Discount call centre highlights price disparity, says watchdog

IT’S cheaper to ring Africa or Asia from a discount call centre than it is to call a landline here on your mobile phone.

Hundreds of discount call centres have sprung up in cities across Ireland showing just how expensive mobile phones can be. These centres provide cheaper phone rates and are mainly used for international calls.

The Internet Exchange call centre in Dublin’s Temple Bar, like many other such centres around the country, offers calls to Nigeria for 60c per minute.

By contrast a peak time mobile call to an Irish landline number costs 64c with Vodaphone and 63c with O2.

Although the Meteor rate is cheaper at 25c, it is still more than twice the price of a discount call shop rate to any European country.

Calls from the Internet Exchange to Irish landlines are charged at just 8c while calls to European countries are cost 10-11c a minute.

A standard call shop rate of 33c for calls to Irish mobiles gives an even cheaper peak rate than all O2 and Vodaphone users would have for calls to other mobiles including those on the same network.

Consumer Association of Ireland (CAI) chief executive Dermott Jewell said the expensive price rates would not change until the market becomes more competitive and transparent.

“We need to open up the market with more transparency so people can actually see what they are paying compared to other rates,” he said.

Ireland has three licensed mobile phone operators with a fourth, Hutchinson Whampoa which has been awarded a 3G licence, due to enter the market shortly.

Mr Jewell said it was evident somebody was making a lot of money through setting higher prices for the consumer. “The best way of describing it is that somebody is sitting down and looking at the prices and setting them at what the market will bear and that’s not good enough,” he said.

But a spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation, Etáin Doyle, said the issue fell outside Ms Doyle’s remit.

“We don’t regulate the international call centres as such. We set conditions for competitive prices but after that we don’t monitor the price comparisons between call centres and mobile operators,” she said.

A spokesperson for O2 said mobile phone users were paying for flexibility and that landlines would always be cheaper. “We set our tariffs as competitively as we can. Customers are aware of call charges and we have to offer them the best we can,” she said.

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