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How 0800 changes blur the fixed-mobile line


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Come 1 July, mobile network operators (MNOs) will no longer charge us for calling 0800 or 0808 numbers. One of the most common frustrations of mobile phone usage is that it can differ widely from that received by fixed line customers. In this case, while calling a Freephone number via a fixed line is free, it incurs up to 20p a minute via a mobile line. Finally communications watchdog Ofcom has announced an end to this double standard. At the same time it’s also introducing regulations that call for clearer definitions on how much you have to pay to ring 084, 087 and 09 numbers.

Until now, MNOs have benefited from charging for so-called Freephone numbers and have not been particularly clear about how much it will cost to call those numbers through its network. Back in 2013 Ofcom first announced that it would prevent this practice from continuing, leading to concerns and objections by MNOs. One MNO even claimed it would cost too much to implement and only lead to increased charges elsewhere; and subsequently took legal action in a bid to block it. But the chief of Ofcom is optimistic about the changes from a consumer perspective, hoping that it will increase competition among MNOs.

The changes don’t stop there. Any TV talent show fan will tell you when calling voting lines beginning with 084, 087 and 09 numbers, we’re told that ‘calls from mobiles may cost considerably more.’ Under these changes broadcasters will have to state the ‘service charge’ for dialling the number, and mobile operators will apply an ‘access charge’ for putting people through. Once we’re aware of our access charge, we can add the two together and know for sure how much we’re paying.

These changes highlight a move towards further blurring of the boundaries between mobile and fixed line services. It’s another example of the two converging, giving us a better idea of telephony’s future. Mobiles are increasingly offering ‘fixed experiences’ through apps and another add-ons, meaning that we can use our fixed number on our mobiles. As more of us see the benefits of unified communications and grow to like the idea of having our mobile as an extension to fixed, it’s perhaps not surprising that revenue for fixed services is on the decline. I recently blogged about BT’s acquisition of EE, which demonstrated BT’s desire to enter the mobile market. As the fixed market weakens, we now see that BT probably made a wise move.

Nobody can know for sure that mobile will take over fixed or indeed whether there will be a resurgence in fixed line services becoming more mobile. What is clear however, as the two become more unified, that there’s little chance of us using both in the future and it may be down to our own personal preferences to which one we use. Now that calling a Freephone number through a mobile network won’t cost anything, mobile has something to offer us that was previously exclusive to fixed. The cost of ringing 0800 numbers may have put off many of us from moving to purely mobile, but Ofcom’s intervention makes the transition more commercially viable.



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