Unlimited calls? Not quite

Computercentric don’t offer unlimited call plans for a fixed fee, because they almost always end up costing you more money. Here’s how…

We’re completely transparent with our call costs. It doesn’t matter if you have an analogue phone line (PSTN) or a digital phone line (ISDN), or SIP trunks or VOIP extensions on our VirtEx cloud system, we just charge you a competitive market price for the amount of time you were on the phone, and the rate you pay depends on the type of number you called (landline, mobile, international etc…)

We’re often approached by clients to give them an “Unlimited call” package, and we don’t do it. We’re often faced with having to explain to customers why the quote they’ve got for their new phone system which includes “unlimited calls”, is probably not what is appears to be….

A single phone line with unlimited calls?

We don’t see this too often, but we still have customers being sold to, usually by BT retail. The salesperson will tell the customer they can get unlimited calls on their PSTN phone line for a fixed monthly fee. Sounds great doesn’t it? However if you tot up the inflated price of the line rental, and add in the “unlimited call package” price, you’re probably looking at monthly fee which is higher than you would be paying if you just paid for you calls separately, at a fair price. Couple that with a few other tricks that they use to get their money back, which you can often find in the small print.

  • The 1 hour call limit… If your phone call goes over an hour, they will start to charge you by the minute, at a very uncompetitive rate. 
  • Going off plan… If you call any numbers which are not “on plan”, eg international numbers, VOIP numbers, or some mobile networks, you will pay by the minute, and at an extortionate rate.

The above are basically revenue recovery tricks used by large telephony providers to recover the costs of your phone calls when they sell you an “unlimited” call package. Bottom line, in 95% of cases you’re actually better off just paying a good rate for your calls.

The other limiting factor is the fact that they often provide this package on separate single PSTN phone lines. Which is of no use to a business with more than a handful of staff, as a single person with a single phone can only make a limited number of phone calls. For businesses with multiple phone lines or a cloud telephony solution, there are more tricks to get the money back off you!

Inflating the service charge

This is most common with hosted VOIP systems sold by large providers. VOIP / SIP hosted solutions attract a rental fee for the number of extensions or features you have on the system. Instead of charging you a fair market rate for the extension rental, it is inevitably over-inflated to cover your expected call costs.

By way of example, we recently quoted a client for a hosted phone system for 10 users. Our price at the time of writing was £5 per month per user, plus calls. Total cost £50 per month, fully inclusive of support and maintenance, call costs extra. Our competitor was very keen to sell their solution on the back of their unlimited calls package. The client could make as many calls as they wanted to UK mobiles and landlines and it wouldn’t cost them a penny!

In reality, the competitor’s rental price was £11 per extension, total monthly cost £110, so more expensive than Computercentric, but the client would “never pay a penny more”, whereas with Computercentric, their call costs could be sky high!

Of course this is nonsense, the client in question had a monthly call spend of around £40 based on our competitive rates, so they would be better off paying for their calls. And this doesn’t factor in the off-plan calls either. The client made a lot of calls to the USA, on our system these would be charged at around the same price as their UK national calls. The competitor was selling them at over 15 pence per minute, hidden in the small print of their rates sheet, meaning they would be clawing back even more cash from the client.

It is often the case that in a business with say, 20 handsets, only a fraction of those people will be heavy phone users, eg. the sales department. So why should you pay a higher-than-average rental price for those people when they don’t make as many calls? We think this is unfair, so we don’t do it. You’ll almost always be better off just paying for the calls you actually make, than paying a fixed fee to cover calls you might make!

Bury the call costs

This is becoming more and more common… Especially when we see competitors selling their phone system bundled alongside other services, like leased lines or other ethernet internet connections. They will advertise attention-grabbing headlines like “unlimited calls”, but then load back in their charges by inflating the cost of the bundled leased line, or levying other fees like maintenance costs, support fees etc…

Hide the call costs in the long-term contract…

Another naughty trick we see quite a lot, particularly with BT, and particularly with their bundled Cloud Voice systems. BT have announced conveniently vague plans to remove their ISDN and PSTN voice lines from the market in 2025, and stop selling them from 2020. This gives them a very good reason to pressure customers into upgrading perfectly serviceable and reliable ISDN-based systems into SIP-based systems, with a bundled leased line. They generally do this on a 5 year (!) contract, meaning you will be paying the same in 5 years time that you are paying today. It is widely understood that pricing for leased line / ethernet internet access will drop significantly over the coming years if this phase-out of ISDN takes place, otherwise the phase-out cannot happen due to pricing being barrier. This basically means the provider can reap the benefits of your 5 year contract after wholesale rental prices have dropped, but you are stuck in an expensive contract. Where’s this cash going? Well to pay for your “unlimited” calls of course.

How to avoid being caught out 

  • Firstly, read the small print.  The old adage applies, if it looks to good to be true, it probably is.  If a company is offering you free or unlimited calls, you are paying for them somewhere.
  • NEVER sign a contract over 12 months.  This is worth repeating, so I will.  Never sign a contract longer than 12 months.  Technology around service provision, especially communications is changing fast, faster than ever, and that includes pricing.  We have one exception to this rule, and this when it comes to a leased line service, as these generally attract better pricing over 3 years, and it’s not something you should need to chop and change suppliers with.  However when it comes to a telephony solution or any other sort of service, you don’t want to be tied to any supplier.  Why should you be?  We’re of the opinion that if the service works well, you will keep using it.  Be especially aware of long term agreements from the likes of BT, whereby they bundle their leased-line service along with the phone system.  There is ABSOLUTELY no need for them to do this other than to tie you in, upsell to you, and make more money.  Do bear in mind, some providers will offer “no up-front costs” with the installation of a phone system.  To do this, they are financing your purchase of the system.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and we encourage our clients to use finance to help cash flow when it comes to large capital purchases like a phone system.  However if your supplier is offering you a phone system with no cash up-front, ask them to separate the finance of the hardware from the services they are providing, to allow you to change providers if you are not happy in future.  There is nothing wrong with financing a large capital purchase over three or five years, but there is ABSOLUTELY no reason why this means you are tied to the same supplier for the period of the finance.  Always insist that a provider provides separate agreements for their finance and their service.  If they won’t do this, ask yourself why, then walk away.

Typical telecoms salesperson bullsh*t includes:

“We need your commitment to allow us to get the best prices for you”

“Your commitment demonstrates you are taking this seriously”

“The contract is about protecting your rights too

  • Do an accurate comparison of costs.  I mean do it yourself, don’t rely on the supplier saying “you will save X over the next 5 years”, unless they can back this up with a full analysis of your phone call activity, they are probably lying!  Always ask yourself, is the person trying to sell this to me on a commission?  If the answer is yes, as it is with most telecoms sales people, their opinion is not valid, and we would advise you consult an expert who is independent or less biased, or do your homework!  The only way to do a fair comparison of costs is to calculate your total rental and service fees over a given period, and make a good estimate of your call costs, based on the numbers you actually call. To do this, you need an itemised phone bill.  We recommend calculating your total number of local, national and mobile calls, and your international calls.  Get the rates sheet from the supplier and work out for yourself how much you would be paying.  Some suppliers (including us) will offer to do this for you, and we can provide a full breakdown of our workings so you can see for yourself.  If a supplier is telling you you will have little or no call costs because they are “unlimited”, unless they have checked your call habits, they don’t really know, and the reality is, you will be paying more.

Why don’t you use the same tricks?

We get this a lot.  Even from our competitors and other suppliers who will often ask us, why we don’t just play the same game.  It’s simple really, we offer a wide range of services to our customers, and our core offering is our IT support service. We provide broadband and telephony services ourselves to simplify things for our clients, and to make our lives easier by avoiding having to deal with other third-party providers on behalf of our clients.  Because with not just a telephony company, we can afford not to use the same tricks to make money.

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