Paul Makepeace ;-)

August 4, 2004

Mobile phone maths

Posted in: Phone

After over two years operating a pay-as-you-go phone I finally got fed up of paying rather a lot for rather a little and set about looking for a new phone.

Having had access to a P800 during the Urban Tapestries project I had become pretty excited about the possibility of applications running on phones. I intellectually knew it was a cool idea but until I actually directly experienced it and set my mind in motion as to what was possibility I hadn't really got it. Now, I'm hooked on software running on phones and I definitely want to have an up-to-date runtime to play with.

So how the hell does one choose a phone, carrier, tariff, ....??

Which phone?

So, I wanted a phone with a decent screen and bluetooth. I somewhat was hoping for a phone with a stylus but could live without it. Java MIDP2.0 was a strong nice-to-have as the newer MIDP2 Java spec allows more access to the phone's hardware. MIDP1.0 is based on Java 1.1.4 (AWT!) and is pretty sucky in a number of ways (many of which I don't understand; suffice to note you can't use the camera).

The Treo 600 has a solid feel, real mini qwerty keyboard, and comes recommended by a couple of friends. No bluetooth, not particularly great screen, and no stylus rule it out for me, however.

I quite liked Sony Ericsson's top of line K700 and it has pretty much everything I'd like but reviews (1, others I can't find right now) said the memory's not expandable and the keyboard is squidgy. As a moderate-to-heavy texter this also ruled it out.

I lust after the upcoming S700 but it's a Q4 release.

If you're curious about other phones, there's a excellent mobile review site: plenty of pics, straightforward description, and coverage of pre-release models. The guy's Russian but his English is fine.

I was half-tempted just to get a P900. In the end I was curious how other PDA phones worked. Here's some opinions on k700 v P900.

Another site I spent a lot of time on and found pretty useful was User reviews and wide product coverage.

Tom has an XDA-II and after pestering him for some opinions had a good idea it was a decent phone, albeit as Tom said "more of a PDA than a phone". I'd seen the device in action and knew that its processor whipped the P900–it had an altogether faster feel. To top it, the stylus feels more effective (the P800's is crap; the P900's better).

The XDA-II is only available on O2 which while cheap doesn't have a great rep as a carrier. Fortunately the phone has been rebadged for Orange as the Orange M1000. I've not used any other carrier besides Orange for nearly a decade, have not had a major problem with them, they've won awards (can't cite right now), and I just feel generally familiar with them (can't be rational all the time :-).

So a likely contender was the M1000 from Orange. I'd managed to talk myself into Orange by this stage and only a dramatic price difference would shift that decision.

Which tariff?

I somehow found onestopphoneshop which has a fast interface. When a product selection frenzy is in progress, web response speed is king. It took a fair bit of batting around their site but the basic usage is: pick a network, pick a tariff, then pick a phone.

Any network

First off, unless you really know whom and when you call in great detail chances are you want a "cross-net" plan. These are tariffs specified in terms of inclusive minutes to any network at any time. The alternatives include, say, a number of minutes to phones with the same carrier, or off-peak only. Step outside of that and it's costly. After understanding this I immediately discounted anything that wasn't all-network. Too fiddly, confusing.

Tariff v. phone cost

Many phones these days are free with a £25/month or more 12-month contract; mostly only the big ticket PDA jobs or recently released phones require some kind of outlay. Now I don't actually use my phone a whole lot besides text so intuitively I might go for a low-end £15/month "Your Plan 30" contract which would give me 30mins to any network. That's more than I currently use although that's in big part because of the outrageous cost of pay-as-you-go.

So, clicking Orange -> Your Plan 30 at onestopphonestop leads to phone selection (normally it's in a frame). The M1000 is there at £299.95. Ouch.

Now, here's where the "maths" bit of the title comes in.

Dearer tariff = cheaper phone

Now, take a look at the Your Plan 120 offer. Four times as many minutes for another tenner a month, i.e. another £120/year. Many phones are free and the M1000 is down to £139.99. That's 170 quid cheaper for an extra yearly outlay of £120! So in other words, you lower your upfront cost, obtain way more minutes, AND lower the overall year cost. In other words for a high-end phone a low tariff is a waste of money.

Let's try this again, with a £45/month for the O2 OVP 400 the M1000 is down to a mere £14.99. So our additional 45-25=£20/month=£240/year saves us additional £125 on the phone. Now, the phone outlay is a couple of London cocktails and the talk time is a cancer-inducing six hours forty minutes to any network for an additional £115 over the £25/month tariff.

(As it happens the M1000 price seems to have gone up. I went for this tariff a week or so ago and had the phone for nothing.)

Why a year?

I'm doing my calculations based on a year's use. This is the minimum contract period after which all sorts of official and unofficial renegotiation can happen: handset upgrades, tariff adjustment, and more. So it's a semi-blank slate at that point.

Back to tariffs...

The other plan where the M1000 is that cheap is the Your Plan 400 for £50/month. How to choose?

Tariff Terminology & Mobile Matching

But first: what, one might ask, does "OVP O2 400" mean? OVP means Orange Value Promise and its their name for matching other tariffs. This is reassuring as it's saying anything O2 can offer Orange will match. So OVP O2 400 means O2 400 scheme tariffs but via Orange. Notably, 50 texts are included (about a £3.33 value through Orange) and the off-peak minutes are half as much as Orange. This plan is cheaper than Orange's own £50/month too. It's also the cheapest plan to get the M1000 for almost no outlay.

"First six month" offers

Via onestopphoneshop the, for example, Your Plan 400 is actually the Your Plan 800 for that first half year. If you like the idea of double minutes for a while this could figure into your calculations. Personally, if feels like a gimmick to me and in some ways I'd rather not get into the habit of being on the phone that long anyway.

The actual process

Now, my investigation was far more experimental than this linear presentation might make out. I walked through several nearly-completed purchases to find out where all the costs lay in order to come up with a total plan and total price. Also, having played around on onestopphoneshop's site I re-ran the same process on Orange's own plan shop to compare. Reassuringly, the plans matched up (otherwise I think my confusion levels may have sent me over the edge at that point) and, coupled with my understanding of "OVP", it was all making sense. Why not buy direct from Orange? Their phones at a given tariff are much more expensive.

Texts, GPRS, MMS

Having selected the tariff it's time to decide what extras.

I text quite a lot. As someone who originally thought the whole idea was absurd I'm now a reasonably accomplished T9 predictive texter: I write texts faster on my cheap Nokia phone than the stylus of the P800, even when I glued a modified stylus-nail to my finger. I probably send a couple a day on average so 50-60/month seemed reasonable.

A extras price comparison shows texts at 6.7p each if bought in a pack. The tariff shows them to be 12p each otherwise. The OVP O2 400 (£45/month) includes 50 whereas Orange's Your Plan 400 at £50/month includes none so the latter would be another 4quid/month to a little over match it.

I threw in a megabyte of GPRS time to give me access to the net if I'm out somewhere and I get a hairy call that one of my servers is in trouble or for whatever reason I just have to check email.

The M1000 can't send MMS pictures (grr!) but after much hand-wringing I decided I could live without this. (How I'll cope in Damp Assassins which uses MMS to register "kills" we'll see...)


So in summary I came to this choice by: deciding what I wanted from the phone; scouring review and manufacturer sites to learn about the state of the market; picking a carrier based on polling friends and vibe from the 'net; investigating the cost together of that phone and the yearly tariff including required SMS/MMS/GPRS.

So the OVP O2 400 is looking like a great deal at this point: 50 inclusive texts, tons of time, and a free PDA phone, for £45/month. I went all the way through the purchase at onestopphoneshop and the phone arrived a couple of days later.

Posted by Paul Makepeace at August 4, 2004 19:00 | TrackBack

i would like more offers to othere networks like what 3 are offering. i would like to choose my own tariff on which phone i like.

Posted by: fay mccatty at April 7, 2005 13:44
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