foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

Vodafone and roaming on pre-pay: Madness!

, posted: 10-Jul-2008 13:25

Lately, Vodafone is not getting a whole lot of good press (here and here). Looks like I have yet another story to add to that.

I'm on pre-pay and always have been reasonably happy with it as well. Since I don't use my phone all that much, I never had a reason to go on account. The only feature of the account that interested me was the ability to just use roaming while travelling, without many issues.

You see, as a pre-pay customer you have to register your desire for roaming before you go on a trip with them. You can't do that online, though. No, you have to go into a Vodafone store, show ID and credit card, and then fill out some annoying form, because they will put you on something "like" an account for some time while you are travelling. And of course, you have the privilege to pay $10 for the pleasure.

So, you have to provide your credit card number, but also your driver's license number, address, work history (!) where you live and how long you have lived there, as well as names and addresses of next-of-kin, or rather, a "relative not living with you". Very annoying, if you don't have a relative "not living with you" and anyway don't feel like giving out personal information about your friends or family to some company who should have no business at all collecting it. If you tell them so much, you are told rather tersely that you could complain to Vodafone, but here in the store it's just a procedure they have to go through.

Why, I wonder, do they have to do that? Why would they possibly need all this contact information, considering I give them my credit card information? Apparently, they need to perform a full credit check. Look, it's not like I am trying to take on a mortgage here, you know? If there are any additional charges, they can just use my credit card, no? Why the need for a credit check?

Besides, they already have my money! After all, it's pre-pay! Shouldn't it be possible for them to just cut me off once I used up my credit and be done with it? Why do they even need the credit card?

Ok, ok, so maybe while operating the phone overseas there will be some charges from local carriers that might appear even if I have run out of pre-pay credits. But again, that's what they have my credit card for.

Other businesses can work perfectly fine with just a credit card on file. Online businesses, specifically. They perform their services, add up the cost and then charge you at the end of the month for it. No problem there. They don't need any information besides what's necessary for them to charge the credit card.

Why all the apparently unnecessary fuss when trying to roame while on pre-pay?

Is there some regulatory requirement for Vodafone to act like pricks, or do they just do this on their own?

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Comment by sbiddle, on 10-Jul-2008 14:18

If you are roaming to any of the following countries there is no need to do anything as roaming is automatic. You do not need to apply.

Vodafone Australia Vodafone UK Vodafone Fiji Vodafone Spain Vodafone India SFR France AIS Thailand SmarTone Hong Kong AT&T USA (Tri band handset required)

This means your balance is automatically deducted in realtime.

If you are heading anywhere else Vodafone require all of your details as they perform a credit check and set you up as an On Account customer and bill you when you get home and sometimes these charges can take a month or so to appear. I guess they want all your details because of the potential for fraud - it would be easy for somebody to give VF their credit card details, rack up a huge bill and then cancel the card or claim it was stolen. VF would potentially face issues as a result.

I don't really see what they are doing as being a problem, Australia is the most popular roaming destination and many of these other countries aren't far behind - most prepay customers never have to do anything.

Author's note by foobar, on 10-Jul-2008 14:44

@sbiddle: You said: "I don't really see what they are doing as being a problem". Well, I do for several reasons:

1. I need to go to a country where they don't have the automatic roaming enabled, which means, I do have to go and register with them.

2. The "automatic" roaming when going to the US connects you only to AT&T there. That just so happens to be the most expensive option. You pay $4.30 per minute for local calls and $4.55 per minute for calls to New Zealand. I would like to save some money by selecting my own network: T-Mobile (Voicestream) in the US will charge only $1.85 for local calls and $3.60 for calls to New Zealand. That's expensive, but much cheaper than AT&T. In addition, through AT&T you don't even have data access when you are on pre-pay, while through T-Mobile you will have it. So, even for the US I really still have to pre-register if I don't want to get ripped off.

3. Fraud risk? That's pretty tough luck for them, really. There are plenty of other businesses who can handle it differently, and who will manage with just the credit card number. Vodafone should be content if I can show them my ID and a matching credit card. The risk is quite low from then on. I see no need at all for them to do a credit check.

I don't see the need to hand out so much personal information of myself and friends/family when it is just not necessary.

Comment by philip, on 10-Jul-2008 15:30

I agree with the author, why do they need all this information? It seems unneccessary to me if you supply relevant id and also credit card.

Comment by Toni, on 10-Jul-2008 16:05

You are not alone!

I was required to do this for my phone that is on contract!

Not realising the process I called VF from my phone to check roaming was on the night before we left on our 6 week trip of Europe - only to be told I needed to go in to the store in person with ID etc. We had no hope of getting there before we flew out.

Interestingly, I rang on my husband's phone - a business connection with VF to check his was ok to roam - they did it on the spot. So I asked would they be able to check if mine was OK to roam. They said it wasn't but did it for me - instantly in about 30 seconds.

Maybe the initial call centre thought I was on prepay??? Anyway - agree, seems like a whole lot of fuss - especially when you kind of assume it is going to be a simple flick of a switch. Oh and when roaming in Denmark - $4.40/minute - we foolishly assumed it would be the same if not similar as in other European countries.

Comment by coffeebaron, on 10-Jul-2008 17:29

Not sure why they would need to do this, i mean with their highly competitive low cost roaming charges, it would be pretty hard to clock up a big bill now would it?

Comment by DjShadow, on 10-Jul-2008 18:51

Just wondering, if vodafone pooled all prepay client's balances, would they make any interest off this?

Author's note by foobar, on 11-Jul-2008 00:05

@DjShadow: Of course they would make money of the interest. That's the beauty of all the pre-pay kinds of businesses. In the case of Vodafone the best is that they will even expire your unused balance after a while: You paid, they earned interest on it, and after a while you will just lose it all without replacement, which means they win twice.

When you pre-pay for your Skype credits, or Vodafone pre-pay, or whatever else you have where you pay ahead of time: The vendor will very happily earn interest on it.

Comment by G Lamy, on 11-Jul-2008 00:35

Maybe your operator has no realtime charging for prepaid roaming based on the CAMEL standard and hence has to treat you as postpaid subscriber when roaming abroad ?

Most of the large mobile network operators offer automatic prepaid roaming based on CAMEL.

There is no need to register anywhere for using your mobile abroad with it.

Coverage is (almost) worldwide, not as good as with pure GSM (being on contract), but covering most of the touristically relevant countries (among them virtually all European countries).

So either ask your operator why its prepaid offer is technically backwards compared to other operators, chose the national competitor (there is a second operator now in NZ afaik), buy a local prepaid card in your country of destination (provided you just visit one country abroad) or buy yourself a SIM of United Mobile. The latter of course being on Callback basis.

So there are options !

Probably as the demand for "real" automatic prepaid roaming in NZ is apparently not so high, Vodafone possible also doesn't offer it currently.

I know, this answer won't really satify you...

Comment by KK, on 11-Jul-2008 09:41

I agree they shouldn't be collecting extra information unless it is necessary & I think there should be some legal protection in place for consumers especially when companies like Vodafone absuse their position in the market

Comment by kent, on 11-Jul-2008 11:01

Credit card as collateral means nothing - you can max it out and they are screwed - it's about debt recovery.

Comment by AKL, on 25-Oct-2008 22:44

I have been using a vodaphone prepaid phone for many years. Recently everytime when I top up my phone after 3 days most of my credit is lost or stolen by someone. I wonder anyone have this problem of loosing credit

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New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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