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T-mobile customers stuck in Walled Garden

External email? Er, not quite

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T-Mobile UK has admitted that many of its customers cannot access external email even when they buy supposedly email-enabled phones from the service provider.

Unlike most other mobile operators in the UK, T-Mobile operates a "walled garden" that means customers cannot freely access external email accounts with its service. With the latest smartphones on the market, tens of thousands of UK citizens have been upgrading so they can access their normal email accounts while on the move.

However, T-Mobile will only allow external email to be accessed through its MDA line of Windows-based PDAs, or its Blackberry devices, which involve an additional fee to Blackberry's owners RIM.

T-Mobile customers who choose many of the other email-capable phones on the market are not told by the company they will not be able to access email, however. Instead, they are repeatedly advised to contact either the phone manufacturer or their ISP to recover settings that will enable them to gain access to their email.

When those companies advise customers that it is an issue with T-Mobile and not themselves, they return to T-Mobile customer services - only to receive the same advice from the service provider.

In a recorded conversation we held with one T-Mobile representative, we were told five times that it was an issue with the phone manufacturer, or our ISP.

But faced with repeated questioning, the representative finally admitted: "We don’t do mobile email." [You can read a transcript and listen to a recording of the conversation here.]

Customers who receive a new handset are, in the majority of cases, tied into a 12-month contract with the company. However, T-Mobile operates a seven-day returns policy so that customers are tied into the contract if the phone is not returned within that time period - even if they have wasted that time talking to customers services. Customers may therefore be locked into a contract which does not deliver all the services they expected.

On Friday, a T-Mobile spokesman admitted to us, “We do not offer an email service.” The spokesman declines to comment on the way T-Mobile was marketing its service.

It is understood that the reason T-Mobile currently does not offer external email is because its systems are not capable of the data exchange. Its systems are being upgraded and the "walled garden" situation is expected to end within the next six months.

Earlier this week, T-Mobile refused to comment on a possible end to the walled garden and in response to a detailed outline of the accusations above, responded: "The BlackBerry (or MDA III with BlackBerry Connect client) support... both a new 'instantemail' address for the user should they choose to use it, and allow the user to read up to 10 external email addresses they may already have." ®

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