A master class in obfuscation

I’ve been looking to switch mobile networks for a while now having been with Orange since its birth in 1994. Back then with Hans Snook at the helm, it was a genuinely innovative and competitive network pioneering many of the bits we now take for granted like inclusive minutes.

However, once lumbering, bumbling France Telecom took over, it was curtains for Orange. The cheese eating surrender monkeys wasting no time in dismantling a great network and hiking the charges to a level that would make even a Russian oligarch wince.

What I’m after is cheap international texts (without any WAP crap) and you’d think that this would be a cinch to find out from the various operators. Not so!

Some of the big players are shockingly bad at having a clear and transparent price list available on their websites whilst others seemed to have employed chimps to design their web pages and navigation in a cunning move to increase obfuscation and thus hide their rubbish prices.

I was determined not to be thwarted though and made it a mission to visit each and every one of the mobile networks websites to conduct a basic test which involved simply finding out the price of sending an international text from the UK to Bahrain and also sending a roaming text, both on pay-as-you-go and 30-day contract SIM’s. Here’s how they all fared with marks for the following:

Website: how good is the design in terms of speed, layout and usability
Clarity: how easy it was to find the price of an international text and a roaming text
Value: overall value for money for both domestic and international calls and texts

O2
A good start place to start with O2 having clear pricing for all tariffs that doesn’t require a spade to dig around. They’re competitive too for sending international texts (10p on pay-as-you-go with international caller bolt on) although roaming texts were stupidly expensive and among the highest. The O2 website design is a bit busy but it worked for me although international calls and roaming prices are hived off under a separate menu. In short, the O2 website is not only the best laid out among the Big Five but their charges are the best too.

Website: 3/5
Clarity: 4/5
Value: 3/5

Orange
Unsurprisingly, one of the worst. Charges are hidden away in stupidly obscure menus that seem to change every time you click on anything whilst the search doesn’t work and the website is achingly slow because of the lazy use of Flash (is cack). The French don’t have a reputation for speed and efficiency so perhaps I was expecting too much but the Orange website really is utter crap. Finding the price of sending an international text was about as straightforward as finding a bunny in a vast field of rabbit holes. Value for money is scarce with Orange and their PAYG no longer offers roaming in Bahrain even though their incoming roaming charges at 90p are the cheapest out of the Big Five operators.

Website: 0/5
Clarity: 1/5
Value: 2/5

T-Mobile
The website shows only the most basic of call charges and you then have to delve into the rest of the site to find other charges which takes some effort. On par with Orange then for lack of transparency but at least the website is quick and the search actually works. T-Mobile née Mercury One2One used to be the cheapest of the main operators but are now among the most expensive with out-of-bundle calls costing 30p to a landline. WTF is that all about? International and roaming texts are the same price as Orange at 20p and 50p respectively and like Orange, T-Mobile won’t let you roam in Bahrain with their PAYG SIM’s.

Website: 1/5
Clarity: 1/5
Value: 1/5

Vodafone
The worst of the lot for clarity and that’s saying something with a list that includes Orange. I found it impossible to find the price of sending international and roaming texts and had to resort to calling up Vodafone who confirmed it was stupidly priced at 24p and 47p respectively for both contract and PAYG. The website all looks nice but is simply not usable to find out a clear price list of charges. Standard call costs are quite competitive which is a first for Vodafone who seem to think they can trade on brand name alone.

Website: 2/5
Clarity: 0/5
Value: 2/5

Three
The newest of the Big Five operators, you’d think Three would have figured it out by now but unfortunately not. Establishing the price of an international and roaming text involved having to download a damn PDF file of all prices and tariffs which is what you might expect to have done back in the 90’s. Prices for sending are the highest at 25p but roaming texts are among the cheapest at just 35p and voicemail is free. Detailed tariff information is scarce though with only the barebones charges clearly listed.

Website: 1/5
Clarity: 0/5
Value: 2/5

Virgin
The website tries hard to be useful but the charges are not located at the top level when they can be easily gotten to. I should be able to just click on a single tariff and see the charges on the same page, not be directed to some other link that has everything on including tariffs I’m not interested in. Price of an international text and roaming text is 20p and 35p respectively but there is no Bahrain roaming on PAYG. Virgin is another mobile operator that has steadily gotten worse. I mean 30p for a standard UK call on their contract SIM’s is just plain daft.

Website: 2/5
Clarity: 2/5
Value: 2/5

Talk Mobile
Part of the Carphone Warehouse, the Talk Mobile website had a few bad links but tariff information was easy to find and the prices were great, not only for sending international (10p on PAYG) and roaming texts (30p) but also calling abroad from the UK (30p per minute). Incoming roaming calls are the cheapest at 60p per minute and voicemail is free. Viva los Talk Mobile!

Website: 4/5
Clarity: 5/5
Value: 4/5

Tesco
Tariff information all available on a single page although getting there requires far too many clicks. There should be a simple and single menu link somewhere that says "tariff" but Tesco are too busy pushing their triple credit promotion. International texts cost 20p and roaming texts are 40p although roaming is limited on both PAYG and contract. However, their triple credit promotion effectively makes the cost of an international text only 7p which is the cheapest but with no Bahrain roaming, this is a bit like selling a car that can only be driven in your back garden.

Website: 2/5
Clarity: 3/5
Value: 3/5

Asda
A simple no-frills tariff with prices clearly shown and domestic call charges among the cheapest. Both international calls and texts are 20p whilst roaming texts are 40p. Asda are to be commended for their dirt cheap domestic call charges with UK texts at only 4p and overall, they offer good value for money in a saturated market packed with gimmicky “freebies”.

Website: 4/5
Clarity: 4/5
Value: 4/5


Lebara

Prices very clearly displayed and ultra competitive too. International texts and landline calls at 10p, roaming texts at 30p and the cheapest domestic UK calls too at only 5p for both landlines and mobiles. The best and cheapest PAYG tariff by miles for anyone who wants international coverage and a good vibrant website with easy to find information. Gold Star to Lebara and the One I’ll Most Likely Switch To.

Website: 5/5
Clarity: 5/5
Value: 5/5


Lyca Mobile

The website looks cheap and nasty and the tariff prices, which are easy to find, follow suit. Lyca has the lowest roaming text charge at just 25p whilst international texts and landline call are 10p. However, roaming call charges in Bahrain are the most expensive by a huge mile at 489p. A fiver just to make a roaming call from Bahrain to another country is outrageous; you’d pay that much for a satellite phone. Website looks like it was knocked up by a couple of students and doesn’t do the company any favours either although information is easy to find.

Website: 2/5
Clarity: 4/5
Value: 4/5

GiffGaff
Seems to be run by a bunch of hippies but the domestic call charges are very good. International text prices start from 8p but to Bahrain cost 20p which is far too much. Roaming texts are 30p and the tariff information is easy to find with a fairly nice and simple website design.

Website: 4/5
Clarity: 4/5
Value: 4/5

Ikea Family Mobile
A nice simple tariff that offers 9p calls to any UK number and 6p texts to any UK mobile. Full tariff information is easy to find once you discover the tiny links on the left hand menu. Move it up to the top guys so it’s more prominent! The website design is a question-and-answer session touchy-feely type affair that doesn’t lend itself well to clarity although most points are covered in the faq’s. International texts are 16p whilst roaming texts are 40p and usefully, Ikea also shows it’s prices in a table compared against the other big networks to show you how much they (the other operators) are ripping us off.

Website: 3/5
Clarity: 4/5
Value: 4/5

 

So there you have it. A master class in obfuscation from the main mobile operators who are keen to acquire your business and hide the more dubious charges that would increase churn. My shortlist is Lebara, Talk Mobile and O2. The likes of Orange and T-Mobile, who are soon to complete their merger, can sod off!

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