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Telco survey: Mobile and internet service providers

Looking for a new mobile or internet service provider? Our survey reveals which telcos Kiwis are most happy with.

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Vodafone has a massive advertising campaign urging us to feel more optimistic about the future. If you’ve watched TV in the past six months, you’ve probably seen the ad, featuring a parade of the telco’s customers enjoying their cutting-edge tech. A child is summoned to dinner via his smartwatch, a classroom enjoys a crystalclear Skype chat with an astronaut – you get the picture. The slogan: “However you say hello, we’ll be there.”

Unfortunately, our latest telco satisfaction survey suggests Vodafone is more likely to let you down when you need it most. It was the only company to rate below average on all our key performance measures – from customer support to value for money. It also came dead last overall in both the broadband and mobile categories – the same slot it held last year (see our results).

Getting it to pick up the phone is half the problem. About three-quarters of Vodafone’s broadband customers reported long wait times to speak to a customer service rep and nearly half experienced unhelpful service once they finally got through.

Industry satisfaction

Vodafone wasn’t alone in leaving customers hanging. Spark copped flak from broadband customers left waiting to speak to a customer service rep. Seven out of 10 respondents had been put on hold at least once.

The telco industry hasn’t covered itself in glory over the past year. On average, 49% of respondents said they were very satisfied with their internet service provider (ISP), while just 54% praised their mobile provider. These dismal figures are dragged down largely by our two biggest telcos – Vodafone and Spark. They also hold the dubious honour of being first and second on the Commerce Commission’s list of businesses generating the most complaints under the Fair Trading Act. Vodafone earned 186 to Spark’s 180 in the last financial year.

Other telcos also featured on the list. 2degrees ranked fourth, with 88 complaints, and Vocus Communications (owner of the Flip, Orcon and Slingshot brands) was seventh. But they returned better satisfaction scores in our survey than the big guys.

Mobile satisfaction

Overall, 61% of 2degrees customers and 75% of Skinny users said they were very satisfied with their provider, while Vodafone (48%) and Spark (49%) were below average in the satisfaction stakes. Respondents with Skinny and 2degrees were also more likely to say they were getting good value for money and less likely than customers of the big two telcos to report billing issues.

Spark-owned Skinny trumped all other providers when it came to helping customers with general queries, as well as technical support. The caveat is Skinny only offers prepay plans.

If you’re languishing on a bad mobile deal, it might be time to make the switch. Number portability is guaranteed until 2021, so you can switch to any provider and keep your old digits.

Speed issues

How we use our phones has changed dramatically. Compared with 2012, we now use 16 times more mobile data, to the point that mobile customers rank mobile data allowance as more important than call minutes or number of texts. But data speeds remain a major gripe. Two-thirds of mobile customers said they had to put up with sluggish speeds at some point. Vodafone customers were more likely to experience problems: 72% complained about slow data speeds, while 65% had experienced poor network coverage in the past year.

Broadband satisfaction

Like the mobile industry, the broadband market is evolving rapidly. The Commerce Commission’s latest telco monitoring report shows more than 460,000 homes and businesses are hooked up to fibre broadband, which offers faster speeds than the copper network. Average broadband download speeds have risen 40% in the past year.

However, as with mobile internet, speed remains a major cause of dissatisfaction. Three-quarters of respondents reported slower than expected internet speeds in the past year. Spark and Vodafone rated worst, with about 80% of their customers encountering slower than expected speeds some of the time. Slingshot, 2degrees and Skinny customers were less likely to report slow connections.

By now, you won’t be surprised to find Vodafone hardly distinguished itself for its broadband service. It earned the lowest overall satisfaction score of just 39%.

In fact, Vodafone earned the wooden spoon in all the satisfaction attributes we measure: customer support (billing and general queries), technical support, connection speed, connection reliability, accurate billing and value for money.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Flip won plaudits from its customers, earning the highest overall satisfaction score (70%). Flip fans rated its value for money and were much less likely to report inaccurate bills (84% vs 66% on average). However, Flip only offers ADSL and VDSL (traditional copper phone line) connections, not fibre.

Among ISPs offering the full suite of ADSL, VDSL and fibre broadband, Skinny customers reported fewer problems across key service areas than others. Though its overall satisfaction score of 61% isn’t much to phone home about, Skinny’s customers were more likely (64%) to say it offered good value for money compared with Vodafone or Spark.

Trustpower, which offers bundled power and broadband deals, scored the highest mark for customer support. 67% of its customers were satisfied with how it handled billing and general queries, compared with just half of all telco customers on average.

Still on the line

The number of landline calling minutes has decreased 45% in the past two years, with nearly twice as many mobile calls made over the period. However, our survey shows reports of the imminent death of landlines are premature: 69% of households maintain a traditional landline, while many Kiwis in rural areas continue to rely on the copper network to make calls, especially in areas where the cell network is patchy.


Survey results

GUIDE TO THE TABLES OUR DATA are from a nationally representative survey of 1561 New Zealanders, aged 18 years and over, carried out online in December 2017. Companies are those with 30 responses or more. Overall satisfaction shows the percentage of consumers who rated their internet/mobile retailer 8, 9 or 10 on a scale from 0 (very dissatisfied) to 10 (very satisfied).

Mobile satisfaction ratings

Overall satisfaction

Mobile service provider[width=35%]Overall satisfaction[bar][width=65%]
Become a Consumer member to see the results.75%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.61%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.54%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.49%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.48%

Performance measures

Performance measure[width=30%]Somewhat satisfied[bar][width=35%]Very satisfied[bar][width=35%]
Accurate bills
Best: Skinny
Worst: Vodafone
19%62%
Customer support
Best: Skinny
Worst: Vodafone
23%51%
Technical support
Best: Skinny
Worst: Vodafone
24%48%
Value for money
Best: Skinny
Worst: Vodafone
26%47%
In-store help
Best: None
Worst: Vodafone
23%46%

Most common problems

Problem[width=30%]Regularly[bar][width=35%]Occasionally[bar][width=35%]
Slow data speeds
Least problems: Skinny
Most problems: Vodafone
12%54%
Poor network coverage
Least problems: None
Most problems: Vodafone
12%49%
Disconnections and dropouts
Least problems: None
Most problems: None
8%38%
Long customer service wait times
Least problems: Skinny
Most problems: Spark, Vodafone
17%33%
Unhelpful customer service
Least problems: Skinny
Most problems: Spark
8%21%
Unexpected charges
Least problems: 2degrees
Most problems: None
22%4%
Incorrect billing
Least problems: 2degrees
Most problems: Spark
14%3%

Monthly spend

ISP satisfaction ratings

Overall satisfaction

Internet service provider[width=35%]Overall satisfaction[bar][width=65%]
Become a Consumer member to see the results.70%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.61%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.59%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.58%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.53%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.51%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.49%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.45%
Become a Consumer member to see the results.39%

Most common problems

Problem[width=30%]Regularly[bar][width=35%]Occasionally[bar][width=35%]
Slower than expected speeds
Least problems: Slingshot
Most problems: Vodafone
15%61%
Disconnections or dropouts
Least problems: 2degrees
Most problems: Vodafone
9%55%
Long customer service wait times
Least problems: Trustpower
Most problems: Vodafone
24%38%
Unhelpful customer service
Least problems: Trustpower
Most problems: Vodafone
9%24%
Billing disputes
Least problems: Flip
Most problems: Vodafone
4%20%

Performance measures

Performance measure[width=30%]Somewhat satisfied[bar][width=35%]Very satisfied[bar][width=35%]
Accurate bills
Best: Flip
Worst: Vodafone
18%66%
Customer support
Best: Trustpower
Worst: Vodafone
24%51%
Technical support
Best: None
Worst: Vodafone
26%48%
Connection speed
Best: None
Worst: Vodafone
29%43%
Reliability of connection
Best: None
Worst: Vodafone
26%49%
Value for money
Best: Flip
Worst: Spark
25%42%

Monthly spend

Faux fibre

Even in an industry that generates 20% of all Fair Trading Act complaints to the Commerce Commission, Vodafone’s FibreX service stands out.

That’s because FibreX is not actually fibre at all. Customers signing up for the service – available in Wellington, Kapiti and Christchurch – are connected to an upgraded version of its cable network, not the fibre-optic network being rolled out under the government’s ultra-fast broadband initiative.

While FibreX speeds can, on paper, be similar to those achieved on the fibre-optic network, it’s more prone to congestion. The more people in your area who use it, the more likely your speeds will suffer at peak times. Of the 43 customers in our survey using FibreX, 41 reported slower than expected speeds, a far higher rate than for any other connection type. FibreX customers were also much more likely to report disconnections and dropouts than those on either (actual) fibre, ADSL or VDSL. In June, the Commerce Commission said it was investigating the service. It’s yet to take action.

Fibre switch issues

Our survey suggests fibre is the most common type of residential internet connection, with 39% of respondents now connected to the ultra-fast broadband (UFB) network. However, for many households, switching has been far from plain sailing.

Among fibre customers, one in three encountered issues during installation. The most common problem was contractors not meeting agreed time frames (20%), while 12% said their property had been damaged during installation or wasn’t restored properly (for example, trenches weren’t filled in).

If a contractor makes a meal of hooking up your fibre, don’t take it lying down. All contractors responsible for residential fibre installations, such as Chorus (responsible for the lion’s share of installs), are members of the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution (TDR) scheme, a free service for resolving telco disputes. If a contractor fails to promptly remedy issues with a fibre installation, or you have any other sort of dispute with your telco, don’t hesitate to get on the blower to the TDR.

Settling disputes

If you have an issue with a telco and have been unable to resolve it with them you could take your case to the Telecommunication Dispute Resolution service.

The TDR can look at unresolved complaints to do with billing, customer service, hardware faults, contracts, network performance, or something similar. This includes pre-paid mobiles.

TDR can consider:

  • Complaints about companies that are TDR scheme members.
  • Any service or product from any TDR member. You can also complain about how you have been charged for products and services (but not the pricing).
  • Complaints that have already been made to a telecommunications company, as long as it is within 12 months of the complaint first being made.
  • Complaints that involve claims for $15,000 or less, including compensation for direct loss.
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Consumer Trusted

Skinny Mobile is a Consumer NZ Trusted Business programme. The programme is designed to advance the interests of New Zealand consumers. Businesses are assessed against our Code of Conduct and agree to comply with the code’s principles. Customers of a Consumer Trusted business can also use our advisory service.

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