Australia Vodafone class action could reach tens of millions

Australian lawyers plan to press ahead with a class action suit against Vodafone over the alleged unreliability of its mobile phone network, which they believe could be worth tens of millions of dollars.

Law firm Piper Alderman said the proposed case related to customers who experienced calls dropping out, unreliable mobile phone reception, erratic Internet performance and poor customer service in 2010 and 2011.

"There's just the fact that people have paid too much for the service they've received -- or the lack of service they've received," Sasha Ivantsoff, the partner leading the action for Piper Alderman, told AFP on Wednesday.

"And we've also got a lot of small business owners who missed out on work as a result of not being able to make calls or get messages."

Because no single claim against Vodafone is big enough to warrant its own legal action, Piper Alderman has joined with LCM Litigation Fund to group thousands of small claims together into one action.

Taken together, Piper Alderman and LCM have said the claim could reach tens of millions of dollars.

Since first announcing its intention to build a class action in 2010, some 23,000 people have registered their interest in the case, a statistic which draws attention to the reliance people have on their mobile phones.

Ivantsoff said the case was not limited to people in remote areas.

"There's a lot of reports in Sydney for example about people being in the CBD (central business district) with their phone showing full reception, supposedly, but they are unable to make or receive calls or calls drop out," he said.

"And Vodafone have admitted publicly that they have overloaded their network, they didn't anticipate the growth of smartphones' popularity and the network just got overstretched and couldn't cope with demand."

The claim is believed to be the first against a telco in Australia in terms of network overload and performance.

Vodafone said the law firm had not contacted it since it first threatened action in 2010, nor had it sought to discuss with the company the claims of any customers it represents in the class action.

Piper Alderman said it hopes to start filing proceedings within three months if enough people sign up to the case.