Telcos gun for iPhone 5 glory

The iPhone 5 launch in Melbourne's CBD was all about the telcos with customers keen to test the strength of their 4G claims.

Apple enthusiasts queue outside Telstra's Bourke Street Mall store for the iPhone 5 launch

As Apple acolytes lined up outside Apple stores across Australia to get their hands on the iPhone 5, a different battle was taking place in Melbourne’s CBD. With no Apple store in Melbourne’s hub, the hordes gravitated to the shopping centres at Chadstone, Doncaster or Southland, leaving Australia’s three major telcos, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to duke it out in the city.

The flagship CBD stores of the telcos are located within eyeshot of each other in Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall. The whole event provided a curious manifestation of just what’s at stake for the operators in the mobile space.

Unsurprisingly all three were rolling out every trick in the book; doling out free cupcakes, cappuccinos and even apples (the edible kind) to win over customers.  

However, it seems the one thing customers were really interested in was the networks of the respective operators, especially 4G LTE, and on that count Telstra was clearly ahead of the competition.

First in line at Telstra was 18 year old software engineering student, Gavin Chan, who began his vigil 10am yesterday morning.

Chan was at the head of a 150-person strong queue for the iPhone 5. He wasn’t intending to be the first in line for the Telstra’s product launch, but when one of Telstra’s customer service representatives asked him if he was queuing for the iPhone 5 while he was visiting the Bourke Street store yesterday, he just couldn’t say no.

“We were planning to queue at around 2pm or 3pm yesterday afternoon,” Chan said.

Chan isn’t new to being the first in line for an Apple product. Earlier this year, he was the first of Big W’s customers when they launched the new iPad.

It’s all about LTE

Chan’s choice to shop at Telstra was dominated by one reason: the telco’s network. 

“I know that the LTE with Telstra is going to be compatible with the new phone” he said.

It was the same reason Bendigo resident; Damien Sutherland was outside the Telstra store this morning.

“I live regionally, so I need to make sure I have the best access to the best network,” Sutherland says.

Sutherland rocked up to Telstra’s iPhone 5 launch at 6.20am.  He was the 61st customer in the queue.

Sutherland was taking a risk. He didn’t have an iPhone pre-order with Telstra, and the telco announced earlier this week that it had sold out of iPhones

But he was in luck. In some kind of Apple miracle (or marketing ploy) the telco was in stock of iPhones. It had planned for people to walk-in off the street for its product launch.

One surprise for Sutherland was how low key the whole affair was. Obviously the Apple faithful in Melbourne had decided to lay siege to the Apple Stores rather than waste their time in the CBD.

“I expected it to be much bigger” Sutherland said but the relative serenity at the CBD wasn’t due to a lack of effort on the part of the telcos.

Telstra had seemingly put quite a bit effort into its Melbourne launch. Music was blaring, there were seats in the queue for weary iPhone fanatics and each patron received a free branded Telstra cupcake upon entry to the store. It also easily received the most media attention, with TV camera men and radio hosts polling Telstra’s customers.

Optus and Vodafone’s stores didn’t quite project the same level of excitement. Optus had a small crowd of around 20 customers outside its Bourke street store.

Among that queue was 20-year old, Guy Bradshaw who was buying his first smartphone.

Interestingly, Bradshaw had originally queued outside Vodafone’s store down the street, but was convinced otherwise by other Vodafone customers.

“People in the Vodafone queue told me that there was no point being there, and said I should go up to Optus,” Brayshaw said.

He expected Optus’ queue to be longer, and was pleasantly surprised to be less than 10 meters from the store when it opened at 8am this morning. While most of Telstra’s queue had moved into its store by 9am, Brayshaw could be sighted just 2 metres away from the entrance of the Optus store.

Still no love for Vodafone

One customer who wasn’t willing to wait for an iPhone 5 was 24 year-old Sharni Sami. Sami wasn’t expecting to buy an iPhone 5 on its launch day, but when she saw that Vodafone’s queue was empty on the way to work, she simply though ‘why not’.

“I’ll still make it to work at 9am” she said, just minutes away from walking into the Vodafone store after queuing for less than 10 minutes.

Sami said that the only reason she wasn’t queuing at either of the other two telco’s iPhone launch was because she was already a Vodafone customer and wasn’t willing to sign up to another telco just for an iPhone. 

But in saying that, Sami added that this wasn’t what she expected an iPhone 5 launch to be like.

“It’s supposed to feel like a special experience… honestly; I thought it would be bigger,” she said.

You can’t have a massive launch without customers, and Sami had an explanation for that as well.

“People just don’t want to be with Vodafone anymore,” she said.

One point made abundantly clear is that customers are making their choice of telco based on the strength of their networks and not their prices. It is also perhaps a representation of how important 4G LTE has become in the race for customers.

The amount of work Optus and Vodafone have ahead of them if they are going to win the public back onto their networks.

The fact that Optus and Vodafone both announced significant improvements to their networks in the past couple of month seemingly didn’t make a dent on public perception in today’s iPhone launch.

It’s a sign that perhaps Optus and Vodafone’s network revival message hasn’t sunken through to the public and both have plenty of work ahead of them to catch up to Telstra.

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