Telstra blocking data SIMs in phones

18 August 2014

Telstra has recently implemented a change to its Mobile Broadband policies which restricts customers from using a data SIM service in a compatible smartphone.

The change came into effect on July 1, according to an official post on the Telstra CrowdSupport forum, which refers to the new policy as the SIM Swap Restriction. It applies to all post-paid mobile broadband SIMs -- pre-paid SIMs are excluded.

“If you do try to use your mobile broadband or tablet SIM in a handset device then your data access will be blocked. We’ll send an SMS to inform you of this and if you’re accessing a web browser from your mobile handset you’ll also be redirected to a webpage advising you of this,” wrote Community Manager MattD.

On page 159 of the Telstra Customer Terms document it references the Sim Swap Restriction by saying,

24.11 For optimum performance on our Next G network, you must use a Capable Device …. You may not remove the SIM from a Capable Device and insert it into a mobile handset for the purposes of accessing data over Telstra’s Next G network (or any other Telstra mobile network) with that mobile handset.

We’ve reached out to Telstra asking for a more detail about this decision.

Telstra’s way or the highway

While maintaining “optimum performance” for the network is a worthwhile pursuit, there is something about this shift in policy that strikes us as being more in-line with Telstra’s objectives than its customers best interests. Telstra is suggesting that moving SIMs between devices somehow impacts network performance, and perhaps there is a difference in the way smartphones and tablets access the network, but this doesn’t sound right to us.

For comparison, Optus defines unreasonable use of its service in its MBB contract (Appendix H - OptusNet Internet Acceptable Use Policy) to achieve a similar outcome:

"(i) your usage of the service affects other customers’ access to the network; or

(ii) you set up switch devices which overcome the subscription and/or pricing charges, potentially keeping a session open for hours and limiting the ability for other customers to access the service."

In our opinion, this is Telstra blocking a particular customer behaviour in an effort to sell more SIM cards or to promote its expensive Data Sharing offer. Currently it costs $10 per month for a Telstra customer to share data between a phone and a tablet, but if you were happy to swap SIM cards, you could have been saving this fee or spending it on an additional data pack.

The SIM Swap Restriction blocks savvy customers from being able to save on their data bills in this way, enforcing one of Telstra’s preferred behaviours instead.

If you need Telstra's coverage, but you think the SIM Swap restriction is unfair, the alternative would be to consider a Data SIM from one of the MVNOs who operate on the Telstra network -- and now enjoy speeds up to 42Mbps.

Aldi Mobile and OzLinked offer 3GB for $30 (one month expiry). CMobile has 1.5GB for $15 or 3GB for $30 -- both with 15c per minute call rates if you plan on adding some calling to the service.

What do you think? Should Telstra stop blocking MBB customers from using their services in smartphones?

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