This rant is for the benefit of anyone thinking about hiring a Swisscom Pocket Connect device for WiFi access in Switzerland. Regular readers can probably skip this post. Summary: good idea spoiled by lousy service. I’m just jotting a few notes down here to vent some spleen and to warn anyone else thinking of signing up for Swisscom Pocket Connect (hopefully it will get on the first page of the search results for relevant terms).
I recently went on a family holiday, touring Switzerland by train. I needed to be able to check my emails every day (preferably several times per day). I have a mobile data contract in the UK, but roaming data costs in Europe are prohibitive, and I didn’t want to depend on the vagaries of free hotel WiFi. So I paid to rent a mobile access dongle from Swisscom for the duration of the trip. It sounded great on paper. You pay a fixed fee in advance, pick up the pre-configured dongle from an airport or train station on arrival and then put it in the post when you leave. I could check my emails as often as I wanted. Even on the train. Perfect! In reality it was a shambles.
I paid swisspasses.com for 13 days of use. They emailed me a voucher which I printed. I presented the voucher a Geneva train station ticket office. The staff member passed me on to a colleague, who looked a little irritated. Not a good start. It took her some 30 minutes to issue the dongle and she said it was the first one she had done. She assured me that it was for 13 days.
I turned on the dongle and accessed my email. It worked, but Swisscom had sent me an email saying the dongle was activated for 6 days. Damn. Also I was able to access the dongle without the printed WiFi password. So my communications with the dongle were completely unencrypted. Pressing the WPS button made no difference. Double damn.
I went to the Swisscom shop in Geneva, thinking they might be a bit more clued up. After waiting an eternity to be served, they phoned someone at Swisscom and assured me it was activated for 13 days. When I told them about the lack of encryption they said they weren’t involved in pocket connect and that I should call the non-free support number (an expensive proposition with roaming fees). I asked them to call it for me. They refused.
I emailed Swisscom technical support to explain the WPS problem. They (eventually) emailed me to tell me to return it for a replacement. I emailed them to tell them what I thought of their service so far. They didn’t bother to reply.
I used Google to find the instruction manual and worked out that holding the power and WPS button for 3 seconds did a factory reset. I now had encryption, no thanks to Swisscom. Things were looking up.
On day 6 the dongle bricked. I wasn’t sure if it was broken or deactivated by Swisscom. I took it too Chur Train station SBB counter. They obviously didn’t want to know. ‘I just issue tickets’ the man said. The queue was building behind me. He tried to get me to go to a Swisscom shop. After about 30 minutes with me getting increasingly hot under the collar and refusing to back down they eventually issued me another dongle for 7 more days. The encryption worked this time. Everything worked ok for the remaining 7 days.
The first dongle wasn’t correctly configured. The rental period wasn’t set up correctly. The station staff hadn’t had sufficient training. The Swisscom shop staff weren’t interested. The email support was very poor. I spent several hours of my holiday trying to sort all this out. Communication issues further exacerbated problems (my French is poor and my German is non-existent). It was all incredibly frustrating. So much for Swiss efficiency.
** UPDATE **
I posted a link to this article to Swisscom support. Here is the email they sent me back (somewhat faster and more detailed than their responses to my technical problems). I am unconvinced by their attempt to blame some of the problems on their reseller, swisspasses.com .
Dear Mr. Brice
We have read your blog entry and we would like to apologize for all the
circumstances. Pocket Connect is a new product which we offer and we constantly
try to improve the service for it.
Because of the credits for only 6 days. We could check it and it had credits for
a total of 13 days on this prepaid card. We can not say now what the error was
that it was not working after that. It could be a network error at the location
you were or another interruption which brought this error.
To the 0800 000 164 Support Hotline we offer. This is a free of charge number if
you call from a Swiss mobilephone or landline. Of course you have roaming
charges if you call from a number of foreign.
Swisspasses.com is only a reseller. If you had reserved/rented it at our
homepage pocketconnect.ch it would all have been easier.
This should be not a excuse but in our opinion were these three points no
mistake of our side. But of course you became wrong technical informations
regarding the encryption.
As we said in the beginning we are still improve this service. We will take your
feedback very seriously and promise you to take these improvements to our
service in the future.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you have further questions.
Swisscom Schweiz AG
Service Center Pocket Connect
Helpdesk 0800 800 164