So, where do you get the best deal?
Note that all prices mentioned here are in Euros. At the time of writing, 1€ = approx. £0.66 or $1.32.
USians should also note that over here in France, as in the rest of Europe AFAIK, cellphone users don't pay for inbound calls (unless they're roaming), only for outbound calls. The person calling a cellphone bears the entire cost of the call.
I've been a client of Orange France since March 2001. I had an ordinary monthly plan that included 3h of outbound calls with an option for 5 megabytes of data transferred over the Internet. This plan was also what's called a "shared plan", which for an extra 10€ attached a second cellphone line to the main bill, and both phones would tap into those 3 hours of airtime. The 3h shared plan plus the Internet access was costing me 55€/month.
I thought this was rather costly, so in April 2006 I voted with my wallet and moved to Orange's main competitor, SFR (there is a second competitor, Bouygues Telecom, but they're pretty much insignificant, and calling one of their lines from a land line or VoIP line costs much more than calling an Orange or SFR line). I signed up for one of their "Essential" plans with 2h of outbound calls for one of the lines, and a barebones "SFR Accès" plan for the other. Indeed, I rarely managed to use all of the 3h I had with the Orange plan and my mobile use of the Internet had fallen to a point where it no longer justified having a specific option on top of the monthly plan. So, the new setup was now only costing me 39€/month.
Great. So, not only were the new plans better suited to my needs, but they were also 16€ per month cheaper. The Sony-Ericsson V600i phone that I bought with the plan therefore kind of paid for itself in 4 months.
Meanwhile, I cancelled the subscription on the secondary Orange line and converted the primary one into a pay-as-you-go subscription so that I could keep an Orange line for when I'm in an area where there's no SFR coverage. This line was kept alive by buying 30€ (35€ now with the latest price hikes) of credit every quarter. This is the equivalent of 11.67€/month.
Since then, however, my use of mobile communications has evolved. My use of voice communications and the Internet has risen significantly, I use SMS and MMS messaging much more, and I frequently place international calls (mostly to Belgium, the UK and Italy). All of these operations, except calling national mobile and land lines, are billed on top of the monthly plan with regular cellphone plans like the one I had, so I needed a different plan that would also cover these uses. SFR's "Evolution Pro" 3h plan at 45€/month was just what I needed. Add to that the 2.50€/month for what they call the "MMS Mail" option whereby anything sent to my sfr.net e-mail address is forwarded to the cellphone as an MMS, and the 7€/month for the barebones "SFR Accès" plan on the other phone, and you get a total of 54.50€/month.
By the end of 2006, 3 hours weren't enough, so I increased the plan to the 4h version. This increased the total monthly bill to 62.50€. In mid February 2007 I decided to look into the competition again and ended up going back to Orange. The only fly in the ointment is the fact that I signed my soul away to SFR for 2 years, meaning that I won't be able to cancel that subscription until mid April 2008. What I've done is to bring the plan back down to 3 hours, and next month I'll be bringing it down to the "Essentiel" 2h plan level and cancelling the "MMS Mail" option. The bill for this particular line will therefore go down from 55.50€ to 32€ − a monthly saving of 23.50€. Add to that the 11.67€ of the old Orange line that I'll no longer be paying, and it works out at a total monthly saving of 35.17€.
Orange's 3h "Pro" plan is what I allowed myself to be suckered into this time. It's billed 20.75€ for the first 2 months and 46€/month thereafter. Eventually, this line is therefore going to cost more than the 35.17€ savings I made by slashing the SFR plan down to the minimum, and I'll be paying an extra 10.83€/month for a year (total: 129.96€), but I'll have a total of 5h airtime per month. If I were to switch to a plan with 5h airtime on any one line, it would certainly cost me more than those 10.83€ to do so, so I'm better off in a way.
A few noteworthy details that aren't directly related to Orange's and SFR's "pro" plans (and therefore won't be mentioned in the table below) concern the web and wap sites of these operators. Orange's wap site is defective in that you get a "File not found" error message if you try and access your remaining credit, or an "Unsupported content type" error if you try and access your @orange.fr mail this way.
I have yet to bring this to customer service's attention.
Update 03-MAR-2007: The problem has been reported to Orange's technical services now and is under investigation. Apparently it is linked to the fact that I bought the phone that I use now (a Nokia 6280) SIM-free rather than with an Orange contract.
Update 07-MAR-2007: Orange has confirmed that the problem is related to the fact that the phone's firmware is severely outdated. I now have to take the phone into a dealer 30 miles away who is going to send the it to an official service centre in order to have it re-flashed with up to date firmware. This is going to take 10 days or so.
Update 09-MAR-2007: I took the phone into the store first thing this afternoon. Of course, true to the French ethos of doing as little as possible work to scrape by, they're not actually sending it off to the service centre until Monday 12th. It should take 10 days from then, so nearer 2 weeks in fact from my point of view. Pathetic.
Finally, when the user logs out of www.sfr.net, the path the browser takes to do so is incredibly convoluted. You end up visiting a good half a dozen different domains picking up cookies along the way, some via HTTPS, some via HTTP. The SSL certificate presented by one of the domains, webcare.funinfo.sfr.fr, expired on December 4th 2006.
It certainly looks as if the technical services at SFR are simply incompetent when it comes to managing a web site.
Back to the monthly plans. Unlike regular plans where your remaining credit is expressed in hours and minutes, "pro" plan subscribers start their month with a credit in Euros. The value of any calls, messages, Internet usage etc. is deducted from the credit as and when the operations take place.
So, here's a table in which various operator services are compared. While reading through it you'll realize that switching back to Orange really was a no-brainer and why I'm willing to bear the burden of an extra, "unnecessary" line for 14 months...
Any prices mentioned here include VAT.
A green "+" sign in the "SFR" or "Orange" column indicates which of the two operators gives the cheaper and/or more practical deal for the service being compared. Obviously, if both operators provide exactly the same thing then there is no cross at all. Note for Internet Explorer users: if your browser doesn't display the green "+" signs on a transparent background then it is plainly and simply broken. The image format used, PNG, has been around since 1995 and is supported by almost every other browser in existence. Please consider using a more secure and more feature-rich browser, such as Firefox.
Charges in your home network: SERVICE: 45€ for the "Evolution Pro 3h" plan, 0.250€ per minute. Monthly cost of the 3h plan with a 2-year contract, and price per minute of national calls. 46€ for the "Orange Pro 3h" plan, 0.256€ per minute. By dialling 950 (deducted from your credit at national call rate) or by visiting the web site or wap portal. The information given is sometimes stale by more than 48 hours and the detail of the communications is not given. Consultation of credit remaining By dialling 555 (deducted from your credit at national call rate), as a response to GSM code #123# (free), or online on the web site or wap portal, although the wap portal isn't functioning correctly right now. The information given appears to be updated several times a day and the detail of the user's communications can be given. Yes International calls included in the plan Yes 0.35€ per minute. Cost of national calls once the monthly credit is depleted 0.35€ per minute. Yes Unused credit carried over to the next month Yes 0.51€, 0.61€ or 1.51€ per minute depending on the destination. International calls deducted from the credit (and billed after the credit is depleted) at what rate? Like a national call for calls (while there's credit left) to land and mobile lines in the USA and Canada and to land lines in the 27 countries of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. 0.48€, 0.55€ or 1.40€ per minute depending on the destination in other cases. Deducted from the credit at the "national" rate and billed on top of the plan at the indicated rate. Calls to premium numbers Deducted from the credit. I don't know exactly at what rate but believe that it is simply the indicated price of the call as if it were placed from a land line. Nothing is billed on top of the plan. Only for calls to land lines and cellphones within mainland France. Billing by the second as of the first second For calls to land lines and cellphones in mainland France, the USA and Canada, and to land lines in the 27 countries of the European Union, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. To 3 chosen SFR numbers 24/7, or to 5 SFR or land line numbers between 8am and 6pm on weekdays. Free unlimited calls (3h max per call) To all Orange numbers from 8am to 6pm every day, or to 3 chosen Orange numbers 24/7 Yes. 0.13€ per SMS per recipient deducted from the credit. Sending of SMS messages to French mobile lines included in the plan Yes. 0.13€ per SMS per recipient Monday to Friday, 8am to 9.30pm, 0.10€ per SMS per recipient the rest of the time. Yes. 0.30€ per SMS per recipient deducted from the credit. Sending of SMS messages to foreign mobile lines included in the plan Yes. 0.28€ per SMS per recipient deducted from the credit. Yes. 0.39€ per MMS per recipient. Sending of MMS messages to French mobile lines included in the plan Yes. 0.30€ per MMS per recipient. No. Billed 0.60€ (text MMS) up to 2.20€ (video MMS) per MMS per recipient on top of the plan. Sending of MMS messages to foreign mobile lines included in the plan Yes. 1.10€ per MMS per recipient. Yes. 3h connection time as well as the communications credit. First minute forfeit, counted by the second thereafter. Internet access included Yes. 0.01€ for the first indivisible 10KB "slice", 0.001€ per KB thereafter. Send e-mail by MMS and view received messages by wap only, meaning that you can only use your @sfr.net e-mail address. The data connection provided by SFR does not allow access to SMTP, POP3 or IMAP4 servers. Send and receive e-mails Yes. If a cellphone has a dedicated e-mail application, it can chat with the user's mail server and pick up messages using POP3 or IMAP4 protocol. If the user doesn't have their own outbound mail server, Orange allows them to use smtp.orange.fr for this. Mail can still be sent by MMS and read by wap. Roaming charges: SERVICE: No. Billed from 0.85€ to 1.87€ per minute depending on the countries where the call is being placed to and from. Billed by the second after the first indivisible minute, Calls placed included in the plan? Yes. Counted at 1.00€ to 2.90€ per minute depending on the countries where the call is being placed to and from. Counted by the second after the first indivisible minute. No. Billed from 0.30€ to 0.85€ per minute depending on the country where the call is being received. Billed by the second after the first indivisible minute. Calls received included in the plan? Yes. Counted at 0.30€ to 1.40€ per minute depending on the country where the call is being received. Counted by the second after the first indivisible minute. No. Billed 0.30€ per SMS per recipient. Sending SMS messages included in the plan? Yes. 0.28€ per SMS per recipient deducted from the credit. Free. Receiving SMS messages Free. No. Billed at 0.75€ (text MMS) to 2.70€ (video MMS) per MMS per recipient. Sending MMS messages included in the plan? Yes. 1.10€ per MMS per recipient deducted from the credit. Free. Receiving MMS messages 0.80€ per MMS deducted from the credit. Billed on top of the plan. Initial charge of 1.20€ to 1.91€ for the first 50KB depending on where the connection is being established from, then 0.05€ per subsequent indivisible 10KB "slice". Internet access 0.15€ per indivisible 10KB "slice" deducted from the credit.
Out of the 22 points examined, both operators offer identical services in 4 cases. SFR beats Orange in 3 cases, and Orange wipes the floor with SFR elsewhere (15 out of 22 points).
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