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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Phones question time
Bryan Glick
Bryan Glick, Managing Editor of Computing
All your questions, answered by Bryan Glick, Managing Editor of Computing and Eddie Murphy, an independent consultant at the Communication Research Network.

Many companies still persist in calling '0870' numbers 'national rate' when calls can cost 8p a minute - up to 16 times more than a call to Europe or even New Zealand. Is this practice not deceitful? Ofcom has recommended (but not made compulsory) the need to make a tariff announcement before the call goes through. Is anything else being done?
Bill Fraser, Glasgow.

They are perfectly entitled to call 0870 numbers national rate because they are charged at the equivalent of the price of a national call (even if they are a local call). 0871 calls however can be charged at up to 10p a minute. These should not be described as national rate because they are usually more expensive.

Why are 0800 free numbers and 08456 local rate numbers not included in mobile phone price plans?
Dave Smith, Sheffield.

These special numbers are only available for conventional landline phone numbers, and as such the mobile phone companies are at the mercy of BT and the other phone companies for the costs of connecting mobile phone calls to these numbers. Because they are not under control of the mobile phone providers, they are unlikely to include them in their price plans. These free and local rate numbers are quite specifically for calls from landlines.

But Ofcom is usually pretty good to respond if there is a groundswell of opinion and a clear fault in the market, so it is always worth talking to Ofcom to see if they think this is a major issue.

I got a phone call from O2 saying that my mobile phone will be cut off in June. It's an old Philips C12 from what used to be called BT Cellnet. And was told they will give me 5.00 off a new pay as u go the NEC 343i. I use it most for texting as its only 5p with this phone. Can they do this or do they have to give me a new phone for free?
Alan Skinner.

They probably can do it - you would need to check the details of your contract. However, doing so could seem a bit petty. Reward them by moving to another operator who will probably give you a new phone for free.

I am an NTL customer, but used to have a BT line. Can I get the free TalkTalk broadband deal? It is not clear on their website.
Mark Jones, Swansea.

That depends on whether your BT line is connected to an exchange which Carphone Warehouse intend to enable for their service. Their website insists on both the postcode and telephone number to do the check. You have an NTL line so that will fail the check. Therefore you may be unable to find out. However, if you use the old BT number of the house or the number of a near neighbour with a BT line that should tell you whether you can get a connection to a BT exchange that will have the service.

To become a TalkTalk customer you will need to reactivate your BT line, for which there will probably be a charge, but Carphone Warehouse, who provides the TalkTalk service, should be able to advise you on this.

As for the broadband deal, you will also need to check if the service is available in your area. TalkTalk can offer this deal as a result of a process known in the industry as local loop unbundling. This means that other telecoms companies can now put their own equipment into BT's local exchange and connect local telephone lines directly to their own network - this is cheaper for them than simply reselling BT connections, so they can be more competitive on price. But it also means that TalkTalk can only offer the broadband service in areas where they have installed their equipment, which is by no means all of the country.

In August I purchased a mobile phone package from a company in Essex. Part of the deal were three redemption certificates totalling 75. To claim these, bills and some other paperwork had to be sent to the company on specific dates. The first of these has been sent and no reply received. The phone rings without answer and their website no longer appears to exist. How can I find out if this company is still trading or is in administration?
Guy Dixon.

Unfortunately the mobile phone market has plenty of sharp operators who start up a business offering great deals that prove unsustainable. I can't comment on this particular company who may well have perfectly justifiable reasons for what has happened, but if you feel there is a problem, your best bet is to contact Trading Standards - try their web site www.tradingstandards.gov.uk

I recently took up an offer of a free phone on twelve month contract where I get the line rental back as a cash back. The package includes 250 anytime minutes and 100 texts per month. Could you explain to me if the phone and line rental are free how the retailer or the phone service provider make any money?

The mobile phone market is increasingly a high volume low margin business for a lot of operators. Mobile providers set up with low overheads and offer great deals - although as with an earlier question sometimes these do prove unsustainable and leave customers in the lurch. These sort of deals work for the supplier because they get money up front - they may pay it back to you over time but that gives them up front working capital and money to earn interest in the bank. Also, they may make little money from you in the first year, but they will be hoping that you stay on as a customer after that so they can make more money from you in future.

The issue for companies like this is less the deals they offer - which are always carefully priced - than finding ways to reduce 'churn' - the number of customers that switch to other providers.
Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy, independent consultant at the Communication Research Network

I wonder if the team could explain what is happening to Wanadoo - is it now part of Orange? It was of course originally Freeserve when I purchased some shares. What is the current value of the share?
Brian Easterbrook.

Orange and Wanadoo are both now owned by France Telecom (FT), which is listed on the French stock exchange. Freeserve was first set up by the company that owns Dixons, who later sold it to FT who rebranded as Wanadoo. Similarly, Orange was originally set up by Hutchison Whampoa, the company that now owns the Three 3G mobile network, before eventually coming under FT's ownership.

FT has now decided to scrap the Wanadoo brand and use Orange for all its internet and mobile services, and is merging the two organisations. This is the reason behind Orange's announcement last week that it is shedding 2,000 jobs. Most of the big internet and media companies are moving towards offering a full range of services, such as telephony, mobile phones, internet, broadband and television, through a common brand as a more integrated commercial offering. This was the reasoning behind NTL's recent decision to buy Virgin Mobile and eventually rebrand under the Virgin name.

As I write this, the FT share price is a little over 18 Euros.

We live in Cornwall and suffer poor TV reception because our house is in a valley, so we have a single amplifier to boost the analogue signal. You would think that we would be pleased to 'go digital'. However, I just called the Freesat line to find out what equipment we would need. We have six televisions and one video recorder. I was advised that I can run up to four boxes per dish at a cost of 150 per box. So, that means I have to spend 600 and scrap two TV sets. We will stay on analogue until the last possible moment and then decide what to do. What's the alternative?
David Laycock.

One of the big questions that needs to be answered about the switch to digital TV is what happens to people in remote or rural areas where the traditional terrestrial signal is poor. Equally, I don't think people have thought through the implications for households with several TV sets, where every one will need to be either connected to a set-top box or digital box of some kind, or upgraded to a digital set.

In this case, inevitably, prices will continue to come down as digital rollout advances, and it is always worth shopping around to find the best deal from Sky or NTL as well as investigating Freeview coverage - which should improve as digital switchover approaches. Try looking through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport web site on digital TV at www.digitaltelevision.gov.uk or Digital UK, the organisation set up to lead the switchover and which is running the Digit Al adverts at the moment, at www.digitaluk.co.uk

You could invest in the satellite kit and see if you can get more than four boxes to run off it. The manufacturers will have designed to run four boxes in all circumstances. If your circumstances are not extreme then you may get away with one or even more than one extra box.

You could wait until your broadband connection can offer all the channels you want simultaneously and connect your TVs to your broadband connection - this may seem like a long way off but I think it will arrive re sooner than you think.

BT Broadband and other ISP's are promoting high speed services up to 8mb. I pay for a 2Mb service from BT but are lucky to get 0.5Mb. The advertised speed is accompanied by a small 'up to' and on complaining to BT they say above 0.4Mb is acceptable. How can it be fair to pay for a 2Mb and get less than 1mb. Are we all being ripped off by misleading advertising?
Tony Baxter.

That phrase 'up to' can hide a multitude of sins. As ever, it is all in the small print.

The actual speed of any broadband connection depends on a number of factors - how far your house is from the telephone exchange, the number of other people using broadband in your local area at the same time as you, and what sort of activity they are doing online.

The technology that delivers broadband uses what is called contention - that is, each connection is competing with every other connection for space in the broadband 'pipe'. This is also why most ISPs mandate a limit on the amount of data you can download per day/week/month, to make sure heavy users are not hogging too much of the available capacity. So, the more people that use their broadband at any one time, the less capacity is available to each.

In reality, contention is not a major issue unless there are lots of users doing lots of activity with lots of big downloads. The bigger the 'pipe', the more of it will be available at any moment. But no ISPs will guarantee that a 2Mb/s (or whatever) service will always give you the full 2Mb/s capacity at all times.

But the average internet user will rarely notice a difference unless they are downloading large files.

My daughter recently made a reverse charge call from a local call box. The operator said that there would be a charge. When I got the bill from BT they had charged me 4.50 plus VAT for an eight second call. This seems excessive, much more than any premium rate. I feel that I should have been informed of the cost at the time. I have now informed members of my family that it must be a real emergency to warrant the use of this service.
Alan Varley.

Reverse charging has always been expensive, but you make a very fair point that the operator could have been clearer on quite how much it would cost. It is very much an emergency service that BT offers and is charged as such. It would be interesting to hear BT's response to why their operators do not offer more detail on charges.

The opinions expressed are Bryan and Eddie's, and not the programme's. The answers are not intended to be definitive and should be used for guidance only. Always seek professional advice for your own particular situation.



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