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Following my move to Nottingham, and a new fiancee and a new house I decided a new mobile contract would be in order since I'd had my previous one taken off me when I decided to bail out of the Northwest. The problem was I already had a phone (Sony Ericsson W595) that I actually liked so I decided to look for a SIM only deal.
The one that caught my eye was a 3 £15 deal. For the deal I got 300 any network minutes, 3000 texts and 2000 3 to 3 minutes as well as free Skype. Now I decided that I also needed the internet max package to allow me to go on Facebook and YouTube for when I had long train journeys which bumped the whole package up to £20. Not a bad deal, because if I'd gone with the PAYG option (which was seriously tempting) I'd have forked out that a month anyway. The thing that was tempting was that it was what is known as a 'rolling contract'. Your signed up for one month and then it just keeps rolling until you decide to cancel and then all you need to do is give 30 days notice. As there is no phone that you're subsidising, there's not a lengthy contract so you're not locked in.
Don't be fooled by the fact it's SIM only. You still get credit checked, albeit not as in depth as the one for a standard phone. My problem was as I'd just moved to the area, and the fact I'd forgotten to update my bank details *DOH!* I got refused. It may also be the fact that I wasn't on the electoral roll or whatever, but Shushy (my fiancee) stepped in and saved the day by having the contract in her name.
Now there is also a plus with this contract. You can actually set a credit limit so if you're a parent and what to get your child a contract, but not have to worry about them calling Azerbijan or something and running up a huge bill you simply set the credit limit to zero or £5 or something. They will do this in store if you mention it so it's done pretty much straight away.
So what do you get? Well to be honest, just a SIM to pop into an unlocked *3G* phone (the phone HAS to be 3G as 3 don't allow 2G phones on their network and the SIM won't work) or a 3 phone. You do get a Pay As You Go SIM too, but thats not much use unless you either have another phone or someone who has a spare phone and wouldn't mind it being revived for you to call them. This is where the 2000 3 to 3 minutes come in because if you give it to someone who has an unlocked 3G phone then you can call them to your heart's content. I actually popped it into my PDA and gave Shushy my PDA so I could call her without eating into my any network minutes.
As an aside, a quick outlay of call charges per minute should you go over your minutes is in order here...
3 to 3 - 20p To landline - 20p To other UK mobile network - 40p Voicemail - Free Videocalling (NOT included in contract) - 50p Videomail (NOT included in contract) - 25p Text message - 10p MMS (NOT included in contract) - 25p
Where I've stated 'NOT included in contract' I mean you don't get any of these for free at all.
Anyway, when you pop the SIM in they say it might take around 24 hours for it to fully register on the network, but mine was up and running within an hour or so. They tend to tell you this with contracts where you get a phone as well though so I think it's one of those things to stop you freaking out if you set it up and it doesn't work straight away.
Now all went well until the beginning of this month when Shushy and I moved to our first proper house together. We had a 2 week wait for BT to get their backsides in gear and wire in a phoneline and internet connection (we had no phoneline whatsoever so I think the previous occupants were Luddites or something) so I decided to use the phone as a broadband modem as the area had HSDPA coverage. HSDPA is like an enhanced 3G so I could get around 1.8Kbps and a decent download speed. The only problem I had was to be careful not to go over the 1Gb the internet max is capped at. On a phone this is plenty, but when you're ploughing through it on a PC you're bandwidth consumption is more (there is actually more to display with a PC than the trimmed down pages you get on phones). All I was going to use it for was e-mail, basic browsing and playing World of Warcraft, so with YouTube and We7 out of the way I figured I could get by with the 2 weeks with moderate use.
About 3 days in I got an e-mail from work asking could I have a look at a site and see if there was a problem with it. For a reason I can't fathom, the site caused the 3 Mature Content filter to kick in. I have no idea why it did this, except that the site must have set some alarm bells off in the filter which meant I was locked out. The irony of it all is the fact that I could access it on my phone, but as I was looking for mistakes there wasn't much I could do. I rang 3 up to try and get it sorted out, but they couldn't take the call from me because they had no record of Shushy setting me up as a secondary contact. I wait for Shushy to come home and then we call them. Once she's assured them that she's actually the contract holder she tells them to add me and then sticks me on the to them which is where the fun and games began.
Their call centre is either in India or Pakistan and trying to explain technical details to someone who doesn't have English as their primary language is a nightmare. All I wanted was the content filter switched off, but for some reason they assumed I wanted to watch porn and kept directing me to Planet 3's (3's internet portal) Restricted Zone which is for adults only. For 90 minutes the situation was explained to EIGHT technical support guys until one of them managed to get what I was saying. Apparently the data add-on I had meant that the content filter couldn't be turned off, but could be remedied if they swapped it to X Series Silver (no it's not designed for porn, but actually for Skype back when they charged for Skype). So they state they're going to go ahead and do this.
All went well for a few hours and when I logged off and checked my phone balance it had gone from no data over my allowance to £6! I looked at what I'd actually downloaded in that session and checked my data counters on my phone and I was only at around 475Mb in total and the previous session was about 2.5Mb. I rang 3 up to find out why I'd been charged only to be told they couldn't speak to me. I had to get Shushy again who told them to add me again. After that I'd told I used up my data allowance. I had 1Gb though and they had a quick look and couldn't fathom it out. This is where it got extremely frustrating.
Due to the technical knowledge needed by them to actually understand what I was doing with the phone I was passed around again for another 75 minutes. They kept explaining that I needed to clear the cache on my phone browser (which was a moot point because I was using the PC) and then turn the phone off, pull the battery out for 2 minutes and pop it back in, and a myriad of other things. I knew that none of this would actually work because of the set-up, but at the end of the day I did it on the off chance. I tried it again the next morning and I was still getting charged, and now I was getting charged for using it on my phone as well. I rang them up, passed them to Shushy who once again told them to add me, and then spent another 90 minutes trying to get someone to understand me. I was told it would be looked into and I'd receive a call back later that day. This is where things got bizarre. I was checking my balance only to find that I'd spent £19 pound since my last bill (it was previously £6 odd when I looked before calling them), then a few hours later it went down to minus £14 and then minus £2.83 (they owed me money at this point!!!). And so it was, every hour or so I checked and my bill was bouncing up and down between £6 and minus £10 or so. It actually became a bit of a boredom breaker to see if I could guess what my bill was. While the bill was in the minus amounts Shushy rang up and asked for a £5 credit limit to be applied as a form of damage limitation. BIG HUGE MISTAKE.
This now stopped me from actually making calls too now. After a week of daily calls to 3 I was at the point where I was seriously contemplating telling them where they could shove their contract. After a late night trying to get some stuff sorted out online (thankfully Shushy had a data account with her phone so I could actually use that for net access) I decided to ring them up at 5am as I knew the tech support department was 24 hours. This is where we made progress.
I woke Shushy up and told her to speak to them when they still had no record of me and the woman on the other end of the phone spoke flawless (albeit accented) English. She asked me for some security details and a password to veryify my identity when I rang up in future (something which hadn't happened before) so we'd at least got me onto their systems. Then she listened to what I said, explained it back to me so I knew she'd understood what had been said and then said I needed to speak to someone else and transferred me. The new drone spoke with a voice that was pure seduction and to be honest I wouldn't be surprised if she'd done a slightly more exotic version of call centre work before she ended up at 3. She waded through the system and told me that the reason I'd been charged was because the add on was incompatible with my contract and shouldn't have been applied in the first place. The reason I couldn't call anyone was because the credit limit had been set to £5 full stop. As I had a bill floating around waiting to be paid it had kicked in the safe guard which locked the phone so she set that right. She then explained that the magical bill amount was due to credit control not keeping their notes organised so people were adding and removing credits frequently (it had actually been getting looked at every time I called or got passed to someone else). She fixed this by working out how much I'd been charged and then crediting to the account and leaving a note with not to mess with it any more (it stabilised at minus £2 something). She then put the original add on I had back on, but I was told not to use the phone for data for 48 hours so they could check they'd done it right. I was told I'd get a call when they knew it had been successful and they'd also ask me to check as well. That was it - problems solved.
If I'd known calling at silly o'clock in the morning was all it would have taken I would have done it sooner.
My situation is unlikely to happen to most people, and it's only because I have an inkling of what mobile phones can do within reason, but it does illustrate that tech support - when needed - can be problematic with 3 if it's anything outside their script.
So would I recommend the SIM only deal? Yes, because it's not a bad deal and even more attractive if you text a lot or have friends of a significant other on 3. The downside is you need to have a phone already, but even if you don't you can simply get a cheap PAYG handset and use that with the SIM. Just check that where you live is actually in an area covered by 3 because there are some areas that they're not available.