The great 0870 swindle…

by Ben Smith on 12th August 2010

Mobile operators in the UK are charging many times more for calls to ‘local rate’ numbers than calls to real geographic numbers, excluding them from bundled allowances and providing another unpleasant surprise for unwitting consumers.

I moved house last weekend. Anyone following me on Twitter will know it all had to happen in a bit of a rush… We moved the boxes of stuff, but phone-lines and broadband are still firmly on the ‘todo’ list, being a lower priority than – for example – clothes. That’s meant we’re operating 100% by mobile phone.

Which is fine… normally.

However, being without a land-line for these calls has reminded me of the ludicrous system that operates in the UK where firms publish numbers beginning 0845, 0870 or 0844 which variously cost ‘local’ or ‘national’ rates. Except they don’t… not from a mobile phone. From a mobile they cost many times the cost of a call to a normal geographic number or another mobile. I’ve not tested them all, but whilst some networks do offer a warning message before connecting the call it’s little consolation to know that the next hour on hold is going to be charged-for.

The hero in all this is which provides a crowd-sourced list of ‘real’ phone number alternatives which I’ve been using to skip the practically premium-rate costs of making all the calls I’ve needed to today. For those in the know Simon Maddox has also created the 0870 app for several mobile platforms (non-iPhone variants seem to be MIA at present, but Android and Java versions have surfaced previously) which also uses the data from this site, but sat in front of a laptop today I was happy to do the process manually.

However, I shouldn’t have to.

Mobile networks don’t pay any more to place 0870 calls than fixed-line operators, yet the (huge) price differential only exists in the mobile world. Worse still, companies (who do get a share of the call cost) are increasingly opting to obscure or block calls to their normal geographic numbers. There are plenty of good reasons (both technical and marketing) why firms wouldn’t want to switch back to purely geographic numbers, but if they really wanted to make their services affordable to use they should switch to number ranges such as those beginning ’03′ which don’t attract the premium pricing and mobile operators should look to reduce costs and find ways to include these calls in bundles. Looking at this BBC article from 2006 it seems long overdue.

I’m going to fire a few emails off to network operators’ press offices to ask why they don’t…

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