The iPhone Virgin

Lately I’ve been wanting to do what should have been an effortless thing. Take my crappy little prepaid Nokia brick-with-buttons that has a tendency to shut off whenever I answer it and move across to an iPhone on a moderately priced post-paid plan with the same provider, Virgin Mobile.

So why can’t things be easy?

I tried this a couple of months ago. Walked into a Virgin store, started the process. Stopped when it was explained that you can’t do a transfer of ownership and a change of plan simultaneously. Change of ownership because, when I got the prepaid SIM five years ago that’s been living in a succession of bricks-with-buttons, the girl at that Virgin store (Edward Street, Brisbane) wanted to save time and ended up chucking my phone and my wife’s on the same account. Something that’s fine when you’re prepaid. Something that’s not fine when you want that to change.

Change of ownership forms go in, and they’re supposed to take two weeks to process. Three weeks later we call to ask what’s holding things up. Turns out there’s one tiny error on the paperwork and nobody at Virgin Mobile felt it expedient to get in touch and actually tell us this. So that gets fixed and we wait another fortnight. During which time nobody at their end has actually done anything to advance the cause of this application. My wife calls again, adopting an irate tone this time, and the problem is addressed overnight.


Serendipity has now had time to kick in. I’ve been eyeing an iPhone on the Kogan web site – unlocked, paid for outright, and bearing an Australian warranty. Around the time my account is in my name, Virgin Mobile suddenly offer a pair of very useful deals. One is 2GB of bonus mobile data per month in perpetuity if I transfer before July 1, the other is $10 per month deducted for the same duration if I supply my own phone.

Which arrived by courier on Friday last. Took it to the Virgin Mobile outlet at Broadmeadows, which is conveniently close to work.

That is, I thought I was. Store directories are unreliable, apparently, and I ended up at a kiosk that sells Virgin phones which was located roughly where the Virgin store should have been. (I later discovered it was in fact around the next corner.) Didn’t see the “TeleChoice” sign among the brightly lit clutter, just a bunch of Virgin and Optus banners. So I assume it’s just a co-tenancy thing, particularly as they run on the same carrier.

I ask for the BYO deal, I ask for the $29 plan that’s being knocked down to $19. I say I’m with Virgin at present. The girl grabs an Optus catalogue. An explanation later and she’s processing my request – which, for the sake of clarity and accountability I’m going to restate in no uncertain terms:

That my Virgin prepaid service be replaced with the aforementioned Virgin post-paid service, and that my current phone number be retained. My exact words: “Can I keep my phone number?” Hers: “Yes.”

All the while I’m expecting my SIM to be cut down to MicroSIM proportions, that being what I know I need in the iPhone, having seen all this happen to my wife’s SIM. This even forms part of my instructions, that the account type be changed, that the number stay as is, and that the SIM be reduced.

Instead I get a new one. Whatever – maybe they don’t have the cutting gizmo here.

While she’s at it I ask about existing credit, having just topped up because the last $12 evaporated with the name transfer, and without warning. She assured me that it too will vanish into the ether, rather than being credited. Given the $12 I just lost I came away dismayed but not entirely surprised. Time will tell if I see it again.

At home I discover a new number attached to the iPhone. Remember that “Yes” she lied?

Nevertheless I’m mildly relieved that the old phone still works as normal – at least I have one I can use during this new cock-up phase I’ve just unearthed. Virgin Customer Help advise me to return to the outlet and get a blank MicroSIM to have the old number ported to. They simultaneously assure me that the billing department will transfer the old number to the new post-paid account come Monday. I feel inconvenienced but not at this stage slighted by Virgin Customer Service.

The TeleChoice outlet manager is available on my inconvenient return, since this store is nowhere near home and it’s now well past work hours. A blank MicroSIM is acquired from their sister store, a full shop rather than a tacky little kiosk. On the phone to Customer Service, I read the SIM’s ICCID but have the wrong one repeated back to me. Unfortunately I don’t notice this as the store is noisy and the line quality troublesome.

What becomes apparent on my return home is that the SIM is – and I here quote my phone – “Not Valid”. Back on the phone and I ensure Customer Service have the right ICCID this time. Again, “SIM Not Valid”.

Ready to blow a fuse by now. This time they reckon it’s probably a faulty blank and that I should return to the store to ask for a replacement. No acknowledgement of, “It’s late, so do it tomorrow.” These people, controllers of my telecommunications destiny, aren’t even in the same time zone. Charming.

What happens next is that I wonder aloud why they can’t put the old number on the MicroSIM that got shoved into the iPhone. Apparently this is impossible. Unless the number is physically hardwired into the chip, I can’t see how such a limitation should exist.

Saturday morning I visit the TeleChoice in Moonee Ponds. Been here before and didn’t like the staff. This day they have a really good guy on. We do the swap, I phone again, heeding Friday night’s Customer Service advice that I stay put until everything is hunky dory.

There’s a bad line again – is this endemic to TeleChoice’s phones. (Irony, anyone?) But the ICCID is related clearly. And still doesn’t work. The guy at the kiosk has run out of blank MicroSIMs, so I get a regular one that he’ll cut down if it works. He’s patient, he’s polite, he’s easy to understand. Making a nice change so far.

I call again, give the number. They suss that it’s a regular SIM. I explain what the guy at the store has just told me. They okay it, say this time that I should wait fifteen minutes for the number to kick across. (“Now they tell me!” I think as I stare at two wasted SIM cards.) A quarter of an hour later I test the bastard, resolving that if it still doesn’t work I’ll just take the new phone number and inform everyone I know of the change.

This one works fine. Not sure why I couldn’t just get the number put back on the SIM it lived on originally since the thing is identical to the new one. Maybe it’s just that this option has occurred to nobody. Anyway, the guy chops it and I drop it in the iPhone. Meanwhile he asks why the girl at the other TeleChoice didn’t just chop it up in the first place. I want to say it’s because she’s five kinds of idiot, but I don’t.

So now I’ve got my old prepaid account operating out of a new phone. Tomorrow is when Billing – who, notoriously, are unavailable over the weekend, even though customers are still doing things like using phones and paying bills at such times – turn this thing into a post-paid service, for which I’ll probably already have been billed the first three days, but whatever. So long as they’re attaching the service type to the number and not vice versa I shouldn’t have any more SIM problems.

But this is outsourced big business, so I remain cautious.

Next week, find out how it all goes down…

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