Motor Show 1993: Paying the price for in-car telephones: Tony Bosworth investigates the mobile communications market

THERE are now so many mobile phone systems and so many different tariff structures that it is increasingly hard to decide which one best suits you. A wrong decision now could tie you into a network and a tariff structure for the next two years.

The original mobile communication phone systems launched in 1985 were analogue cellular and they are still operated by Cellnet and Vodafone. These systems are aimed at the business user and costs are currently quite high at pounds 50 connection charge, pounds 25 monthly rental, peak calls at 25p a minute and off-peak at 10p per minute.

The advantage of this system is that all the transmitting infrastructure is in place and the system mostly works well, though in busier areas there can still be trouble getting a line, and the call quality is not as good as the newer digital systems. However, cellular is a truly national service, with the best UK coverage yet - some 98 per cent of the population could use a cellular phone today.

Following on from analogue has been the development of a digital network, currently operated by Vodafone - although Cellnet is to start a digital service soon. Vodafone offers MetroDigital and EuroDigital: the former a UK system which is essentially based around the area in which you live. This means that if you make a call from outside the pre-chosen area the call charges are higher.

To complicate matters further, users of MetroDigital can nominate the 'Home Cell', which can be any location you choose. If you opt for Home Cell, local calls from this specified location will be charged at 10p per minute, nationwide calls at 12.5p per minute during peak periods and 5p a minute during off-peak, as opposed to the normal tariff of 20p a minute for local calls and 25p a minute for national calls.

It is obvious this system will have to be simplified and streamlined because it is hard to see why users would want to choose a home-based 'Home Cell'. You might as well use your own BT phone at home and save the pounds 50 connection charge for MetroDigital and the monthly fee of pounds 20. The other problem is that users who dial a number in what Vodafone calls 'the provinces' - where the STD code is different from your own - the charge for calls can be a staggering 65p a minute peak rate.

EuroDigital, as its name suggests, is the European equivalent of MetroDigital, though the pricing structure is easier to understand, and for most mobile phone users who travel abroad from the UK it is probably a better option because it can be used here as well. You can use your MetroDigital phone abroad, but the charges are high. If you have a EuroDigital phone you pay a one-off pounds 50 connection fee, monthly rental of pounds 27.50 and 25p per minute peak call rate and 10p a minute off-peak.

For the future, the digital system has the best prospects because it is a standard which has been adopted by 35 countries and since it is digital it is secure and cannot easily be accessed by eavesdroppers.

Cellnet opens its full digital network early in 1994, initially based around London, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, and rolling out from there during the following 18 months to cover eventually 98 per cent of the UK population.

Cellnet have also reacted to changes in tariffs by introducing Citytime, which gives very competitive tariffs to those using mobile phones in London. Citytime has come about because of competition from the latest rival, Mercury.

Mercury Communications has added another element to the price war by offering free weekend and off-peak calls on their just-launched 'one2one' mobile system. This is not quite as good as it sounds, as off-peak means after 9pm Monday to Saturday, all day Sunday, and only applies to local calls.

Mercury offers two tariffs within 'one2one': BusinessCall and PersonalCall. The former has a monthly charge of pounds 20, peak calls at 16p a minute, off-peak at 8p per minute and calls between two 'one2one' phones also at 8p per minute. PersonalCall has a monthly charge of pounds 12.50, a peak call charge of 25p a minute, off-peak of 10p per minute, and then those local off-peak calls are free. Mercury's peak time is 7am to 7pm.

At the moment, 'one2one' only operates within the M25 boundaries. However, the system will be rolled out to cover more areas and by the end of 1994 it will cover a substantial part of the UK.

Mercury's system looks attractive on the face of it, but the cheapest phone is pounds 50 and even Mercury staff cannot get a discount. While Mercury uses a high-quality digital system it does not run on the same frequency as the other digital system, GSM. This is important because GSM is being adopted by an increasing number of countries and will eventually become the worldwide standard.

When GSM is working well, and Vodafone and Cellnet customers can benefit from it both here and across Europe, Mercury customers will not have the same benefits. The other option is to do nothing and wait for changes in the market, further reductions and refining of tariffs. So, if you can, wait until spring before buying a phone, because by then the sparks should really be flying.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions