Telstra recruits foot soldiers to beat CDMA cut off

National Farmers Federation still apprehensive about Next-G’s ability to better CDMA.

Telstra has appointed 57 specially trained Coverage Advocates that will be tasked with traveling regional and rural Australia to help people migrate from its soon to be retired CDMA network to its newer Next-G service.

The Advocates will be spread across all Australian states and territories to assist customers experiencing coverage, handset and hardware difficulties in a bid to smoothen the transition over to Next-G.

Director of Telstra Country Wide, Gary Goldsworthy, said the Advocates had been employed from right across Australia, and in many cases from the regional and rural areas they will be servicing.

"We've employed them locally so they have got a very good idea of the area they are working in," he said.

The Advocates main goal will be to assist customers that still haven't migrated to Next-G, but also to help those that have coverage issues.

"If need be they will go out and actually see the customers. We want them to go out, take handsets with them, and show the customers that it does work and this is how it works," Goldsworthy said.

"We've given them a very extensive training course to get them really up to speed not only with the issues of coverage, but also up to speed with car kits, antennas, aerials etc which are really important in these regional areas."

Goldsworthy said the biggest concern customers have is a fear that they won't get coverage when they switch over to Next-G.

He said the hotline set up by Telstra this week to assist customers "ran hot" on Tuesday and Wednesday with customer concerns but was beginning to slow down.

"It's going well, it is the sort of customers we are expecting to ring in -- those that have already migrated from CDMA and are having troubles with their handsets."

Goldsworthy explained that the typical problems involved people putting their old GSM sim cards in Next-G handsets which will not work; having the wrong network settings selected on the phone; and people not installing the latest software upgrades onto their handsets.

He also said some customers living in remote or fringe coverage areas may not have a Telstra blue tick handset, which the telco will replace for them.

"Once we've gone through all the steps, if they are not getting coverage we are happy in those genuine cases to change the customers over."

Telstra is hoping the Coverage Advocates and the national hotline will aid in beating the CDMA shutdown date of April 28.

"We need to report back to the Minister by the end of March as to how we are going with all the initiatives, so we really want to get nearly all of the customers done by the end of March and we'll keep pushing for that," Goldsworthy said.

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National Farmers' Federation concerned

Brett Heffernan, general manager of public affairs for the National Farmers' Federation, is not sure if 57 Advocates will be enough to allay the concerns of Australians living in regional and remote areas.

"I don't know, I certainly hope so...I understand they have a new hotline, so we are certainly urging our members and rural Australians who are encountering problems to advise Telstra of them so they can be rectified as quickly as possible," he said.

"Telstra now have 3 months up their sleeve to fix the standing concerns that rural Australians have had, not only about coverage issues because that isn't the only issue, but that service delivery issue in terms of handsets, car kits, antennas and all those sorts of things that actually enable them to access the network."

Heffernan said the promise that Next-G will be as good as, if not better, service delivery than CDMA is of particular concern.

He cited a survey the NFF conducted in January after Telstra had made extra Next-G hardware more broadly available. Of the 1200 NSW respondents 71 per cent said that Next-G wasn't up to scratch.

"We certainly hope that the extra personnel on the ground out there will make a difference. At the end of the day we would like Next-G to be as good as, if not better than CDMA right across the board. We certainly recognise that it's impressive technology and it has great application for the business needs of farmers and rural Australians, so we hope they can work out the kinks as quickly as possible," Heffernan said.