Wednesday, March 28

3's X-Series: I'm underwhelmed...

I know that one day, the competitive forces of economics will make one network operator break from the pack and decide to offer an open, all-you-can-eat, internet and voice plan. They'll decide it's better to lose the margins on distinguishing between data and voice than to lose the customer. "OK!" They'll cry. "Choose whatever browser and apps you want on your phone, just like you do on your computer. Just download and upload your data through our pipes!"

When I read that 3 had launched its X-Series offering here in Australia, I thought maybe that day had arrived. But no, I must wait a little longer. Instead, 3's X-Series is more of the same mobile superhighway robbery, only this time they're claiming it's 'just like an ISP plan'. Don't be fooled; it's nothing of the sort.

Fairfax quotes 3 boss Nigel Dews on this: "It is very similar to broadband pricing consumers know at home today, but in many cases will be much better value." Bollocks. The Australian X-Series offering would be "like an ISP plan" if your ISP restricted you to one of only four PC models, made its most generous plan $20 per Gb of data, limited the internet sites and software you could use, and then limited your use of that software, capping it to a certain number of minutes per month.

Initially excited to see Skype was one of the apps bundled with the handset, my enthusiasm faded when it became clear that only Skype-to-Skype calls are supported. No Skype-to-PSTN calls. Worse, even your use of Skype-to-Skype is capped, starting at 1,000 minutes per month on the cheapest plan and then 5c a minute thereafter.

Because X-Series plans are in addition to your voice minutes plan, you could quite easily find yourself paying a 5c a minute premium on your usual voice call rate to talk to Skype with someone on their PC using a device designed to place calls more easily and more quickly to their telephone! How attractive is that?

Your use of the other bundled apps and web services (Orb, a file-sharing app, Google search, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger and eBay) is also capped, with a 10c per Mb charge over your cap. Yes, that's cheaper than other Australian mobile networks. But are the kind of users savvy enough to want a mobile internet plan going to want a walled-garden of apps and web services? Do they need on-deck links to eBay and Google, or will they find that just a tad patronising? Most I know have these services bookmarked in Opera Mobile.

There is an uninspiring range of only four handsets available, omitting SonyEricsson, and surprisingly, not one of the phones supports all of the features and apps offered in X-Series plans. It's a question of 'which features can I live without?' when you come to choose your handset rather than 'which phone do I most like?'

Finally, the X-Series offering in Australia is considerably worse value than X-Series in other markets. Perhaps 3's reliance on Telstra to deliver some of the network is to blame, but X-Series is less expensive in Asia and the UK, and their plans are uncapped.

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