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Confused by mobile pricing - join the club

by Josie Sephton | Feb 07, 2011

It is difficult to tell whether dazzling array of choice in mobile tariffs is designed to empower users, allowing them to tailor their package precisely to their usage, or whether it is covertly trying to confuse and confound them. For years, there has been a push towards consumer choice and transparency at every level, driven by both market forces and regulation. And on that front, it is hard to dispute that that is exactly what we have now. Undoubtedly, users have benefitted from this choice, but if we were to dig a little deeper, we would most likely discover that a significant proportion are on the wrong package according to their usage, and that they have been for a long time. It is partly inertia, of course - many people simply can't be bothered to sort it out - a kind of better (and easier) the devil-you-know attitude. For those that take the plunge, however, it quickly becomes evident why inertia is such an attractive option, as deciphering and comparing across each offer is no easy task. The table below, taken from Teligen's online mobile tracking service, TCO, looks at a selection of mobile operators across Europe, and how many mobile plans they offer, including the various permutations and combinations that comes with each[1].

Country

Carrier

# plans

France

Bouygues

85

 

Orange France

67

 

SFR

77

Germany

E Plus

11

 

T-Mobile Germany

23

 

Vodafone Germany

28

Italy

H3G

13

 

Telecom Italia Mobile

9

 

Vodafone Italy

16

UK

O2 UK

35

 

T Mobile UK

43

 

Vodafone UK

94

Undoubtedly, it will be fairly straightforward to thin the list of options down to a slightly more manageable number to choose from, based on the device, whether a user wants prepaid or not, or prefers a 12 month or 24 month contract, and so on. And some countries don't have quite such a tortuous list to choose from. However, it is worth mentioning that add on packages, such as extra SMSs, are not included in our table - put these into the mix and we're dealing with even more variations. By any standards, this really is a minefield, especially if you are trying to compare across providers.

The added dilemma for many is that they don't have a firm handle on their overall usage. Voice calls might be a known quantity for some, as might SMSs, although these might vary dramatically from day to day, week to week and month to month. And when data is thrown into the mix, as is increasingly the case, the waters can get very muddy.

A handful of operators will proactively inform users that they are on the wrong plan, and suggest an appropriate alternative, but often, switching to the right one will require the signing of a new contract, which will usually tie the user in for at least another 12 months.

It would be good to see operators take the initiative, and make the apparent choice and flexibility a genuine reality for customers, rather than bombarding them with a bewildering array of continually evolving plans and options. And to be fair, some are trying, but there is still a long way to go.


[1] Source: TCO, Teligen. Does not including family or group plans with sharing allowance, youth, student senior, business plans or data only plans e.g. for tablet devices such as the iPad. Also does not include ?add-ons, such as an extra SMS bundle. Operators in Italy, for example, offer a lot of add-ons.

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