People's CHOICE Award: Best Value Mobile Phone Service

TPG voted best mobile carrier in the 2011 CHOICE Awards.
 
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01 .And the winner is...

TPG

  TPG

TPG has been awarded Best Value Mobile Phone Service in the 2011 CHOICE Awards.

This award was voted for by our CHOICE members. The carrier had strong results across a range of quality of service indicators in our survey, indicating that when presented with a compelling alternative with good value and customer support, some people will vote with their feet.

Although TPG is more broadly known as an ISP, the company has been offering mobile phone service plans for almost three years. The most telling findings of the survey are that those CHOICE members who use TPG for their mobile phone intend staying with them and a majority have been using TPG for well over a year.

TPG is the top performer in a number of categories, including

  • customer support
  • overall quality of service
  • likelihood of staying

For value for money and the likelihood of the customer recommending the service to others, TPG stood out as significantly superior to its nearest competitor.

No contract plans mean you can walk away from a TPG phone plan if you’re not satisfied, and although you are provided with a lower rate for bundling the mobile phone service with a TPG internet package, the charges and conditions are clearly shown on the TPG website. However, Telstra still has the widest coverage, so check TPG’s available coverage areas to ensure you will be satisfied with the network quality in your area. See the results of our ISP satisfaction survey

ISP satisfaction

CHOICE also surveyed members about their internet service provider (ISP) as part of the awards process, but we did not get a clear winner. This may reflect the volatile nature of the industry, with many network providers, including the major ones, attracting criticism for the quality of service as well as their customer service.

However, a group of smaller ISPs, including Internode, Westnet, Adam Internet and iiNet, scored consistently high for questions relating to customer support, quality of service, value for money, likelihood of staying with the ISP and recommending that ISP to someone else.

TPG scored well in most areas, although only average for customer support. Being able to provide a full service, such as a combined landline and mobile phone plan, seems to be an effective means to gain market share, with 40% of Telstra and 25% of Optus customers citing bundle deals as a major consideration when choosing their ISP.

As the lines between mobile phone services and mobile online access become increasingly blurred, the ability to provide a one-SIM-fits-all solution may be something to watch out for in the future. See the results of our 2009 ISP satisfaction survey.

 
 

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Mobile phones are an integral part of our lives for most people – there are currently more than 22 million mobile phone subscribers in Australia, and on average we upgrade to a new handset every 18 to 24 months. It would seem reasonable to expect a phone service that's easy to use, with great value plans and good customer support. Unfortunately, as many of us are aware, this is not always the case.

Over the years, CHOICE has given its infamous Shonky Award to various sectors of the mobile telecommunications industry, highlighting the frustrations mobile phone users face – with convoluted phone plans, variable network performance and multi-year contracts. So it may come as a shock to discover that we’ve seen fit to create an award for best value mobile phone service. However, this award is not determined by CHOICE, but voted for by our members.

For instance, what if CHOICE members were dissatisfied with all the mobile phone network providers? A distinct possibility, given the mobile network industry’s performance over recent times.
Close to 7000 members rated their mobile phone network provider on a number of areas, including:

  • Reception quality
  • Overall quality of services
  • Value for money
  • Likelihood of staying with provider
  • Likelihood of recommending provider
  • Customer support

Of the factors we asked our members to rate, value for money and likelihood of recommending provider were used to determine the overall best value mobile phone service, with the winner earning a level of satisfaction from its customers significantly higher than the competition.

Our survey also asked CHOICE members where they go to for advice when choosing a mobile phone service. Not surprisingly, only a small proportion of members cite promotional material and TV advertising as having influence. Instead, they favour online forums, CHOICE and friends for their information.

Telstra and Optus dominate the internet and mobile phone network space in terms of customer numbers, with Telstra particularly strong in regional areas, and this is reflected in the figures gathered from our members. Overall, the smaller mobile phone service providers have not been able to attract customers away from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone/3. This is in stark contrast to the internet service provider (ISP) survey, which found smaller ISPs have been able to compete effectively with Telstra and Optus.

Part of this “stickiness” – where a customer stays with a large established mobile phone service despite lower levels of overall customer satisfaction – is understandable with Telstra, given its Next G network provides the only coverage available in some rural and regional areas. However, another reason some customers stay with their mobile phone service provider may be the perceived lack of alternatives. Though small in number, some CHOICE members have voted with their wallets and left the big three networks for some smaller mobile phone service providers, with overall satisfaction levels significantly higher than the larger mobile networks.
If you aren’t happy with your current mobile plan and are off contract, sites such as Phonechoice or online forums such as Whirlpool provide really helpful advice about your alternatives.

No ringing endorsement

Some of the survey responses we received from unhappy customers reveal a distinct feeling of discontent with the established phone networks, and some members have made it very clear that using a particular mobile phone network provider does not mean they consider them value for money or that they’re likely to recommend them to others – only that they feel they have no choice.

The survey results showed though some are likely to stay with their current provider, they won’t necessarily recommend that provider to others.

Telstra rated the highest among the major mobile networks for likelihood of staying, with response rate of 82%, second only to our award winner, TPG, on 88%. However, when asked whether they would recommend Telstra to someone else, only 56% of Telstra customers were prepared to do so. In stark contrast, almost all the customers of TPG would recommend the service.

Telstra’s high scores for likelihood of staying could be attributed to their wider coverage in rural and regional areas, with members giving Telstra a reception quality score of 80% – significantly higher than any of the other providers. However, responses such as “I don’t have a choice as my geographic location forces me to use Telstra” and “I have no choice because I live in a remote town” are hardly ringing endorsements.

With only 30% of survey respondents living in rural areas, the need to stay with Telstra due to its wider network coverage is also likely to be an issue for metropolitan users, who may need the coverage when travelling. Having no choice may help explain the fact that although 72% of the CHOICE members who are Telstra customers have been with the company for more than five years, and 82% were likely to stay, only a little more than half would recommend them to someone else.

If you’re having problems with your mobile phone service provider, there are several avenues open to you.

The first step is to phone, email or write to your provider stating the problem and asking for it to be addressed. Always keep a copy of all your correspondence and keep a record of your phone call by recording the name, date and transcript of the conversation. Make sure you record the full name and phone number of the person you spoke to.

Wait a suitable length of time for the company to contact you about the problem. If you don’t hear anything back, call or email. Again, keep a record. If you still don’t hear anything back or the service provider’s actions are insufficient and don’t resolve the problem, you will have to take it further.

Contact the Fair Trading office in your state or territory for general consumer complaints, such as faulty products, warranties and refunds and repairs. If the dispute is specifically related to your mobile phone service, you can contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) which has a dispute resolution service. The free service is available to consumers after they have tried to resolve the problem directly with their ISP.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) provides consumer information on internet services that cover costs, quality of service and how to choose an ISP. Follow the links under ‘Internet’.
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