The next generation of coverage, speed, services has brought us the next generation of mobile phone plans. No, the odd characters in the title are not shorthand for me swearing, but rather the mandatory footnote tags that appear in every single (mobile) phone advertisement you will see, referring you to the all important information in the footnotes. The beloved asterisk, dagger, caret, and pound symbol are essential qualifiers these days to what used to be simple words like “plan”, “fee”, “anytime”. Don’t you pine for the days when “anytime” actually meant “any time”?
The early days of mobile phone billing brought us my favourite item in the smoke-and-mirrors toolchest: 30-second billing. This was (allegedly) introduced as standard because of limitations of switching equipment to record call durations in anything more finely grained. This in turn was probably a throwback to the days of the metered pulse, when STD calls were rated by the number of pulses (each worth 25c) sent down the line during the call – the faster the pulses, the more expensive the call.
The real benefit of this was to allow pricing to be expressed with very low headline rates, like “10c per 30 seconds”, an accurate yet very deceptive statement, because implicit are the words “or part thereof”. The 30-second billing means that a call for 31 seconds is charged the same as one for 60 seconds, etc. This translates to a margin booster of something like 10-15%.
This became standard practice for all mobile carriers. Telstra and Vodafone did and still do some 1-second billing, however the value of being billed only for exactly as long as you call is still vastly underestimated by the calling public.
Now Telstra’s NextG has pushed it to the next level, and introduced 1-minute billing in their NextG plans. This is actually standard practice in the USA, where most plans are expressed in terms of the number of minutes you get per month. The margin boost for 1-minute billing would be of the order of 25%+ which enables further obfuscation, and a great way to show how much better NextG is compared with that tired, old 2G network.
I wonder if it this the beginning of a shift in plan structure toward a USA-like model? Or simply the Next Generation of tricking customers?