Mercury presents its calling card

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The Independent Online
MERCURY Communications issues a new challenge to BT tomorrow with the launch of its phone charge-card service, the Mercury Calling Card, writes Andrew Bibby.

Described by the company as a phone card that never runs out, the Calling Card will enable users to make calls from any phone - including payphones - in Britain, as well as from a number of countries worldwide. The user is later billed directly for the calls.

Mercury says that its card undercuts BT's own Chargecard as well as the VisaPhone service being introduced by a number of British Visa card issuers (including the Halifax). Users dial an 0500 freephone number, key in their Calling Card number and PIN, followed by the telephone number they require. Local and international calls can be made in a similar way in a number of overseas countries including the US and Hong Kong, although in some countries it is valid only for calls to the UK.

The cost is relatively high compared with normal telephone tariffs. A one-minute call to another UK number will cost about 27.6p in peak hours, 21.1p standard and 7.6p off-peak. With older-style pulse dialing, calls are routed through the operator, which costs an extra 50p.

'This is the cheapest means of using the phone when moving, although not as cheap as staying at home and phoning from the settee,' Chris Elliott, product manager for Mercury's card services, said.