Michael Tremer

About the ridiculousness of mobile phone networks
by Michael Tremer, July 24, 2014

As someone living in Germany and occasionally travelling around Europe, I would like to show everyone else who thinks that we are overcharged for mobile data what the status is in other countries.


I am and I have ever been using prepaid tariffs. I am a proud user of the Nexus 4 and therefore free to chose every provider I want. Subscribing to expensive contracts made never much sense to me as I never talk much on the phone when I am on the go. The only thing that I need is data: I read emails, I take part in various social networks, I download podcasts and do other things that you usually do with a smart phone.

Germany

However, that is almost impossible in this country. There is literally no provider that offers you a proper unlimited flatrate for mobile data – even if you would pay them their astronomical prices. It is literally not possible to get that either for personal nor business use. Once you reach the data cap you will get throttled to 64 kbit/s or even less and I refuse to call that “Internet” or “usable” in any way.

For those “flatrates” with 250 MB of “high speed data” and 32 kbit/s after that Vodafone charges you about 10 EUR per month (CallYa Smartphone Basic, PDF). On top of that you get unlimited texts and pay 9 ct per minute for calls. It is weird that if you call someone in a foreign country you pay even less than that. Phone calls to Britain are only 6 ct per minute. Texts to foreign countries are 29 ct(!) and if you would take the phone and go there, EU law limits the maximum price for that to be only 7.14 ct.

The prices don’t differ much any more between the providers of which there are only three any more: T-Mobile, Vodafone and Telefonica (O2) who recently acquired the former fourth player E-Plus. That does not sound like a healthy market with competition to me.

Austria

Let’s see what the situation is like in other countries: Austria for example used to have a very liberal mobile market with many small providers who competed against each other. Therefore prices were low until providers started acquiring each other again which resulted in that there are now only three providers left who operate their own infrastructure (A1, T-Mobile and 3) and various resellers – just like in Germany. So the market consolidated again but was able to keep the lower prices.

The mobile markets seem to be very differently shaped in the European countries. There are countries with a very liberal regulation and therefore cheap providers with brilliant coverage in Skandinavia and on the other hand there are those who over-charge their people like they do in Germany.

So why is it much more expensive to send a text from one country into an other one and the exact opposite direction costs only a fraction of it? The explanation is simple: It isn’t. Calls and texts are routed through the Internet and that doesn’t know country borders or long-distance calls. It is therefore not in the slightest more expensive to sit on a beach in Spain and read your emails than it is at home. There are certainly regional differences but those are certainly not a hundred times more expensive than at home. That’s why I think that we can easily compare the prices between the countries.

I hope that nobody gets me wrong on this: I am not saying that I want to place calls for free. I just want to pay a reasonable price and pay for the things I actually use and nothing more.

Now there is one provider who finally got that. What I wish to get for years is a provider that plays by the rule “take my money and shut up”. I am a totally willing to pay for the things I use, but not willing to pay for overpriced flat rates that I don’t care about. I also don’t want to think about what it might cost to call someone on a certain network and at which time of day. I just want to use my phone. For a reasonable price.

Three

Last time when I was in Britain, I bought a SIM card from 3 (three.co.uk). It is one pound and activated right away. Before that I used a SIM card from O2 where it occasionally took 3 hours until I could use it after top up. That’s ridiculous and therefore I was happily surprised. The standard “pay as you go” tariff that comes with rates of 3p/min for calls, 2p for texts and 1p per MB. For every top up, you get 150 MB of data for free. This is already amazing. Very reasonable prices and no strings attached.

All you can eat data

What is much more interesting that that is the all-you-can-eat-data tariff. It is just what it says in the name: A real flat rate for mobile data. No strings attached, no questions asked. There are no restrictions like that you cannot use VoIP or Skype. Only tethering is only allowed on the pay monthly plans, but nobody is keeping you from using it any way.

It is only £15 (in Austria it is 15€ 18€) and gives me all that I want and need. Simple access to the Internet. Unfiltered except for the lawful filtering that they have in Great Britain. It works everywhere as they have great coverage in London and the rest of the UK. If there is LTE available, my phone will use LTE. If not it uses 3G. There is no extra cost. You just get the fastest connection possible at the spot.

I cannot imagine this sort of tariff in Germany as there must be plenty of people happily be paying the ludicrous prices without even having the need to use the Internet. I have family and friends living outside the big cities who don’t get proper DSL. LTE coverage is getting better and better, but there is no chance to switch to using that because of the lack of tariff. So they have to decide whether to use a fast LTE connection with about 5GB of data or to use a slow and faulty DSL connection with unlimited data. I wonder what is more expensive for the telecoms…

Conclusion

As a conclusion I would like to make the point that Germany is a developing country when it comes to the Internet.

Those over-priced and uninspired tariffs are just the tip of the iceberg:

We have Störerhaftung, a law that makes you liable for offences that other people do when you give them (free) access to your Wifi. Hence there is no street cafe that gives you free Wifi. Duh. Projects like Freifunk suffer very much from Störerhaftung as well.

There are entire industrial parks where they “forgot” the Internet. Companies with no access to the Internet cannot really compete on the market, can they?

I am sure that all of you know plenty of these stories. Those are basically the same since the beginning of the Internet. Nothing has changed ever since.

I think that we now do have the technology to change roll out reliable and fast access to the Internet to the entire country. LTE is one of that. Fibre connections are cheap to deploy. That will help us as a society and economically, but somehow the telecoms don’t have any interest what so ever in giving us what we need.

Don’t you think too that we should change that?


Posted: July 24, 2014 • 1180 views