Operators are fighting to fix customer dissatisfaction on mobile broadband as dongle sales edged past one million sales over the last 12 months.
Several networks have been hit with relatively high levels of returns on dongles in recent months amid problems with coverage and speeds.
Sales have been rising steadily since the start of this year, with 91,000 dongles sold in April soaring to just under 150,000 in September.
Figures for October are not yet available, but it is widely assumed that sales have now smashed passed the one million level over the past 12 months.
Returns are rising as an increasing number of customers in congested urban areas complain of poor coverage inside buildings.
3 was forced to refund large numbers of customers in west London and Birmingham, as the operator swapped some of its infrastructure kit from NEC to Nokia when it upgraded its network.
3 sent the affected customers letters of apology and compensated them with two months’ free line rental or £10 worth of credit if they were on prepay.
3 maintains that work for upgrading the network has started and customers will have better speeds and coverage in the coming months.
Retail sources at Orange and Vodafone have also said there have been returns from customers frustrated by coverage and speeds, especially inside buildings.
Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a 3 and T-Mobile complaint about Vodafone’s speed claims in its ‘fastest, most reliable mobile broadband in the galaxy’ advertisements. The ASA warned Vodafone that it needed to clarify speeds for customers.
Retail staff are also being encouraged to ‘manage customers’ expectations’ and be clear about coverage strength in their areas as well as realistic data speeds.
One network sales director criticised the industry for setting customers up to be disappointed: ‘A customer needs to know that the dongle is not going to be as fast as fixed broadband. When you say “mobile broadband”, they sometimes think it’s going to be like home broadband, and clearly that’s just going to disappoint.’