It’s So SIMple: Just Learn From Bali

Vyt Karazija

I’ve been spoilt by the ease of getting a local SIM card for my mobile phone in Bali. And in Beijing, and Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur – and even in Lithuania. So when a trip to the Great South Land for Christmas was planned, I just assumed that the process would be quick and painless there, too. I was wrong. I don’t think I have ever seen such a manifestly inept display of bureaucratic administrivia as I experienced in Australia.

So there I was, at Melbourne Airport at 7am, having arranged to call my family on arrival. I go searching for a purveyor of fine SIM cards and find a $30 starter pack from Telstra. Mind you, this involves filling out a huge form requiring heaps of ID and reading a page of fine print – a process that vastly annoys the huge queue behind me, most of whom merely want a paper. That done, I extract the SIM from its packaging (cunningly designed to thwart those without fingernails) and insert it in my phone. It remains lifeless, and steadfastly refuses to make calls.

OK, time to read the instruction booklet, which congratulates me on my wise purchase and informs me that I need to activate my card before using it. It also kindly provides me with a number to call to activate my phone. Which of course, I can’t do, because my phone is not yet activated. Eventually at 8am, I try to activate my phone again using a landline. The instruction book makes it very clear that while I can ring if I really, really want to, activating online is far easier. I soon see what they mean – endless menu choices, the need to punch in all sorts of arcane numbers – the phone number, the SIM number, the serial number, a PIN – I finally give up, hang up and borrow a computer to activate online.

Telstra’s activation website tells me that I can’t do anything at all until I register to use their site. By this time, it’s 9.30am and I haven’t slept for 28 hours. I am becoming a tad irate, but nevertheless, I start the registration process by typing my user name, which the site informs me is my new phone number. The site, apparently designed by someone who failed Systems Logic 101, triumphantly tells me that my registration has failed, because the phone number I am using has not yet been activated. What? This is where I’m supposed to come to activate. My ire morphs into a low-grade, pervasive anger.

OK, back to activation by phone call. More menus, interminable inputs of multi-digit numbers and 15 minutes later I’m finished, waiting for the robot voice to tell me my phone is now active. No way. I end up connected to an operator in Sri Lanka, who proceeds to ask me for all of the information that I have already punched in.

Me: (Incredulously) “I just put in all that stuff!”

Her: (Ennui suffusing her voice) “Sorry sir, our system doesn’t display that information.”

So we go through the whole ritual again, and she tells me that the process is complete – and she has now put in a request for activation! I am nearly speechless, but manage to ask how long that will take. She blithely says 4 to 6 hours. My low-grade anger advances to high-grade anger, but with an effort, I stay polite. Hours later, I try to use my phone, and get a promotional message extolling the virtues of Telstra for perhaps 30 seconds. Then another voice tells me that my service is not available. By 4pm, with the message playing every time I try to use the phone, I ring again. The operator is bemused.

Him: “My screen shows your phone was activated two hours ago.”

Me: “Maybe so, but I’m still getting your promotional message.”

Him: (After much testing and getting more incomprehensible numbers from me) “Try ringing someone now, and hold your phone up so I can hear what you are getting.”

I do, and we both sit through the whole message. This time there is no tag line about my service being unavailable, and the number I dialled starts ringing.

Him: (Elated) “See – you were connected to the number you dialled when the message finished!”

Me: (Incredulous) “I have to listen to your ad every time I dial a number?!”

Him: (Patronisingly) “Well, that’s what you get with a prepaid service. Ha-ha! Besides, the ad only runs for a week…”

My anger is now more of an incandescent rage, but I keep my voice level as I explain that I paid for a SIM card and phone service, not unsolicited ads, and that as a point of principle, I will never use Telstra again.

Something must have worked, because two minutes later the ad was gone.

And so, back here in Bali, as I look at tourists walking into market stalls with their phones – and out again three minutes later with a fully functioning local SIM card – I am tempted never, never to bag the telecommunications industry here again.

Vyt Karazija writes a blog at http://borborigmus.wordpress.com and can be emailed at vyt@elearning911.com.

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