friday rant

t-mobile get the pointy end of this because they come at the end of a day wherein I was assailed from all sides by idiocy.

18 months ago I became the proud father of Shiny, an HTC Desire phone on a contract for £20 per month, a novel experience for me. Shiny is mainly used as a internet access device rather than a speaky texty phone and I’ve been very happy with it.

So at the end of 18 months I am free of my original contract to t-mobile and can seek something cheaper, the key thing being unlimited* internet access. I look on the t-mobile website: it says they’ll offer me £6 off my contract going forward for a 12 month lock-in or some such. Carphonewarehouse, on the other hand, offers me a £10 per month SIM Only contract with t-mobile on monthly rolling basis, oddly 12 month contracts are £15. This, anyway, is a “no-brainer”, I get a monthly rolling SIM only contract with t-mobile contract for £10 which is less than the t-mobile renewal offer of £14. This requires a conversation with carphonewarehouse’s call centre which sounds a little cramped because I can hear my man Paul’s neighbour demanding a stapler and another having somewhat groundhog-day sounding conversation about “which shop did you get this better offer in?”

Anyway this is sorted, all I need to do is ring up t-mobile once my new SIM card is delivered and get my number transferred from my old account to my new one. Apparently this requires t-mobile to provide my PAC number to themselves (don’t ask me!).

Fail one is that on ringing the t-mobile 150 service I get a list of numeric options: I need option 2 but the service doesn’t recognise my many and creative ways of pressing the 2 key on my keypad. Actually it’s a softkey rather than an actual real key but it had 2 written on it so I pressed it.

By pressing 1 I get through to an actual person who establishes that I need transferring to their cancellation department – you see I currently have two contracts with t-mobile and I want to cancel the old one and transfer the number to the new one, as an interesting aside the chap at carphonewarehouse told me my credit rating is so good I can have 4 contracts! The person I’m talking to has a pleasant Irish accent although I can’t help thinking she is actually an Indian who has been trained to speak with an Irish accent to reassure me#.

After waiting on hold for a few minutes I get another person this time with a pleasant Welsh accent (proviso as above), anyway she tells me I “can’t” transfer my phone number from one t-mobile account to another. Now I’m a bit hardline on these things: I can transfer a number from a non-t-mobile account to a t-mobile account by invocation of the PAC number therefore logically I “can” do the described transfer therefore “can’t” actually means “won’t”. However, it turns out that I can convert my existing contract to a £5 per month contract equivalent to my new SIM only contract but with a 24 month contract period. Needless to say this was not visible on any website. We agree to do this.

So at the end of two rather complex phone calls I have reduced my phone bill from £20 per month to £5 per month (actually £6 with VAT). I do have a PhD, and whilst this may not endow me with great nouse, it does mean I’m not a dribbling idiot – yet to me this process has been ridiculously Byzantine and complex. It’s taken me two 20 minute phone calls to do what should be a couple of button presses.

I do feel sorry for the poor souls that inhabit these call centres because I’m actually a polite sort of chap but the wrangling I have to engage in does make even me a bit tetchy and they, through no fault of their own, get the pointy end of that.


Wednesday and I’ve just had a chat with t-mobile again, because my online account info doesn’t match what I agreed on the phone on Friday, currently it indicates that my contract is for £8.51 per month exc VAT and that I don’t have the farcically named “unlimited” internet access I signed up for. They assure me that when I get my next bill it will be for £5 plus VAT and the required “unlimited”.

The problem here is that they’ve sent me several messages telling me how great their online account info system is, meaning I’ve gone off and looked at it. What they’re actually trying to do is hide how little they’re willing to charge me for a mobile phone contract. This is all explained nicely in Tim Harford’s book “The Undercover Economist“, the trick is to find out the maximum someone is willing to pay for a service and offer it to them, without prejudicing your efforts with other customers who have a higher maximum price. Price transparency would spoil this game.


*for values of internet access which are limited; actually how do they get away with describing limited internet access as “”unlimited”?

#Personally I don’t care that the call centre might be in India but I am offended that they feel the need to fake an accent to “reassure” me. It’s quite possible that t-mobile’s call centres are actually in England and I have maligned an Irish lady and a Welsh lady.


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  1. I do have a PhD … it does mean I’m not a dribbling idiot

    This is not a logical conclusion I have empirical evidence that contradicts it. I know several PhDs who are dribbling idiots (present company not implied).

      • on September 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm

      Standards have slipped since my day ;-)

  2. Sorry to be a Cassandra, but I don’t share your confidence that you actually *have* reduced your phone bill. I’d wait until you get the next bill before assuming that any of this activity has actually changed anything.

      • on September 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      I’ll keep an eye out!

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