How Bad Reception Could Be Costing You

An unexpectedly large mobile bill is never a happy sight (unless you hate money), but at least you can consult your call records or contact your provider and get some idea of what's responsible. But what if you were accruing mysterious data charges for bits you know you didn't receive? Well, chances are if you have consistently bad reception, it's possible you are copping a little extra on your bill.

A research paper by Chunyi Peng et al. from August this year, entitled "Can We Pay for What We Get in 3G Data Access?", highlights a weakness in current mobile networks were the provider will transmit data to the customer, but does not (or cannot) acknowledge if that data ever arrived. As a result, if you're stuck with a bad signal or find yourself in a congested area, you could be charged for data you never receive.

The paper details several tests the researchers conducted on "two major" US networks, with the most extreme case seeing charges for three hours and 450MB of usage, none of which was successfully delivered.

Ben Grubb over at the Sydney Morning Herald got in touch with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to find out how these providers deal with the issue — if at all. Telstra stated it has "protocols" in place to detect and handle cases where data never arrives, but was reluctant to guarantee they were always effective, while Optus and Vodafone representatives said they had no definitive way of managing the issue.

That said, Vodafone did state that these charges would be minor and could not amount into "any form of bill shock".

Chunyi Peng's paper suggests the solution is a "coordinated charging system" where the network and end system both play a part in data delivery — essentially your device would send some sort of confirmation to the network upon receipt of the data (beyond the fundamental requirements of TCP).

It's described as a "promising" way of handling the problem, but could the likes of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone deal with the additional overhead of these confirmation packets? What's to stop hackers from preventing said packets from being sent from the receiving device, or perhaps throttling their delivery to prevent providers from getting suspicious? What about streaming multimedia or gaming services that have never relied on guaranteed packet delivery (UDP) for performance reasons?

Sure, the infrastructure in place now isn't perfect, but it's going to take some planning to make a more robust — and fair — system work.


Image: Artiee / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



    Isn't this the same as any network though? The routers only count what passes through them, not whether it gets to the other end.

    Similar - when I was on Three, I used to get charged for roaming data even though I was 8 Kms from the CBD and should have had access to 3G. Had to call Three every month to get the (small) charge reversed.

    Forget the data charges, what about the failed call dropouts and the connecion charges, and minimum increments amounting to $1.40; even for part of a second. Carrier systems should detect the dropout and not charge the connection fee or for the first increment in the second call. We are getting ripped!!

    I'm with Vodafone and around 2 months ago my phone used up 7GB while I was asleep! Lucky I had Onavo data counter active, or I would have gone over my cap.
    But another time my internet did a similar thing, telling me I had 6GB of Data Remaining on my mobile internet, I wasn't sure so i waited 2 days (It says wait 48 hours for updates at most) thn I used most of it. Bill came and said I was 6GB over! I tried to resolve it but Vodafone told me there was NO way they could be hed responsilble and that the 1512 service to check data is not very accurate. Which they say after I have been charged hundred of dollars extra on my bill! (I'm a student living out of home and my parents don't pay for things) It was absolute bullshit. Have had to pay so much for these bills.

      I hope you didn't pay that. If their tool can't supply you with a remotely accurate reading, then they can't be trusted to count it at their end. I would have dropped the TIO on their sorry arses.

        I tried, I rang them up being all angry, I told them it is absolutely their fault for showing me false information etc. I said I will never ever again renew a contract with Vodafone (which I won't) and all that stuff. I just don't know what else to do. And yes I did pay it, I had no choice they had my service barred...

      Vampe, its worth fighting them over this. I am in dispute at the moment over a 2 GB over usage which i believe was due to IOS 6. I have got them to credit over $250 at this stage off the bill.

    I'm not normally one to side with the telcos, but I think this makes sense. When you're paying for data usage, you're really paying to use a bit of bandwidth. Many people using bandwidth causes congestion, so it's not a free, unlimited resource. Just because the data doesn't make it to you, doesn't mean you didn't use the infrastructure, so yes, technically, it should still be paid for.

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