It’s a thankless job being a mobile phone network. Every time they try to be nice to their customers, the generosity gets thrown back in their face. The latest example is the mildly ridiculous “we lend our customers a pound” (that’s $2) offer which will likely get the same knock-back.

This is how UK network O2 explains the financial largesse on its website:

“You know how it is, you’re just about to run out of credit and you really need to send a text saying you’re going to be late. Or make a quick call about tonight’s party. It’s always the way. That’s why if you’ve got less than 50p on your phone, we’ll lend you a quid until you next top-up.”

“It’s free as long as you top-up £10 in the next seven days and the £1 is repaid from that top-up.”
Let’s put this into perspective. One pound on O2 will allow you to receive approximately three minutes of calls when abroad, hardly a generous loan at all. That’s to receive calls, by the way, not make them. These have separate tariffs.

The roaming charges are so astronomical on some tariffs, the European Commission has set its sights on having them slashed.
In fact, O2 is the one network that has been trying to wean itself from the morphine kick of call sky-high termination charges, so perhaps giving the company a hard time over a separate and moderately useful facility is unfair. O2 is actually the cheapest network on which to receive calls when you take into account various options.

Meanwhile data roaming charges on O2 are still high - £5 to £7 per megabyte. So O2’s loan offer would afford a user in a tight spot about 200 kilobytes of data before saying “non”.

Mobile operators had priced themselves into a corner with data, but new packages such as T-Mobile’s excellent and Web ‘n’ Walk are turning that round for UK users by offering all-in-one tariffs. So why can’t this apply when abroad as well? Or are mobile operators offering a 21st Century technology based on a 1990’s business model as we all suspect?