I just called Orange customer relations to request my PAC code after finally deciding to move to "3" or Three as I'll call them from now. I've been a contract customer with Orange for just over ten years, and I'm just no longer feeling the love.
Orange started off as an innovative company, seemingly unaffected by the failure of the related "Rabbit" CT2 enterprise. Unlike Cellnet and Vodafone, the more conservative established alternatives at the time, Orange offered a whole slew of innovative features such as Line 2, free voicemail, free Call Waiting, free itemised billing, free insurance, free 0800 calls, inclusive minutes bundles, and most of all: lower prices, even on international calls.
To achieve these features, they worked closely with Nokia. If I remember correctly, Orange were the ones responsible for getting features like Line 2 and voicemail signalling into the standards. Rather than just selling a premade product, they wanted to create new and innovative ways of using a mobile phone.
Orange Care was the real killer app for me, though. I remember trashing my phone on several occasions and getting a free replacement very quickly: once I got a replacement 7110 delivered to me at work two hours after I'd accidentally dropped the old one in the (clean and pine-scented) toilet. No charge. This service apparently was the cause of the delayed releases of new handsets, as Orange sent new models back to the drawing board when they didn't live up to the QA standards necessary for the insurance scheme.
This was the old Orange. This was before Hans Snook left. This was before Pay-As-You-Go. This was before they got bought out.
Since then, Orange have seemed to stop innovating, both from a technical and a business perspective. Customer service quality has plummeted. It used to take about two rings to get through to a very well-trained CS rep, who would quickly put you through to 3rd Line support if it was clear that you knew what you were talking about. Nowadays it sometimes takes ages just to get through to someone with a script in front of them, and they seemed to be well trained at saying "No", and "We don't offer that", and other disappointing responses.
Orange Care is now £6 a month extra, and includes a whole bunch of exclusions and a rather hefty excess. In other words, it's the same as everyone else's network. I haven't actually used Orange Care in about five or six years, but it's something I've paid for diligently anyway, for the peace-of-mind. I could have bought about five new phones on the money I've spent on Orange Care.
The final straw was a fairly trivial note I just noticed at the bottom of last month's Orange bill: "...We will be charging £1.50 for itemised billing." Now, I don't actually care *that* much, as I rarely read my phone bill anyway, but I remember one of those little things that made Orange better than Cellnet and Vodafone was their free itemised billing. It's the principle. Yet another sign that they've regressed.
The offers given to new customers are a hell of a lot better than those available to old, loyal customers, but even those offers are far too expensive for what you get. Back when I joined, you got everything for £15 a month. That's on a 12 month contract, with a free decent phone included. Now I'm paying almost £30 for pretty much the same deal: 60 minutes of talk time and 30 texts. I've been paying them anywhere from about £20 to £100 a month for ten years, and usually overpaying them if anything. I'm only using an average of 42 minutes a month, but they can't offer me a cheaper tariff.
So, here comes Three. Dumb name, and one that makes it difficult to Google, but their attitude seems strangely familiar.
Looking a bit deeper, I find out that Three's full name is "Hutchison 3G UK Limited". Not too different from the "Hutchison Telecommunications UK Limited" that launched Orange back in 1994. Back then, "Orange" was a pretty odd name for a mobile phone network, just as Three is an odd name now. Back then, Orange were the only ones risking running on a solely 2G phone network, while Cellnet and Vodafone's relied on 1G. Not too dissimilar from Three rolling out a 3G network so quickly, and handing off the 2G fallback to O2 (and soon to Orange, fortunately).
In so many ways, Three reminds me of what Orange used to be.
Three is the new Orange.
And today, they've launched "X-Series"... flat-fee mobile broadband with free Skype-to-Skype calls. £5 a month. This thing could kickstart the stagnant mobile internet market. It's the kind of industry-wrenching, business-plan-defying fantastic lunacy we used to expect from Orange. Exactly the kind of thing that makes their less insightful competitors poo-pooh it, and their more insightful competitors poo-poo themselves. It's what the consumers want, and it's going to happen. Everyone else is on catch-up now.
Considering the way I currently use my mobile, I'm not going to go for "X-Series" for now. I can't justify the expense considering how much I actually use my mobile, and I also don't want the Nokia N73 I'd have to use to get it: I'm sick of "smartphones", which I think are more suitably named "slow-and-crashy-phones". I've been using a Nokia 6680 for about a year, and it's just slow and crap. My friend Steve has an N70, which is similarly slow and crap. I had a 7650 before then, as a result of the Orange video trial I participated in, and it's just slow and crap. I wouldn't mind having a Blackberry or something like that, but right now, I'd just be happier with a small phone that works well, as long as it's got Bluetooth. I could even do without a camera.
Anyway, as far as I can tell, Orange are just yet another network now. Very full of themselves, knowing full well they've got market share, and they just do not care about customer churn. They know they've got a good network, so why try harder? France Telecom seems content to just sit on the cash-cow. After talking to Orange CR for a few minutes to get my PAC code, I don't think they (or their computer) cares if I leave or not. If anything, the girl on the phone just got slightly snippy and argumentative with me, before giving up.
So, I've signed up to Three. £15 a month for 18 months, and then up to £30 a month, although I'll probably renegotiate at that point and perhaps move somewhere else. I get a Nokia 6280 refurb, which should do the trick. It's got iSync compatibility, and it's not a "smartphone", so it has a chance of actually working smoothly. I'll get 600 minutes a month for six months and then 300 minutes after that. 2000 texts a month for six months, and then down to 1000 texts, which is still about 30 times what I actually need. It also includes MSN Messenger "free for life", which could be fun.
On paper, this looks like the right move. I have no idea it'll actually play out, but I must say I can't wait for my new phone to arrive tomorrow(!)
I'm going to transfer my number over to Three, but I'll get an Orange PAYG SIM just for fun (and for Orange Wednesdays), and I'll probably get my phone unlocked so I've got a spare. Otherwise, I'm no longer a loyal Orange customer.
Sort it out, Orange. You suck. I'm Three's bitch now.
Three, please don't disappoint me now.