Thursday, 2 April 2009

Save money calling 0870, 0845, 0800 on iPhone / G1 : review

(From Simon’s iPhone screenshots on Flickr, with his permission)


If you use an iPhone or G1 mobile phone in the UK, here’s how to potentially save lots of money when calling non-geographic 0870, 0845 or 0800 numbers from your cellphone (for which the mobile network operators normally charge you extra, on top of your usual tariff / inclusive minutes).

Just get yourself Simon Maddox’s free 0870 app. Simon has saved UK consumers who used his software over £20,000 in total between November 2008 and March 2009 – the man deserves a consumers’ award! See all of Simon’s iPhone 0870 screenshots.

The app saves you money by automatically getting you the alternative geographic telephone number (if available), which should be included within your contract minutes.

One thing to watch: if there’s no geographic number available, at the moment it’ll ring the 08 number anyway, trying to get the cheapest option. But you can stop it from completing the call before they pick up, in that case - just end the call when you see that it's still calling an 08 number.

How to get the 0870 app

  1. G1 Android – go to the Android Market via the icon on your phone; scroll down the screen and select Search, and search for “0870”. Install it and open / enable it once installed by opening the app up then tapping on it. (Tap again to disable it.)
  2. iPhone - Apple won’t allow it to be downloaded from their App Store, shame on them, see below (and this funny cartoon “flowchart” seems to sum up their attitude very well!). Contact Simon if you’d like a copy.


Calling 0800 “freefone” phone numbers or so-called 0845 “local rate”, 0870 “national rate” and many other non-geographic numbers isn’t free, or is charged at more than “local” rates, if you call the number using your mobile phone. Even when they’re not meant to be “premium rate” numbers.

Those sorts of numbers were originally offered in order to encourage calls by customers. But in practice it doesn’t work that way – those numbers are instead used as cash cows by mobile network operators who charge you extra for calling those numbers from your mobile – and the calls aren’t even counted as part of your monthly inclusive contract minutes.

In fact, the company or organisation you call gets a cut of what you pay for the privilege of calling them (and often being put on hold for 20 minutes at a cost to you of X p a second) – and so does the mobile phone network provider.

This “revenue sharing” is a very nice little earner for them both, especially when UK comms regulator Ofcom has been pretty toothless about it all - issuing consultation after consultation on the subject without doing anything except continually postponing, isn’t a substitute for real action to protect consumers, and I’ve blogged about Ofcom's 0870 inaction before. Oddly enough, consumers and consumer bodies don’t seem to have been making enough of a fuss about this consumer rip-off either.

Side note: 03 numbers do get treated in exactly the same way as national rate geographic numbers e.g. being included as part of your inclusive minutes instead of being charged extra, so use those if you can. As Ofcom put it “Organisations using 03 numbers will offer consumers a single national point of contact without involving additional charges for the service, over and above the cost of calls to geographic numbers.”

SayNoTo0870 website

To the rescue had come SayNoTo0870 (but again it’s no substitute for proper regulation, shame on Ofcom & the government).

This excellent site lets you look up an 0800, 0845 or 0870 etc number and find the geographic equivalent where possible, which you can then call from your mobile - and have the call time count as part of your inclusive minutes.

You can also be public-spirited and add geographic numbers that you come across which are alternatives for 0870 etc numbers. Often, the numbers that companies advertise as being for use by overseas callers will work for this purpose. Though some businesses have taken to refusing to deal with calls to that number if you can’t confirm that you’re dialling from overseas, boo to them.

Now if you have any cellphone that has a web browser, you can look up a number on SayNoTo0870 online, before you try to call it. But that can be a bit laborious.

Simon Maddox’s 0870 software – and boo to Apple

To the rescue has come someone else: talented mobile developer Simon Maddox.

If you have an iPhone or G1 phone you can get his 0870 application, which he’s generously made available for free, and which (between Nov 2008 and 20 March 2009) saved UK consumers over £20,000 in 08 calls from their mobiles. Which has risen to over £25,500 as at 1 April 2009, and that’s no joke!

I don’t have an iPhone so I can only review the software from a G1 viewpoint. But it’s straightforward – just install and open the app, and enable it by touching the screen (it'll flash up a message saying that it's been enabled - or disabled, if that's the case).

From then on, when you try to call an 0870, 0845 or 0800 on your G1, Simon’s app will intervene and divert the phone to a geographical number or, if none can be found, the cheapest option, based on the data from the SayNoTo0870 site.

It’s so useful for consumers that a T-Mobile employee emailed Simon to ask if they could use it in their stores to help sell the G1!

And yet Apple wouldn’t allow Simon’s app to be downloaded from their App Store, shortsightedly – and in my view wrongly - claiming that it was an attempt to “circumvent carrier features and policies”.

Anyone who can use the iPhone web browser can search for an 0870, 0800 or 0845 number on the original SayNoTo0870 website. Simon’s app just makes it a bit quicker and easier to find and call the equivalent geographic number, and it’s perfectly legal for users to do so, it’s not like he’s whispering “Pssst! Under the table! An illegal geographic number for you, mate!”.

Where’s the circumvention in that? What are Apple going to do next, block iPhone users from going to the SayNoTo0870 website altogether? Apple’s unwarranted refusal here deserves greater publicity, and I hope this blog post will help spread the word.

Only one very small issue from me – I know there’s a line through the 0870 but if Simon changed its name maybe more people would realise what it does and download it? Like calling it “Save money on 0870 calls” instead?

Disclosure: Simon’s a pal of mine. But I ain’t biassed, and you don’t have to take my word for it – the app is free, go try it for yourself!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Theres a new app - the 0800 Wizard on itunes. free and easy to use and gives you free calls to freephone numbers.