Does the 2G switch-off mean you can cancel your 3 contract?
In October, our favourite service provider Three began disabling substantial parts of their 2G network. This was in fact supplied by Orange, and used to provide coverage in postcodes where Three's 3G was weak or non-existent.
Three claimed they were only doing this in areas where their 3G network was 'strong'; their reasoning in removing 2G access was that many handsets were roaming onto a 2G signal when adequate 3G coverage was available, meaning Three had to pay carriage costs to Orange.
So that was that and everyone was happy. No, of course they weren't.
For starters, it doesn't look like a very good job was done of tell anyone - judging by the comments on Three's blog (and plenty of other forums), the switchover caught plenty of people by surprise.
Another frustration is that even in areas that have adequate 3G coverage, congestion at peak times is causing a loss of signal, now there's no 2G network to fall back on. Many customers have also disagreed with Three's assessment of how handsets work on the two networks:
Surely where 2G roaming is used, by definition it’s needed as I know from bitter experience (and lots of calls to Three technical support) that handsets hang on to even a very weak 3G signal for as long as absolutely possible before roaming to 2G.
I understand that sometimes there has to be a commercial decision, but in effect you have reduced the coverage of your network in these areas and must accept that will impact some users.
A 2G backup service is much better than no service, regardless of whether a 3G service is “provides a great experience, not just voice and text” Where I live even where coverage is excellent according to the coverage checker, there are still small pockets where my phone goes to roaming because the 3G signal isn't covering it.
A couple of interesting points to note since all this began a month ago. First is the admission by a member of Three's moderation staff that they accept some customers are likely to be adversely affected:
Our own 3G network now covers 97% of the UK population. It’s the UK’s biggest 3G network. That’s why we have turned off 2G roaming across the country where our 3G coverage is strong. Any change in coverage can affect some individuals, but the net result is a better 3G experience for the vast majority. We want to provide a great 3G experience – not just voice and text.
The second is an email from avid Bitterwallet reader hooker1uk, who updated us on his experience with Three:
[Three] will try and play you around the houses, but they eventually they see it's not worth trying when you prove problems exist. and they offer to cancel your contract!
I was hit by this and told my phone(s) were broke, [but] I've just been allowed to cancel all three of my contracts with them.
Three has the least customer-friendly Terms and Conditions available of any service provider (a PDF document of 36 pages of texts, reproduced in a two page document), but digging through it finds a clause concerning 'Disruption to Three Services:
5.9 There may be situations when Three Services are not continuously available or the quality is affected and so we cannot guarantee continuous fault-free service:
(c) when you are in areas not covered by the Three Network. In these cases Three Services relies on other operator's network where we have no control.
The issue is Three is no longer willing to rely on other networks in most areas, which means Three has deliberately brought about a change in its service. So here's the cancellation clause:
10.1 You may end this agreement in the following ways:
(d) Within one month of a detrimental variation to your agreement... (a Cancellation Fee will not be charged).
Unreliable or non-existent network coverage as a result of Three's own actions can certainly be considered to be a detrimental variation, so what should you do? It'd certainly help your cause to provide some evidence that the change has been detrimental in your circumstances. Three seem to rely heavily on their coverage map for this:
Check not only your home postcode but your place of work too - if you can't use your phone as you previously did, in any place where you spend a significant amount of time, then it's fair to say you are detrimentally affected by the change.
In areas where there's network congestion, the moderators on the Three blog are attempting to appease customers by telling them new cell towers will be built in the next several months to improve coverage. Even if you're in an area that should receive coverage but is struggling because of congestion and no 2G then there's probably a case for compensation, such as a reduction in your monthly tariff for several months.
Ultimately, if you are adversely affected by the changes, you should at least have a discussion with customer services. And good luck with that.