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Wednesday, 5 July, 2000, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Cutting mobile roaming charges
Beach BBC
It's expensive to say "wish you were here"
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

The cost of using your mobile phone overseas is about to drop.

Calls made on holiday or on business abroad are expensive because the handset owner gets charged for both taking and making calls.

Protests about the high charges have prompted competition watchdogs at the European Commission to investigate.

And now a company called Mint Telecom has set up a service which charges one tariff no matter where you use your phone.

Costly calls

Mobile phones may be a cheap convenience in the UK but using them overseas turns them into an expensive luxury.

Although all the UK mobile phone companies have "roaming" agreements with foreign operators that allow you to use your phone when travelling the costs of calls can be very high.

There's no way it costs the operators 2 to 3 per minute

Ewan Sutherland, Intug

Not only is it expensive for you to call out but it is also expensive for other people to call you. The owner of the phone tends to get charged for the section of the call beyond the UK.

This is true even when the operator you are using is a subsidiary or sister company of your home mobile phone company.

"There's been criticism of companies that own networks in different countries who still do not offer a better rate when you roam from one of their networks to another," said Richard Cadman, deputy managing director of telecommunications consultancy Teligen which studies mobile phone costs.

Confusing charges

Last year, Intug, the International Telecommunications Users Group, surveyed roaming costs and condemned the high charges and the confusion surrounding how they are calculated.

"People are realising that roaming costs are far out of line," said Ewan Sutherland, executive director of Intug, "There's no way that it costs the operators 2 to 3 per minute."

The Intug report prompted the EU to look into roaming charges and a report drawn up by competition watchdogs is due to be published in September.

The EU has staged raids on the offices of some European mobile phone companies looking for evidence of price fixing and overcharging.

Roaming charges are hard to calculate because of the number of factors that have to be taken into account.

These factors include: the network operator you are using to make the international call

  • the time of day
  • the set-up charges
  • the contract you have with your home phone company
  • the roaming agreement your home operator has with the foreign phone company.

    Some companies such as Orange have international calling cards that give subscribers a discount but these are still more expensive than using a landline.

    Later this month One2One is launching a cheaper roaming service for its pre-pay customers using their phone overseas.

    Those using the service will pay 1.50 per minute to receive calls in 80 countries.

    Cheaper calls

    Now Mint Telecommunications says it can offer single tariffs for making and taking calls overseas.

    Anyone using the Mint service will pay just 85p to make a call and 42.5p to take a call.

    Typically, making and taking international calls with a mobile are much higher.

    Peak time calls from Azerbaijan to the UK
    Orange: up to 3.40
    Vodafone: up to 3.53
    BT Cellnet: up to 3.67
    One2One: up to 4.08
    Virgin: up to 4.08

    To set up its service, Mint has bought chunks of air time on all the networks it deals with and has got a discount for buying wholesale.

    Mobile phone owners can use the service by buying a Mint sim card from July. All modern handsets use the little data chips to store information such as the phone numbers of people you call regularly.

    A person using a Mint sim card will use the minutes bought by Mint instead of the ones that would have been bought by the user's usual service provider.

    The Mint sim cards should be available from mobile phone shops and airports from this month. The sim cards hold up to 80 minutes of talk time.

    Even the owners of pre-paid phones, who typically cannot roam overseas, will be able to make international calls with them.

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