Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Broken Modem

I am jumping out of sequence now. This happened in the past week or so. I bought a pay as you go wireless modem, so that I could buy some extra bandwidth in times of need. There's more to this story, but I want to focus on one aspect right now. The modem I bought, I took home and spent an hour trying to make work, before finally realising that as it uses a SIM card, that card needs to be activated. The manuals said nothing of this, nor had the sales person. I had bought this modem because I'm a developer, and I needed to deploy an installer to my boss in the USA. Having established that the speeds they claim for their latest modems are lies, in Tasmania at least, I settled for breaking it up in to many files and having three wireless connections sending files at once. So I set up some files to send, and went to bed. The next morning, my connection was not working. I played with it for a bit, then called support. It turns out that I paid for 1 GB, and was given 200 MB. Now, I wonder how many people would know EXACTLY how much they had used, and how many would just accept they were out of bandwidth and pay for more ? So, I called support, and they put another GB on to the account. I asked how I refill it from there, they told me to push the $ symbol in the software. That seems self documenting, except, there was none. The person on the other end basically treated me like an idiot and kept telling me to look harder.

The long and the short of it is this. I registered online to refill the SIM online, but found that the options I saw seemed to correlate to buying calls, not bandwidth. In hindsight, I think that's because the Telstra sales person lied to me about how much bandwidth would cost if I prepay, I expected to see an option that cost $169 for 20 GB, and for it to scale down from there. However, the core issue was that the software that came with my modem was for a monthly account, not for prepaid, and the reason for this is that the modem I was sold to use for prepaid, when I requested a prepaid modem, is not a modem approved for prepaid use. It actually works fine, excepting that the Mac version does not work well at all, it drops out every 30 min and I have to reboot to get online again, but it's not what I asked for, and therefore the software is wrong, and does not have the recharge option.

So, I went in to the store and the guy there put my SIM in to a mobile phone and recharged it that way. I guess I can just buy the $100 recharge online, the site just doesn't make clear that it works for a modem that uses the phone network. The reason for the confusion ? The actual top prepaid rate is $100 for 6 GB. The only way to get 20 GB is to buy 3 lots of $100 for 18 GB. When I asked for rates for prepaid, when I was explicit that I was buying a prepaid modem to use only when I have to deploy something and my monthly allowance is not enough to cover it, the guy showed me rates for plans. It was the fact that I could see nothing about bandwidth, or see the prices I was quoted, that I didn't think the online option would work.

Where I live, I have wireless b/c it's my only option, and even then it only works with an aerial( inevitably, there's a post coming about the story behind that, too ). The Telstra shops do not stock those, or even know they exist, it seems. So, I have to go to another local store called Total Communications to buy that. As I have a new modem, I need a new patch lead to plug it in. So, I bought this, and set it up. The aerial is mounted on the house, the cable comes around to my window, and I close my window on it to hold it in place. Then my modem sits hanging from the lead on one side, and a USB extension snakes down to the front of my Mac on the other side ( I should clarify, I use my Mac mostly with Windows XP, so the poor Mac support is rarely the source of any of my wireless issues ). In other words, I don't see any way for any force to be applied to the modem, unless someone were to yank the outside cable, HARD, and then I'd see the modem pulled up hard against the window.

So, I unplugged the aerial, because I was swapping between modems. When I went to plug it back in, it wouldn't go, so I looked at it, and the connection was bent up. I carefully bent it down again, and plugged in my aerial. I didn't use any force at any point, with the obvious exception of gentle pressure to reposition the connection by a few mm. The aerial connection snapped off when I plugged it in, and fell out in to my hand. I feel certain that poor manufacture/design was at the root of this issue, but I would accept that I'm likely to face an uphill battle getting any sort of warranty support. Nevertheless, this poorly made piece of junk cost me $400, I don't want to just throw it out. I should add, it plain does not work anymore. I called Total Communications and took it in ( they have a repair shop so they seemed the likely candidate, I was hoping for someone to just solder the connection, even if I could not plug in an aerial, just to make it work at all again ). They called me several days later to tell me that as they did not sell it to me, they would have to charge me $80 just to send it off to be looked at, so I should take it back to the Telstra shop I bought it from instead.

So, I finally got a chance to go in to the city again to drop off my modem. I go in to the brand new Telstra shop in the mall. I waited 5 min for someone to take my name and tell me that someone will call me to help me. 15 min later, I get into the bill payment line and ask the guy at the conter. He points out a girl with a clipboard and tells me she's the one who will help me. I go and wait 5 min for her to finish, and ask her. She says 'rather than keep you waiting, let me take you to the person who can help'. It's too late for that. The guy takes my modem out the back and comes back after 5-10 min. He tells me he had a close look and the connection has snapped off. Well, I have the connection in my hand, I told him the modem worked at some point, so what else did he think had happened. He then told me to buy a new modem. With a straight face. I told him I'd been to Total Communications and I'd come here to find a way to get the modem repaired. He went off, and eventually came back to tell me I need to contact Sierra Wireless directly and mail it to them to get a quote on getting it fixed. I spent 40 min in a Telstra shop being shunted around and had to fight to get what I asked for. So, I will call Sierra today and see if they can help me.

I should add that at no point in this process did anyone call out my name from the list I was put on. The store was busy when I arrived, but actually got very quiet during the early stages of the process.

If you have a Sierra wireless modem, the 308 model, do NOT plug an aerial in to it if you can help it. The connection is dodgy, and the whole thing is poorly made, and if it snaps off in your hand, you will face all sorts of hassle trying to make it work ever again.

To be fair, I called Sierra this morning and they have been very helpful. They may still get me to send in my modem and tell me they can't fix and won't replace, but at this stage, it's early days, so I don't know exactly how it will turn out. It's Telstra that messed me around up to this point, not Sierra.

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