As I said last time, I was happy with my package with Three: my line rental is 20 pounds a month for 1100 minutes, plus a fiver for unlimited data. Â In addition, Iâ€™m spending an extra 180 pounds plus a month on international calls, roaming and data. I was happy with that, as Threeâ€™s international rates were cheaper than the competition.
After a really shoddy experience with Three when my handset failed, Iâ€™ve now set myself a challenge to see how much money I can not spend with Three. Ideally, Iâ€™ll make a saving as well, but Iâ€™m happy if I just transfer all my discretionary spend to someone else.
Still, while I want to save money, it canâ€™t be too inconvenient. For example, there have been indirect access providers around for ages, but typically they require you to dial an access number, then enter some codes, then enter the number youâ€™re dialling. Too much like hard work â€“ I need to select a number from my address book and press the green button.
The other downside with indirect access providers is that they are typically pre-pay, so I have to mess around with setting up accounts and keeping them topped up. However, since Iâ€™m already having to do that because of Threeâ€™s refusal to increase my credit limit, thatâ€™s now an acceptable level of inconvenience.
Right, letâ€™s list out the things I am spending extra on:
â€¢ Receiving calls in Europe (currentlty 10p/min)
â€¢ Making calls in Europe (currently 25p/min)
â€¢ Calling International from the UK (30p or 60p / min)
â€¢ Sending SMS to International from the UK
â€¢ Sending SMS while abroad
â€¢ Data roaming
At home and in the office, I have a Wi-Fi network. Out and about, I have a flat rate 3G data plan.
So letâ€™s look at these spending methods and see if we can get them down a little:
Receiving calls. One way to reduce roaming receipt charges is not to receive calls at all; to divert all calls to voicemail or my SkypeIn number and just pick up voicemails and call people back. Unfortunately, thatâ€™s not massively convenient, and the callback will call more than receiving the call in the first place. So, enter a roaming SIM provider. The best deal for me is SIM4travel â€“ their charges to receive in most of my countries of interest is zero. No pence. I get a UK number that I can take abroad, and receive calls for free. Sold. The only challenge is I get a new number, so I have two choices: either leave a voicemail on my primary number saying call my other number, or divert all calls from my primary number to my roaming number, using my inclusive minutes. Iâ€™m still waiting for the SIM to arrive, so I havenâ€™t decided which route to take yet.
Making calls in Europe. SIM4travelâ€™s calling rates are comparable with Threeâ€™s â€“ 25p/min to most of the countries Iâ€™m interested in. So, I wonâ€™t save money, but at least I wonâ€™t be spending it with Three. And, while Iâ€™m abroad, I will need only one device for voice, which is more convenient than having one handset for making calls and one for receiving.
There are some more complicated options I could talk about, but for now, this is what Iâ€™m settled on.
Calling International from the UK. There are actually two scenarios here â€“ when Iâ€™m at home/office and when Iâ€™m travelling within the UK. At home/office, I typically use Skype from my PC to make international calls. There are, of course, cheaper VOIP providers, but Skype is generally reasonable quality, and I have plenty of contacts who also use Skype, in which case the call is free.
Having a Three phone, I have the Skype application on my phone already. But I gave up using it after a few early tries partly because it only gave me skype-skype calls â€“ no IM and no SkypeOut, but mainly because using it drains the battery outrageously quickly. But I saw the recent announcement that Skype had launched a mobile version direct, rather than through the relationship with Three, that allowed both SkypeOut and IM. So I thought Iâ€™d give that a go. First hurdle, no E65 version, but after a bit of trial and error, I found that the Nokia 6131 version works ok (funnily enough, the N95 version didnâ€™t). The application works well enough â€“ I can select contacts from my address book and call them. Itâ€™s a hybrid data/voice application, so the call I make actually dials a UK number, then completes over Skype. So I end up paying for a UK call (or taking it out of my inclusive bundle) and paying the SkypeOut rate. Thatâ€™s not a bad solution, especially as Iâ€™m already managing a Skype account so topping up is no additional hassle. Itâ€™s still a bit of a battery drain though.
So, Skype is OK. Not perfect, but OK.
Then, I rediscovered Truphone. When I first heard about Truphone a while ago, I discounted it, because I understood it as a VOIP over WiFi play. If I have WiFi, I have a PC, so I can use Skype. Plus, my experience with handset WiFi was a battery drain. But, I was persuaded to try it again. The VOIP over WiFi is okay, but the really interesting point is Truphone Anywhere â€“ where if I donâ€™t have WiFi it completes the call via a UK number. Effectively itâ€™s an indirect access number without any of the inconvenience I mentioned at the start. The integration with my Symbian handset is fantastic, all I do is select the caller from my address book, and if itâ€™s an international number it asks me if I want to make the call with Truphone Anywhere or as a regular GSM call. If I choose Truphone Anywhere, it takes about 10-15 seconds to setup the call, then itâ€™s done. No extra steps to take.
Calling rates for Truphone and Skype are in the same ballpark â€“ depending on the destination one may be cheaper than the other, but both are at least half of the rate that Three charge.
Sending International SMS from the UK. If Iâ€™m at my PC, I typically use Skype for this. From the handset, I can now use Truphone for this, but the originatorâ€™s number is not my primary number, itâ€™s my Truphone number. So thatâ€™s not very convenient. But it is cheaper.
Sending SMS abroad. No way around this. Boo â€“ I have to give Three money if I need to send an SMS.
Data. One approach is to use PAYG SIMS for each country. Some countries have great PAYG data plans â€“ for example thereâ€™s a Spanish MVNO (Yoigo?) who have a 1.2 euro/day PAYG rate. Thatâ€™s cool, but it is massively inconvenient to manage separate SIMs for each country I visit. So Iâ€™m probably going to have to give Three money for this as well. But, since I got my Vodafone USB stick, I find Iâ€™m using handset data less and less.
The conclusion? Now Iâ€™m motivated to do this, I will probably save about half of my discretionary 180ukp/month spend. Of the money I do spend, less than 10% of that will go to Three. So I will have gone from spending 180 pounds with them to maybe 10 pounds, and save myself 90 pounds a month into the bargain.
Over a year, that will be over a thousand pounds I save, and over two thousand pounds lost revenue to Three. I wonder how much it would have cost for them to loan me a handset when I asked?