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Eir and Vodafone admit charging customers for 'free' FaceTime and iMessage access on iPhones


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Eir and Vodafone are charging customers for using Apple’s free FaceTime and iMessage services on iPhones.

Facetime and iMessage are among the most popular calling and texting services on smartphones, used by thousands of Irish people. Once connected to a data source such as wifi or mobile 4G, they are free to use.

However, Eir and Vodafone say that they need to charge their customers the price of an SMS message at least once when they use FaceTime or iMessage because activating the Apple services involves ‘verification’ through a text message sent to an Apple server in the UK.

“This message is treated as an international text and charged accordingly,” said a customer support representative for Eir. “Any SMS sent from our network to a UK number will be charged and there is no allowance for third party services.”

A spokesperson for the operator said that the cause of the charge lies with Apple.

“In order to activate Facetime on an iPhone, there is a standard process,” she said. “The Apple device will send an automatic SMS when a customer makes the first attempt to use Facetime. This is security step used to verify the user’s handset. Apple decides the location of the destination of the verification text message. For Irish iPhone users, this is a UK mobile number. Therefore it is a chargeable SMS. Apple does not provide an option for an Irish number, which would be free for all customers.”

She said that prepay customers must pay 25c for the SMS while billpay customers must pay 15c. She also said that some customers may be able to use SMS credits included in their bundle instead.

A spokesperson for Vodafone has not yet formally responded to Independent.ie requests for comment. However, customer support moderators on the operator's online customer forums have warned that such charges are levied on customers.

“This charge is valid as an International SMS is being sent,” said one moderator. “We cannot remove this charge I'm afraid.”

The charges are likely to come as a surprise to hundreds of hundreds of thousands of Meteor, Eir and Vodafone customers with iPhones, who may not know about the policy.

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“I can’t believe that Meteor is doing this,” said Nicholas O’Brien, a legal executive who complained about the charges. “How can they charge for a free service?”

A spokesperson for Three said that the operator does not charge for FaceTime or iMessage access or an activation code to verify the account.

The news comes after new figures confirm that use of iPhones has overtaken Android in Ireland. Dublin-based Statcounter’s latest research shows that 51pc of active Irish mobile devices use iOS, which is the operating system for iPhones and iPads. Android devices, including Samsungs, Huaweis and Sonys, now make up 48pc of mobile use here.

A spokesperson for Apple said that the company does not charge for FaceTime.