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Revealed: how mobile firms have shafted you

IRELAND is damn near the most profitable market in the world for hulking, multinational mobile operators like O2 and Vodafone.

Figuring out the cheapest operator is tougher than cracking Fermat's last theorem. It's retail 101 -- bamboozle your customers with ornate pricing plans and they'll be too confused to switch

There can be hundreds of euros in the difference. Is it any wonder that Vodafone and O2 each make profits of about €1m every single day?

In a bid to cut through the waffle and spoofery, the Sunday Independent has extensively analysed price plans and typical domestic and business-user data to highlight the true extent to which Irish customers are been plucked clean by the big corporations.

Tech-savvy multimedia users

SO you know what all the buttons on your phone are for. The phone is used for more than arranging pints, it's an internet-browsing, games-playing, music-downloading, posing device.

Meteor doesn't have a broadband service but it does have data packages. These aren't cheap and shouldn't be touched with even a very large stick.

Apart from 3MB of internet-browsing, our average technology-savvy customer downloads four games and one track each month, making 184 minutes of voice calls, as well as a minuscule amount of voicemail, directory enquiries and UK calls. There's also 165 texts per month totted up in our calculations. O2 and Vodafone are pretty expensive compared with 3.

However, way, way, way heavier voice and text users ought to look at Vodafone.

Cheapest: 3 Talk 200 Anytime, €53.42 per month

Avoid: Meteor Talk 200, €84.69

Saving: €375.24 per year

Small businesses

THE networks will wow and confuse you with various tariffs and free call packages. The importance of this lucrative sector was demonstrated by the fact that all the networks fought tooth and nail to pooh-pooh the usage patterns and our suggested tariffs. We've included two separate user patterns.

Industry averages suggest that a single SME phone customer -- such as a sole trader -- may gobble up about 1,451 minutes per month, with another 122 minutes in voicemail, 15mb of internet use, 150 texts, 40 minutes of UK calls and a small amount of roaming business.

Free calls to other company phones on the same networks can drastically reduce the prices.

Best: O2 Business Unlimited, €199.96 per month

Avoid: Meteor Business Edge 1000, €253.12

Saving: €638.04

Larger SMEs

THESE deals can also be skewed by the addition of free intra-company calls.

For the purpose of this exercise in comparison, we've stripped them out completely. But for a client who would normally use about 2,412 voice minutes and 409 texts per month, with the same other usage patterns as the sole trader, the price differences are smaller.

But O2 romps home plum last, although its prices are far cheaper, if free calls between same network phones were included.

Best: Vodafone Wireless Office, 1500 €342.45 per month

Avoid: O2 Flexi 2500 €366.46

Saving: €288.12 per year

Bog standard contract

MEET Mr or Mrs Boring. This is the average contract customer. They probably drive a silver car, have 2.3 children and spend their evenings glued to Gerry's Ryan's 'Transformations'. Sound familiar?

Industry estimates suggest the average sucker uses 396 minutes of voice calls each month, 170 texts, with a further 18 minutes of voicemail, one minute of directory enquiries and they -- apparently -- download one game per month. Bet it's Tetris.

Assuming that your mobile operator has put you on the right tariff -- they don't always -- the prices are all within about €2 of each other.

Cheapest: 3 Talk 400 anytime, €69.73 per month

Avoid: Vodafone Active Life 250 €71.45

Saving: €20.64 per year

The mobile broadband user

MOBILE broadband is supposed to be one of the most competitive parts of the market at the moment. It's certainly the major success story for the industry, with about 90,000 brand new customers signed up last year.

Meteor doesn't have a broadband service as such, but does offer data packages, which accounts for its poor showing.

Our average user ploughs through a hefty 10MBs per month, plus 181 minutes of voice calls, a few voicemails, 37 texts and a couple of international sms forays.

The Meteor bundle is about as competitive as the San Marino armed forces, but Vodafone and O2 aren't exactly great value either. For heavier voice and text users with lower browsing needs -- just 1MB per month, 3 spanks O2 severely.

Cheapest: 3 VideoTalk 200, €33.35 per month

Avoid: Meteor Talk 200, €67.35

Saving: €333.36 per year


TRAVELLERS -- airplane rather than caravan ones -- get caned by the mobile operators. Basic EU roaming costs have been cut but Vodafone, O2 and Meteor charge 59 cent per minute to make a call in Europe. This is miles more expensive than 3's 39 cent per minute rate.

Receiving calls on Vodafone, Meteor and O2 costs 29 cent per minute, against just 19 cent per minute at 3. It's a no brainer.

Our average customer uses 157 voice minutes, with another 22 minutes of voicemail calls. Add 18 minutes of international to EU calls, a couple of international to UK calls, as well as 35 minutes of UK and EU roaming, 140 texts and 53 other international sms communications, and the bill starts to get scarey. Especially if you're on the Vodafone Perfect Choice 200 packages.

This could cost you up over €260 a year more than 3's cheapest offer. O2 and Meteor are also bad value.

Cheapest: 3 VideoTalk and Text 400, €84.76 per month

Avoid:Vodafone Perfect choice 200, €106.58

Saving: €261.84 per year

DIG out your latest bills and check it against our figures. Or try www.callcosts.ie, the excellent cost comparison website operated by state telecoms regulator Comreg, or check with an independent retailer like Carphone Warehouse. Switching operator is easier than falling off a greasy log -- and you could save hundreds of euro each year.