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December 16, 2015

The MTS Experience

After graduating university, having an internet connection was high on the want list. At the time dial-up was the only realistic option. I chose Escape, one of the largest ISPs and seemingly best. Once they offered DSL I quickly jumped on board. It wasn't long after that, that MTS bought up Escape and pretty much every other ISP in the province. So along with the landline service, my internet service was with MTS. I experienced many issues with both of the services. Shaw launched cable internet some where along the line, but it wasn't available where I lived. Once I moved I was happy to be rid of all my MTS services. The alternatives of Rogers Wireless and Shaw Internet turned out to be cheaper, higher performance and more reliable.

Over the years, the abysmal customer service at Rogers and insane price hikes that always had to be negotiated back to reasonable amounts left me wanting more. Shaw started as a company I highly recommended and turned into one I despise. Their customer service went from reasonable to insulting fools, their price constantly marched upward, while products where at best stagnate, but often declined in quality.

I reluctantly restarted my relationship with MTS for wireless service. My contract with Rogers was coming to an end, Rogers prices again hit a new high and they weren't negotiating, I was tired of it anyway. I monitored the options and shopped around. Although MTS was on the bottom of my list, they were at a reasonable list price without any negotiation needed. I was also confident that their network was reasonably wide and fast after they started a networking sharing/building agreement with Rogers some time prior. That agreement also extended to hardware, so I knew I could get the iPhone I wanted as well. I spent a lot of time crossing the T's and dotting the I's. MTS's website is quite sparse and barren for detailed information, so I chatted with customer service a lot to make sure I understood everything and could get exactly what I wanted. One of the deciding factors turned out to be customer service. At MTS I got consistent and correct answers from everyone I talked to, unlike everywhere else. They may not have been the answers I wanted to hear all the time, but they weren't misleading or incorrect. I decided to give MTS a 2 year trial, the length of a contract.

The trial started very well, it was very easy to sign up for new service and port my existing phone number. In fact the number had been ported before I knew it was even happening in store and was done within seconds. There was also a somewhat unexpected bonus credit of $100 because I was transferring from another provider. MTS seems poor at publishing and promoting many of their credits and sales, which seems to counteract the point of them. The 2 year trial passed quickly, everything went as expected, everything went smoothly. Customer service continued their streak of responding consistently and correctly. Nearing the end of the trial I was satisfied and decided to continue my wireless service with MTS.

With MTS redeeming themselves and being much improved from my experiences a decade earlier, I had looked at moving internet and television services to MTS. Television service has been bugging me for a while and it mostly hinges on the hardware available. The hardware the providers offer sucks. With Shaw slowly removing analog service, my standard definition TiVos started to become more crippled. Once I got a new HDTV, the lack of HD also became a big factor. I ran out of choices. So at that point basically anything was on the table and price was the only concern. For whatever reason a spark re-ignited and I tried another TiVo capable of HD that used cablecard and it worked this time. That solved my TV issue, I've got hardware I like, although I'm stuck on Shaw for the time being. I'm hoping the CRTC mandated skinny basic and pick'n'pay channels will give me more choice and perhaps some price relief. As a side note I did find an interesting feature in MTS's TV offering, the ability to change the content of your channel packages every few months without changing your cost or service plan.

The internet offerings of Shaw and MTS, really the only two options locally, are fairly comparable, so it mostly comes down to price. The price has been pretty close for a number of years, usually MTS is a few dollars cheaper and they seem to follow a price increase at Shaw in lock step a month or so after. The bundling options at MTS make the biggest difference, especially since Shaw had decreased my bundle discount to zero. The one big sticking point was that MTS only offered a modem rental and it was router that couldn't be bridged, but had a DMZ pass through mode as an alternative. I was reluctant, but once MTS offered new bundled pricing that dramatically cut the price, I was willing to make the move. Especially with the stagnate performance at Shaw, their reliability was slipping, quotas were added and their up/down bandwidth ratio was especially problematic and constraining, the upstream bandwidth not being sufficient to even support enough ack packets to use the downstream. The speeds basically stayed the same for the entire time I was a Shaw internet customer. The customer service had declined to abysmal, not to mention the constant price increases, from 2012 to 2015 my cost at Shaw increased 67%, vastly exceeding inflation.

Since I'd be switching to a bundled internet service with my wireless, I waited for my wireless contract to end and the new renewal before switching. Cost wise, it still seems best to sign a new contract and buy a new phone every time. So when the new iPhone's came out about the same time as my contract was up, I was ready to go. MTS was a first line customer getting pre-orders and first shipment in line with the announced US dates from Apple. A pre-order page was put up on MTS's website on Apple's date, although support had no information about this prior and there wasn't any notification other than noticing the link on the website. The pre-order is quite simple, you can reserve a phone at a store to pick up, no down payment, no penalty, but they will only hold the phone for a few days and you have to pick it up in store. There was no information about the availability date or the price either. But then again, I don't think Apple gives them much time or information to react to a new product launch and sale either. I got a call a day before the official release date that the store was holding a phone for me, but couldn't release it until the next day. Arrived at the store first thing when they opened so I could get to work on time. First one in line, picked up phone, signed new contract, everything activated and switched over and out the door in 15 minutes. Two days prior to the pickup, I happened to notice MTS was running a promotion for $150 off a smartphone, hidden in one of their banner ads, again, not well promoted. I asked support if this applied to new iPhones as that was a pretty unusual promotion, but sure enough it did. The next day while confirming things for my new contract I was informed this promotion had been cancelled. I was disappointed but customer service decided to give me a $90 credit in place. Subsequently, a few weeks after the iPhone launched, this promotion reappeared for $200 off, but they wouldn't adjust my credit any more. It's certainly understandable, you rarely see discounts on Apple products, especially a brand new one just launching, but MTS knew about this launch long before they cancelled the promo and they know enough about the general timeline for iPhone launches to avoid with a promo coinciding with it. Still, any credit, especially one that was somewhat unexpected is very nice. It also takes the sting out of the cost of a new iPhone, which had almost doubled since the last one I bought. Since the iPhones retain their value well, I had sold the previous one after I upgraded and decided to do the same again. This time I used Orchard (referral link) to sell my phone, they gave me a guaranteed price and within a month had made the payment. Much easier than selling yourself and it was a price well above other options. The credit and the sale basically paid for the new phone.

With the wireless contract all sewn up, I put in the order for my internet service with MTS and booked the required installation service appointment. Unfortunately their service windows leave little choice, a daytime option or an evening window that starts at 4pm. The only alternative is a Saturday morning or afternoon, which are obviously booked well into the future. My appointment was over 2 weeks out. The window came and went, no-one showed up, no-one called. Apparently the order had been created but the appointment not booked by the customer service agent I talked too, a first strike for MTS customer service. Another appointment was booked for a further 2 weeks out on Saturday afternoon. That Saturday morning, note morning, not afternoon, I get a call from the installation technician, who was likely out at the junction box doing the required work there, that he would be arriving in 20 minutes, luckily I was home and available. He rewired both phone outlets in my apartment, with the one I wanted to use for the internet connection changed to have a DSL + phone port, an internal filter instead of the old dongle filters. Given my past experience, I knew the Enterphone intercom/doorbell system in my apartment building disconnects my outlets from the telco when in use. I asked about if there was a fix and sure enough there is and he was willing to install it, that's a nice added bonus. There was one curiously from the install, they assigned me a phone number. They need it for whatever reason even though I don't have phone service, but it is odd that they use up numbers from the traditional area code that are in scarce supply. Otherwise the install went smoothly, but using the service was another story.

After the installation, I was left with a connected modem for internet service, but no real documentation on how to use the service or any of the additional features. All I got was a brochure from Acme Tech, apparently the service was out sourced. There was no information about using email or roaming wifi or anything else. Looking on the support website, there was little to no information about any of this either. There was also no information about configuring or using the modem, although many of their other modems had support information listed. Further confusion arises from the MTS "My Account" website which would display all kinds of random things for days or weeks after the installation. Sometimes I would have wireless service indicated, sometimes internet, sometimes TV, sometimes a combination. As it's settled now, I've end up with two account numbers. The first is from my existing wireless service, it shows I have wireless service and the bundled "Total Internet". I also have a new account created after the internet installation that shows I have TV service. Customer service says this is normal as I have internet deployed on the "TV platform", which I understand to mean VDSL2. But this really makes no sense and I'll chalk it up to strike two, customer service isn't doing so great after starting up internet service. All this confusion in the account website also lead me to almost miss a bill payment as I didn't notice that charges were being applied to both accounts and they didn't share the automatic payment information I had in place. It also hid the fact that I didn't end up with the bundled internet service I ordered. For whatever reason I ended up with separate wireless and internet service. After I noticed that, customer service was able to fix things and gave me a months credit for that and other hassles. Unfortunately that wasn't the only problem, they assigned me a user name for my internet service which is obviously made up of my initials and last name, except, they spelled my last name incorrectly. I asked them to change it, they refused. Now this username isn't actually used for much, the only place I found it used is for roaming wifi, but no matter, it appears in my account information and it is something for me to use and it is incorrect. We're already at strike three and I'm not done yet.

By this point I hadn't yet got my MTS internet service fully configured or working properly and continued using my Shaw internet. I configured the MTS provided Pace 5168N modem as suggested with the DMZ mode to forward all traffic to my existing router. The behaviour didn't match what I expected, nor what the documentation indicated. I also contacted an experienced peer using the same service and my modem didn't exhibit the same behaviour as his. I contacted support numerous times who gave me various vague answers and seemingly incorrect information. One suggested the modem would be provisioning for days after install, don't think that was true as nothing changed on the modem, nor would that be a normal practice. One customer service agent decided they should reboot the modem unannounced while I was chatting with them over the internet, good thing I was using my Shaw internet or the support connection would have been severed when they performed that operation. Add another strike as customer service was poorly informed but acted authoritatively like they were fully informed. The modem didn't seem to work correctly and support was offering no help, I was almost giving up at this point and just back tracking to Shaw. I kept poking around websites and forums and I began to notice some inconsistencies with some messages people were posting, they seemed to have entirely different descriptions of configuring their modems, but it wasn't clear. Correspondingly in my support contact of the day, they offered to push out the "beta" firmware they were very slowly deploying across their network. This was the first I'd heard of a firmware update, I certainly didn't expect a brand new modem to be out of date. They didn't have any expectation this would fix anything other than the mantra of newer must be better. But sure enough, this firmware resolved my issues and then some. It provides the bridge mode I've been after as well as many other people and brings the service on par with Shaw in that regard. Actually Shaw is going backwards, many of their newer devices don't have or don't work well in bridge mode. The firmware provides many other new features as well. I asked support afterwards but they still don't indicate there is a bridge mode available, there seems to be very little knowledge or information about these modems and how they operate, despite them having been in service for many years.

After that big hurdle was crossed, I did some more testing and then swapped my main service over. There was one stumbling block I forgot during the switch over, while Shaw blocks port 25 (SMTP, mail) outbound, MTS blocks it inbound instead. I failed to notice for a few hours as mail delivered via IPv6 or SSL doesn't get blocked. I understand the Shaw block as it makes sense in terms of blocking SPAM, I don't understand the value of the MTS block. There was also one other oddity. Latency was much worse, especially to certain hosts. After some diagnostics it turns out to be a DNS issue. For some reason my local DNS resolver was not being issued proper regionalized addresses and some things were getting routed across the world. For example, Google was routing to Hong Kong, instead of a cache box that appears to be hosted at MTS. Using either the MTS DNS servers or Google Public DNS resolved all the issues for the various providers I saw problems with. The MTS servers didn't support DNSSEC validation, so I've been using the Google ones. After a few weeks of running with the MTS internet service, I was confident it was stable and there were no more issues so I chatted with Shaw to cancel that service.

Shaw did step up their game and the person I talked to was informed and pleasant. They tried to retain me, but the offers they made available couldn't even match the price of MTS, certainly not beat it or improve the service to a better level. So after a while of entertaining their offers I pushed for the cancellation. They confirmed I could keep my purchased modem, confirmed my new TV service price at the posted price and that a discount from some time ago would continue on my account, even though a previous person had indicated it would not.

Since I've been using the MTS internet service there was one outage, it was posted to their website, contrary to what Shaw does, but they immediately removed that notification from the website after it is resolved, which is troublesome from a post-mortem point of view. They do the same thing for maintenance notifications. The outage also required me to manually intervene to bring service back up after it was resolved, which is a troubling issue.

That's it. I've moved my wireless service to MTS a contract and a bit ago and I'll be sticking with them unless things change. I moved my internet over and after some hiccups it's been ok. A more balanced up/down bandwidth split also helps as I've been able to remove the packet shaping that was previously required. It's nice to chop some cost out of my telecommunication prices, especially with the bundling at MTS. On that note I should probably add an explanation of the bundle I'm using, "Total Internet". It's offered as a single internet/data package that works both at home and on your wireless device. So you get unlimited internet both at home and on wireless, with a few constraints. The home internet is the basic service, you can upgrade that to a higher speed if you want. For wireless, you basically create your wireless plan as normal, all the same provisions apply, then they delete the cost and features of the data plan you selected and replace it by the unlimited one. It ends up very similar to the old bundle discount they offered for internet + voice/data wireless, but limits choice a little more. The quality customer service I've experienced during my first wireless contract was tarnished by the lackluster support provided as an internet customer. As a whole, it's still trending above average, but that's more a commentary on the corporate world than a nod to MTS.


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