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Wednesday, 18 July, 2001, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Are mobile phones a rip-off?

European Union regulators are continuing their investigation into five British mobile phones firms as part of a huge price-fixing probe.

EC competition officials said they were investigating claims of collusion in prices charged to customers who use their mobile phones abroad.

Charges for so-called roaming calls, those involving the sharing of operators' networks, are unclear and seem unrelated to the cost of a call, an EU spokesman said.

People often find on their return from holidays abroad that they have unexpectedly large phone bills.

Are mobile phones a rip-off? Do they charge too much for international calls? Have you been caught out?

This Talking Point has now closed. read a selection of your comments.

Whatever happened to the quiet reserve of the British?

John Gant, UK
How I agree with Phil J, UK! It is now impossible to enjoy a quiet holiday anywhere, a quiet meal in a restaurant, a quiet train journey without some moron on their mobile jabbering away to their friends about how wonderful it is. Whatever happened to the quiet reserve of the British?
John Gant, UK

I bought my mobile so that my children could call me in an emergency and so that when I had to travel long distances I could phone for help rather than leave the car. I will take my phone on holiday for the same reason, but if I want to call somebody from abroad I will use a pay phone. Maybe if people did the same the mobile firms who do charge extortionate rates would have to whistle for their revenue or become more competitive. People seem to forget we are the customer, the service is meant to suit us not vice versa
Mandi, UK

Yes calls are expensive but what do you expect. I have a pay as you go phone and it hardly costs me anything because I hardly use it. Yes I top it up, probably every six weeks, but I don't start ringing all my mates up just because it's there. Instead of moaning, check out the latest tariffs.
Richard Bush, UK

If you find the price too high then use it less, use a payphone or wait until you get home and use a fixed line which is cheaper. Nobody is forcing you to buy or use a phone, and personally I wish a lot fewer people had them as they are a constant annoyance in buses, trains, parks, just about everywhere.
John S, UK

Surely there are more important things to investigate than the prices of luxury goods and services

Phil J, UK
The cost of calls is all relative, and depends on the individual. But basically mobile phones are a luxury item, and surely there are more important things to investigate than the prices of luxury goods and services. Simple advice, if you think something is too expensive and it is not an actual necessity (which a mobile phone is definitely not), then the simple remedy is to either not to use it so much, or to not have one at all. It's bad enough in the UK with people disturbing others by talking on mobiles all the time, without it spreading to holiday areas. Take a holiday from your mobile phone for a change and let other people also have a holiday from being annoyed by other people's loud phone calls.
Phil J, UK

Those criticising the government for "ripping off" the mobile companies for the 3G licences should remember two things: (1) Nobody is compelled to own a mobile phone. If you're terminally fashion conscious, gadget addicted or too important to use an ordinary phone then that's your problem, not ours. (2) The money raised went towards the National debt, and your taxes are that much lower as a consequence.
Steve, UK

We must not underestimate the material cost of developing and running the networks

Philip S. Hall, England
The cost of owning and using a mobile phone has fallen significantly, in real terms, since the service was first introduced in the eighties. Whether the present tariffs are artificially high is difficult to tell, but it is certainly true that a great deal of money has been invested in the cellular phone infrastructure, and the pace of development has been very rapid indeed. Naturally the telecomm companies should not be given a blank cheque, but we must not underestimate the material cost of developing and running the networks.
Philip S. Hall, England

I have been working in a mobile phone shop for almost 2 years and in my opinion, cross-network call charges are way too high! It is impossible to call people without "cross-networking" as so many people have mobiles.
Faisal Imran, West Mids, UK

Personally I dislike mobile phones for a number of reasons including those of health and safety. However I do spend some of my time in Germany and I need to be accessible to a small number of people. My solution is to use a UK SIM whilst at home and a German SIM when in Germany. Only the people who need my mobile numbers have them. My calls are filtered at home anyway so that my work is not disturbed unnecessarily, and only important calls are passed on me. This system works great for me, and I don't incur those expensive roaming charges. My advice is that if you don't like paying the extortionate charges, just re-evaluate why you want the mobile in the first place.
Gary Dale, England

I wish people would grow up and take responsibility

Robin Johnson, Australia
Mobiles come with a variety of price plans each to fit the need of its own user. Generally I use mine only to ring a friend to let them know some good news and keep my conversations short. I also use it for emergencies and the like. I wish people would grow up and take responsibility. If they're going to talk all day long (which make them look like the phone is a part of their head) then they shouldn't complain and cry when they go way over their allotted minutes and rack up a huge bill.
Robin Johnson, Australia

Calls on mobile phones in the UK are one of the few cheap things there. Try the US where they charge you for incoming and outgoing calls. Also the phone only works when you're on the highway as its the only place the companies put cells.
K. Jackson, USA

It is a rip-off to use a mobile whilst abroad, and I hope the EU manage to do something about this. Another thing that is a rip-off is how much it costs to call a rival mobile network, at 30-50p per minute regardless of the network, it is possible that there is something dodgy here as well.
Michael Pala, UK

Once the market reaches saturation - that's when we'll see prices level out

Richard Greaves, UK
Mobile phones. Everyone wants them. When everyone wanted micro-scooters they were a hundred quid. Now they're not wanted you'll get one for twenty. Once the market reaches saturation - that's when we'll see prices level out. If the Euro-authorities are so concerned about our prices perhaps they could turn their attention to why Britains pay so much for fuel...
Richard Greaves, UK

The acquisition of a life drastically reduces telephone bills. If you use the mobile for emergencies rather than for vacuous babble or txtng yr m8s, it won't be all that expensive. Yes, they are ripping you off, but only because you want them to.
Norman, UK

I'd say the EU would be do better if they looked into the cost of Euro MPs. At about 1 million a throw I think they are a much greater rip-off than mobiles and to boot we get pretty little return for our money.
David, Spain

Who cares? We don't need mobile phones, so what does it matter how much a luxury item costs? We can do away with all modern life's extravagant little toys. Try it someday. You'd be amazed by your exciting new lifestyle - free of brands and colour coordinates and other marketing kack. Get a life and learn to live it slowly.
Buzzer, UK

What exactly are we paying for?

Bert Smee, UK
Call prices have always struck me as a rip off, even in the days of ye olde rotary dials and land lines. What exactly are we paying for? Why should calling a mobile in Germany cost so much more than calling a mobile in Blackpool in the first place? With an Internet browser it costs me the same whether I access a site in England or in Borneo or a webcam on Mars - yet I'm using just as many routers, switches and other hard and soft services as a phone user, if not even more. These companies are skinning us alive because we have succumbed to the "stay in touch" hype.
Bert Smee, UK

My mobile phone isn't a rip off, for slightly more then I would pay monthly for connection to a BT landline I get 1000 free off-peak minutes a month. My bill rarely goes above the price of connection as I avoid daytime calls, sending 100s of text messages and roaming. Some mobile phone services are a rip off but you are not forced to use them.
Mark, Surrey, UK

People in the UK shouldn't complain about the price of their mobile calls. Here on the Isle of Man the cost of making calls is up to four times that of the cost of UK operators and with roaming charges you can treble that!
Paul, Isle of Man

If the person you are calling is abroad, all you need is to have a recorded message that tells you that the person you are calling is overseas and if you do not wish to accept the extra charge you should terminate the call immediately - that 's what I got when I recently called a national rate call on my mobile. Why can't it be used for international calls as well?
Jackie Junemann, UK

The mobile market is nothing short of a legalised cartel

Van Dieu, London, UK
Any half-decent student of economics will tell you precisely why the mobile market is nothing short of a legalised cartel. People put up with these prices because, on the whole, they do not amount to as high a proportion as many other expenditures. If telecoms carriers such as Worldcom can provide calls to Europe and other places abroad from as little as 7p/minute, there is no reason for mobile operators to charge substantially more than this.
Van Dieu, London, UK

It is easy to compare prices at a number of high-street outlets who have lists of all the available tariffs from all the operators. It is also fair that the mobile owner pays the international part of the call, since the caller has no way of knowing where you might be at the time. I don't understand why it costs so much for international calls. In the US the mobile phone numbers look the same as standard geographic ones, so you can't even tell you're calling a mobile. There the mobile user pays for incoming calls anyway! My only gripe against the phone companies is the cost of making calls from abroad.
Dave Tankard, UK

I think you'll find that roaming prices are very reasonable considering the alternatives

Adam Baker, United Kingdom
Are the prices really that unfair? You think how much it costs to phone the UK from anywhere in Europe when you use a hotel room phone or a payphone. I think you'll find that roaming prices are very reasonable considering the alternatives.
Adam Baker, United Kingdom

It is text messages that are hugely overpriced. It takes me about two seconds for the sms to send from my phone yet costs me 10p, the same amount for 5 minutes (300 seconds) of off-peak calls. The bandwidth required to sms is much, much less than voice too so companies must be making an extraordinary profit from them and still have the cheek to set a limit to how much we can write!
James Pittman, England

Thinking back over the years when there was no such convenient item as a mobile phone, the only alternative available was the public 'phone boxes which were often broken, usually smelly, OR busy. Mobile phones go one step further and allow people to be contacted. I have a mobile, but would give it up in an instant if it wasn't worth the money I pay for it.
Christopher Laird, Japan

However much they charge they are saints compared with the rip off state which has already taken billions of pounds from 3rd generation phone users and will give then nothing in return.
Frodo, UK

All telecoms in the UK are overpriced, mobiles doubly so.
Guy Chapman, UK

Phone plans in the UK are a real rip off. When the phone companies realise how many more customers they could reach by making it cheaper they will do so. I'm paying 40 USD (about 25 GBP)a month for 1000 minutes of anytime/anywhere minutes.. I use the cell phone more than the one at home because it's a better deal and I get the convenience of alpha paging, voicemail and internet. When you're paying 25p for a minute of airtime whether or not you instigated the call you are really getting ripped off. There is a real opportunity in the UK for a better cell phone service, and when that happens all the greedy little companies will go belly up, and it will serve them right.
Tim, USA (from UK)

Yes, mobile phone charge is very high in Europe. Ironically, it is cheaper to make a UK call to (or from) North America or the Far East than to make a similar call to (or from) Europe. I am sure there is price fixing somewhere between phone companies within the EU.
Matt, UK

I've spent 6 of the past 11 weekends in Europe and was pleasantly surprised when I got my mobile bill in. Many of the text messages I'd sent back to the UK were 5p (less than when I do it from the UK!) and my longest received call for 5 minutes was only 40p.
Dom M, UK

Prices too high? Pity the Government didn't think of that when they took their 22-billion-pound windfall tax, the so-called 3G auction.
Guy Hammond, England

I think we need to have some easy way of comparing phone bills from different companies

Tom, UK
I think we need to have some easy way of comparing phone bills from different companies. Perhaps OFTEL should force all of the companies to jointly display all of their offerings on a website with a tool to facilitate easy comparison. That will help competition and make it easy to see evidence of price fixing and cartels.
Tom, UK

One weekend in Dublin (making a receiving a few calls a day) was enough to triple my monthly bill. Does this really represent value for money?
Dean, UK

Inland calls are still more expensive than fixed lines. Calling non-geographical numbers is over-priced (20p/min for an 0870 for instance). I am with Orange, so making international calls from my phone within the UK is cheap, but making and receiving calls while abroad is horribly overpriced. When I am abroad I divert my phone to my home phone, so I can pick up any voice messages in my own time rather than spending anything up to 1.20/min to try and tell someone why I can't talk at the moment.
John B, UK

Mobile phones are definitely not a rip off

Jay, Wales
Mobile phones are definitely not a rip off, due to all the competition and lack of use, "pay-as-you-go" handsets have been making a loss for quite a while. The international calls aren't too bad as long as you understand how the billing works. Just because they're being investigated doesn't mean that they're actually doing anything wrong - we'll have to wait for the report before we'll know the answer.
Jay, Wales

I think it might be said that paying a mobile phone company to microwave your mind could be considered a rip-off, yes.
Natassia Khan, UK

I have a pay-as-you-go phone. If I call my home landline right now it will cost me 25p per minute, yet on the weekend I can make a call from my home phone to my mobile for 2p a minute. What consumers want to know is what makes the one over twelve times more expensive than the other? I recently needed to make holiday arrangements in Italy and my phone would have cost me one pound fifty a minute. A friend's phone with a monthly plan was 18p a min for the same call. If you relate that to other goods it is like paying twelve pounds for a supermarket sandwich or over six pounds a litre for petrol - you would never get away with it.
Gareth Knight, UK

They are a fabulously convenient piece of technology that provides incredible value

No, they are a fabulously convenient piece of technology that provides incredible value. But they are a professional tool not a fashion accessory or a toy. If you don't like the cost then use a landline.

Since someone in their wisdom insisted that phone numbers be portable across networks you can't even tell what, or even if, you will be charged. A number that used to be a Vodafone may now be with Orange. If someone else on Vodafone calls that number, do they get charged for a cross-network call (ie about 40p/min) or is the call free, since it looks like it should be Vodafone?
Karl Peters, UK

I think the whole model is wrong. Why should the person receiving the call be charged the international portion of the call? This just hides the cost and allows the operators to do what they are doing. Would it not be better if, when you call a mobile that is abroad, you get a message that says, "This mobile is currently abroad. To connect it will cost you 50p a minute. Please stay on the line if you wish to connect"? Then the charges would be known up front and the whole problem of lack of competition and price fixing would be over.
Ken Robson, Denmark (Ex-UK)

The level of overseas calls business can't justify low prices

Andy Millward, UK
Of course not. With a small number of suppliers, prices will tend to congregate around an equilibrium with little variation. Suppliers will offer loss leaders where there is a massive market potential (e.g. free weekend calls), but will ramp margins elsewhere to guarantee returns needed to justify their continued investment (e.g. in 3G technology.) That's how the laws of supply and demand operate; to call it price fixing shows a poor understanding of market forces. The level of overseas calls business can't justify low prices, so if the EU forces suppliers to reduce margins in that area the effect will be to increase prices to consumers services to compensate.
Andy Millward, UK

In order to remain competitive and pay for the 3G licences, some "agreements" have had to be made. I wouldn't be surprised if the big 5 companies have not colluded on a pricing arrangement to "stabilise" both profitability and the market.
Keith, Switzerland

There's absolutely no commercial competition to address this issue

CNS, Durham, England
I don't know about international calls, but one thing I really object to are the extortionate rates you have to pay for calling a mobile phone from a land line (or even leave a voicemail message which doesn't involve using a mobile network at all). There's absolutely no commercial competition to address this issue (no-one chooses a phone on the basis of how much people get charged to phone you) so can the Government deal with this next?
CNS, Durham, England

I wish there would be a bit more competition on the price of calling a mobile phone from a landline. This is where the real rip-off is. Roaming charges hit the people who can afford it most - businesses. If you're on holiday, switch roaming off or get a life and leave your phone at home. If the price of roaming goes down - it will mean higher prices for calls at your home network - they have to make their margins somewhere.
Aris, UK

I can't believe it's taken so long for regulators to realise this. They must travel Europe, a quick check of their bills would expose this rip-off. If I am in England and someone else in England calls my Dutch number we both pay for an international call. They pay the call to The Netherlands and I pay for a call back. If the providers expect me to believe that they are really routing my call over two international trunks they must think me a fool. Sort this out now, and after this check out the charges for SMS. 10p for sending the same amount of information as you do when you turn your phone on? Rip-off.
Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands (ex UK)

It's not so much that the prices are too high (which I believe is true), it's that they don't tell you how much you will be charged to receive a call when you're travelling abroad! The info might be there in the small print, but they should be forced to make it more obvious that everyone loses out on international mobile calls!
Diane Westwood, Devon, UK

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See also:

11 Jul 01 | Business
EU raids mobile phone firms
11 Jul 01 | Business
What is international roaming?
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