Online Thrills and Shocking Bills – The Sunday Tribune 30/03/2008

Can’t get broadband in your area?

Don’t have it on your computer?

Or maybe you don’t have a computer to begin with. Don’t worry . . . with your mobile you can check your email, get stock quotes, read the news, or just kill some time flirting on Facebook.

Or at least that’s how mobile providers want you to think. The financial reality, however, can be a sobering, even nasty, experience. For not only is it expensive to surf the Net in this way, but there are a couple of financial booby-traps lying in wait for the less than vigilant.

Consumers Association of Ireland’s chief executive Dermott Jewell says there is “a good degree of dissatisfaction among consumers about the cost of mobile internet.” In the past year he received several hundred complaints from mobile users who, after receiving their mobile bill, could not believe their eyes.

Their bills were severely inflated due to hefty excess charges they had to pay after they exceeded their monthly ‘download limit.’

These limits are what cause mobile users the most financial pain. They determine how much information your phone can receive from the internet during any given month. Even when you just browse the web you import a certain amount of information to your mobile.

Simply surfing the net won’t normally mean you go over the allowed limit. If, on the other hand, you download music, video or games, your download total can rise dramatically, and you risk paying dearly for your habits.

For example, 50MB gives you about a half an hour viewing videos on websites such as the immensely popular YouTube, or around 1,000 internet pages, depending on your handset and the amount of information on the websites you’re accessing. So a few sessions idly browsing the Net can very easily spiral into a shocking phone bill.

One of our readers relates how mobile internet can be a very expensive hobby for consumers who are less than ruthlessly aware of the hidden financial dangers of the new technology.

He received his monthly bill last week, having hooked up to mobile internet for the final four days of the last billing period. He says: “I experimented with my new phone’s (Nokia N95) internet capabilities. I downloaded one free music track and one movie clip and surfed the web for maybe five hours overall.

“For this I was billed 50.28. The amount of data downloaded was, according to my bill, 8.6MB. The largest individual charge was for a (free) movie clip which took just over two minutes to download. That cost 29.37!”

The reader rang the mobile provider the day he got the phone asking whether he needed to change his billing system. “The girl at customer services said I should see how I got on the first month and then drop in to one of their shops and chat with a rep.”

“It’s been an expensive four-day trial. Thank God I didn’t get the phone at the beginning of the month!”

Download limits If you’re going to surf the Net from your mobile, the first thing you need to know is: what’s the download limit?

The reason that is so crucially important is that these limits kick in (and boy, do some of them kick! ) once a specified amount of information has been accessed by your phone.

The biggest download limit is from O2. Its Broadband 10GB Add-on package gives you 10,000 megabytes (MB), or 10 gigabytes (GB), per month.

That will cost you 30, however, you could get a pretty good broadband package for your home computer or laptop instead, for arguably far better value, unless of course you want to be able to access the internet very often while you’re on the move. You also need to buy a high-speed HSDPA mobile, such as the Nokia N95, to get the full benefit from this package.

Diarmuid McShane, editor of consumer awareness website valueireland. com, bought a Nokia N95 when he switched from Vodafone to O2, and signed up to the 30 a month package. He says his experience using the technology has been “perfect.”

He uses his mobile mainly to watch TV and videos online, and to listen to internet radio.

He adds: “The trick is to watch out for the mobile provider’s ‘fair usage policy.'” These policies govern what happens when you go over your monthly allowance.

Mobile providers usually turn a blind eye to the occasional occurrence and generally contact you when you are about to exceed, or have exceeded, your limit.

If you regularly overstep the mark, the provider then has discretion to charge you, or even suspend your internet access till the following month.

What happens when you go over the limit?

All the Irish mobile providers we surveyed told us they adopt a fair usage policy in relation to customers exceeding their download limit. But what happens when they decide that you have to cough up for the excess use? Download limits vary from one provider to the next, and it is not possible here to compare like with like in terms of what each provider will tolerate, since each individual case is assessed on its own merits.

What does it cost?

From 7.50 a month for a basic package to 30, on the basis that you don’t exceed your download limit. See table for more details.

Deal of the Week

Danish designer men’s shop Bertoni on Dublin’s Duke Street is closing down, and is selling off its entire stock for a fraction of the usual prices.

Recently we put our money where our mouth is and snapped up a small wardrobe of bargains there.

Jackets (average 180 each) are being let go for as little as 50; shirts costing around 70 are selling at 20 for two; trousers originally around 85 are now retailing from as little as 30 for two pairs, and coats are down from 180 to 50.

A spokesperson for Bertoni said the sale will last at least for the next two weeks, but advises customers to get there early as stocks are flying out the door.

Rip-off of the Week

A packet of four Gillette Sensor 3 razors was selling for a whopping 9.85 this week at Price’s Medical Hall on Dublin’s Clare Street. Meanwhile, just “ve minutes away on Westland Row, the Trinity Pharmacy was charging just 6.99, or 2.86 less.

That’s a difference of 40 per cent!

Tip of the week If you’re a mobile user and you pay as you go, switch to a bill-paying option and not only can you keep your existing number . . . you can also save a fortune in the process.

Recently we did just that. Now we’re saving at least 30 a month and getting 200 minutes more in calls than with the dearer, prepaid option.

There’s a useful calculator at callcosts. ie.

Just type in the type and number of calls you make per month, and it tells you what the cheapest options are. And remember that, no matter what the package or provider is, you can always keep your current number.

Eddie Lennon

 

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