Oftel galled by cost of mobile roaming

UK telecoms regulator publishes advice on how to avoid being overcharged for using mobile phones while in France or other countries this summer

Oftel has continued its attempts to clamp down on overpriced mobile phone calls by advising consumers how they can avoid being ripped off this summer. According to the telecoms regulator, a mobile phone user who ignores its latest guidelines could end up paying 40 percent more for calls made from abroad. The new advice, published on Monday, is aimed at people who will be visiting France this summer. Oftel, which is concerned that many mobile users are unaware just how much more they can be charged for making and receiving calls when abroad, believes its tips should be used when travelling throughout Europe. According to Oftel, a mobile user with a monthly contract who goes on holiday to France for a fortnight can save 21 percent by signing up for their mobile operator's international traveller services. Such services offer discounts compared to the standard international roaming charges. Those who spend many weeks abroad can save even more, Oftel claimed on Monday. It has calculated that by switching to the SIM card of a French mobile operator it is possible to save up to £28 on as pre-pay phone bill of £82, or £34 on a contract bill of £64. Oftel also said that pre-pay mobile customers can save 18 percent by manually selecting which mobile network to use when abroad. Typically, if there is more than one network available to roam on then the handset will automatically choose the one with the strongest signal, but according to Oftel this is unlikely to be the cheapest. Roaming wasn't billed in a day
Oftel believes it is important for customers to check charges with their mobile operator before they travel. "When using your mobile phone abroad it's easy to get caught out by higher charges -- and by the fact that you get charged for receiving as well as making calls," warned David Edmonds, director general of Oftel. "Call costs vary a lot between different tariffs and many consumers are taken by surprise when they tot up their phone bill at the end of their trip." Edmonds added that it is often cheaper to just use text messages rather than making a voice call. Mobile operators are under fire from many sides over their pricing policies. Earlier this year, EU competition commissioner Mario Monti vowed to take action against operators who were overcharging customers for using their mobiles abroad. He said that an EU investigation had found that many operators were "engaged in excessive pricing." Oftel has also been active against the UK's mobile operators, but so far with limited success. It referred Orange, mmO2, T-Mobile and Vodafone to the Competition Commission in January this year, amid claims that the four companies are charging too much for calls made between their networks. A decision on this is not expected before the end of this year, though. More details of Oftel's research into overseas mobile charges can be found on Oftel's Web site.

For a round-up of everything from local loop unbundling and broadband to the latest in GPRS and 3G phones and networks, see the Telecoms News Section. Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the Telecoms forum . Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.