Mobile phone providers: the new rip-off merchants

Published by Rev George Pitcher on 12 April 2012.
Last updated on 24 September 2012

mobile and coins

Oh, how did we ever manage before mobile phones?

That's what people of my age tend to exclaim when they're making out that catching a train on time for a meeting involves feats of communicational planning akin to recruiting a flock of migrating swallows to run a toy shop.

I'll tell you how we managed before mobile phones. For one thing, I didn't actually have to go outside to make a call.

A combination of late-medieval diligence in building solid homes and the mobile phone operators' lack of building sufficient relay masts means that I have to go into the garden to get a signal.

My gripe isn't just that the kit still doesn't work very well (and it really doesn't, unless you're standing right next to a mast when all other subscribers on your operating system have been killed by a mystery virus), it's also mobile charges.

I cannot believe that the human race has evolved to a level where it can get the jam inside a doughnut while still buying the proposition 'free' phone from mobile retailers.

So, Earthlings, let me explain how your contract phone is free only in the sense that a mugger doesn't invoice you for the service he provides. Read very carefully, I will write this only once.

Mobile phone contracts

Take a typical £32-a-month contract over two years at a total cost of £768. Now choose your 'free' phone. Then go to the page where the provider sells phones. What does it cost? £200. So the supposedly free phone has cost you £568 over two years. But you may have been given 300 free minutes a month?

So, go to the page where it'll sell you a SIM card only for the equivalent usage. It'll be about £15 a month. So buy that and bung it in a £10 mobile you've bought on eBay. Total cost over two years is £370, so you've just saved £400 on that contract-free phone. Or buy the £200 phone that you fancied and you've still saved £200, a neat 100% saving.

You would actually get a better deal from the bank, buying your phone with a loan. Now there's a sentence I thought I'd never write. That is a scandal. I mean, no one is meant to rip off the public more than the banks. The banks must be outraged. Something must be done; they have their lack of reputation to consider, after all. Perhaps the mobile phone companies could be nationalised and given to the banks?

Wi-fi and 3G

And another thing. I'm with 02 and foolishly, though on the advice of young people and we know they're never foolish, switched off my wi-fi connection and collected internet data by 3G. I'd been told in the shop that this was only dangerous on charges when I was abroad. But my next statement showed I'd racked up more than £200 in a month, against my usual £30 bill, and I was already up to £150 in the next month.

Okay, my fault. O2 switched my tariff, providing some bolt-on data charges and reimbursed me £100. But two things strike me: first, how many absent-minded middle-aged men does O2 need to be making the same mistake to be really coining it over a year? And shouldn't it be sending out an automated message telling me that my usage charges were unusual when they exceeded the norm by, say, 50%?

And, second, doesn't the refund of £100 smack a bit of being rather sheepish about this racket and accepting there's been a rip-off when you raise it with the company in the first place?

I think the banks have new competition in greed, poor service and misrepresentation of the word 'free'. But I could forgive the mobile sharks anything if only I DIDN'T HAVE TO GO OUTSIDE TO ANSWER THE FLIPPING PHONE.

Reverend George Pitcher is a former industrial editor of the Observer and religion editor of the Daily Telegraph. He is an Anglican priest at St Bride's, Fleet Street. Email him at

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