UK and its free telephone gimmick

 Published in THE PUNCH on 04 February 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

“Buy one, take two” is a common phenomenon in many supermarkets in the United Kingdom. Some companies also seduce customers with generous discounts on their products. But, if you are an intending traveller to Britain, you need to be careful because some of these free things can cause what Nigerians are wont to describe as awoof dey run belle (freebies cause runny stomach.)

Telephone service providers appear to offer more of these free things. The first thing that caught my eyes when I came to Cardiff last September was the free phone promo from Mobile World – a Pay As You Go product from the UK’s phone retailer, the Carphone Warehouse. The SIM is free. And if you top-up (recharge) with £50 (about N12, 500), you get a Nokia 1100 handset free. With the phone, you can make low cost international calls from your mobile. A minute call to a mobile line in Nigeria, for instance, is 20pence (about N50.) USA and Canada are the cheapest with 5pence per minute.

Considering this a fair deal, some Nigerians bought £50 worth of airtime and got the phone. Truly, we found it cheaper and more convenient because most other mobile phone service providers in the
UK do not offer direct international calls. You must buy a calling card to be able to do so. And the phone services are usually on contract basis. So, I made many calls to my family in Nigeria. When I ran out of credit in less than a month, I topped up again with another £50 and got another free SIM and a Nokia 1100 phone. 

But, sometime in November last year, Mobile World rolled up its welcome mat. It barred calls to
Nigeria for some inexplicable reasons. My friend and deputy managing editor of  Daily Independent newspapers, Ikechukwu Amaechi, said he called the customer services of the company and they told him they were conducting some investigations with regard to Nigerian calls and that they would reconnect us as soon as they were through. Till date, the situation has not changed.

As an alternative, we resorted to making calls to Nigeria from call centres. But, on 23 December last year, we went to the Carphone Warehouse to top-up our Mobile World. Just as we were moving into the store, a charming Indian young man approached us and introduced us to another mobile service provider called O2. We reminded him that we were already using Mobile World, a product from his company.

“Mobile World is very expensive. Just dump it. O2 is cheaper and you have free evening calls if you join off-peak period contract and free day calls if it is peak period contract,” the man said. Peak period 12-month contract is £35 per month. For the off-peak period, it is £25. We reminded him that the so-called free call was only for calls within the UK. He said we could buy a calling card to make international calls; that we only needed to dial a UK access number on the card and the destination number to get connected. Calls to the UK access number, the salesman added, were free for 02 users but not free for Mobile World users. To convince us the more, he brought out a sleek Samsung SGH-E900 and some other fanciful handsets and said we could pick any of them free if we joined the contract. He also said they would pay free £20.01 into our account.

Seduced with free phone, free calls and free money, we joined. We bought calling cards of £5 (N1, 250) each and started making our international calls. We talked long on the phone, believing that our calls to the UK access number were free.

Early January this year, our December bills came. Mine was £75.26 (about N18, 815). This was inclusive of a 17.5 per cent Value Added Tax of £11.21. Amaechi’s own was over £80. When you add the cost of the calling card, you are talking of over N20, 000 on frivolous calls for just one week. I shouted daylight robbery!

On a closer scrutiny, we discovered that 02 charged us for most of the calls we made to some
UK access numbers, which we thought were free. The company also billed us for calls that did not even go through to such numbers. Only calls we made in the night through a certain access number were free. Calls to some other access numbers gave us higher number of minutes, but at a high cost. It was then we realised that the £25 monthly contract only gives us free 1000 minutes for evening calls to standard
UK numbers. Anything outside that is billed separately.

Reeling with anger, we rushed to the Carphone Warehouse to cancel the contract. “Sorry, you cannot cancel the contract now,” a staff told us. The only way we could cancel it, he said, was if we took an insurance cover for the phone. After three months, we could then return the phone, forfeit the insurance premium we would have paid and then cancel the contract. We thought of taking the insurance option, which is £29.50 (N7, 375) per quarter. But on a second thought, we felt it would be a big disservice to ourselves to pay all this and still return the phone. It doesn’t make sense. Or does it?

For now, our best choice is to remain in the trap. But we are now more circumspect with the calls we make. Still searching for cheaper and more convenient way of making international calls, I stumbled on another one called Afro-Dial through a newspaper advert. This one says you just pay for the UK access number at a cheap rate and your call to Africa is absolutely free. No international charges and no need for a calling card.

The advert says you can also make free international calls within certain periods of the day. For instance, calls to Nigeria, using your free network minutes between 6am and 5.55pm through a certain UK access number is free. This service is available to Vodafone, O2, Orange, Virgin and T-Mobile contract subscribers with free network minutes package. And you are advised to ensure that you have sufficient free network minutes before making any call to avoid being charged by your provider. You are also advised to contact your mobile network provider first and enquire if the said access number is inclusive with your free minutes’ package, to avoid any unwanted charges.

Realising what we have gone through in the name of free calls, and knowing that O2 charged me for calls I had earlier made to the given access number, I became wary of making the so-called free international calls. Do not blame me, for when a bee stings a child, he trembles at the sight of a big fly. Nigerian mobile phone service providers have their own way of attracting customers. Some, at some point, reduced call rates from 12.30am to about 5am. But that’s being clever by half because only a wretched student, perhaps, will be awake to make that kind of call. The difference between phone service providers in the UK and Nigeria is probably that between six and half dozen.

1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Amanda Says:

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    I can recommend a new “scrub” product called “Mitigator Sting & Bite Treatment”; to say that it is terrific is an understatement! It actually removes venom by exfoliating the top layer of skin, opening the pores and drawing out the toxins. I had instant relief from pain and itching and all traces of the sting disappeared within minutes. I found it on the web at which is their military website. I called and they sold me (6) ½ ounce packages for about $2.00/pack (each resealable pack treats about 20 stings or bites). The only thing that can create a problem is if you wait too long to apply it, it should be rubbed in vigorously within the first few minutes after the bite or sting – the longer you wait, the less effective it is. I’ve used it on bees, wasps, fire ants (no blisters even appeared), mosquitoes and chiggers. They say it works on jellyfish but I’m a long way from the ocean so I haven’t needed it for that problem. No smelly chemicals, works great and is even safe for kids (the scrubbing replaces scratching so – no secondary infections). I should make a commercial for them!

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