With 1.4 million mobile phone tariff choices, operators display arrogance

The mobile phone industry is one of the fastest growing and most innovative to be involved in. Within the space of a few decades there are now over 5 billion users worldwide, with the capabilities of smartphones fast moving to displace laptops as a computing platform, while services like mobile commerce are on the edge of making cash redundant.

Altogether, there has been significant progress from the simple days of mobile analogue voice when the choice of handsets extended to a few dozen, and tariffs were limited and uncomplicated.

But progress doesn't always bring with it ease and simplification, and this is especially true of where mobile operators now find themselves with handset portfolios and tariff plans.

This issue has been starkly illustrated by a recent study conducted by the price comparison website, uSwitch.com.

The research identified that there is an astounding 1,416,417 different monthly contract tariffs and 759 different handsets available to UK consumers from the five main operators (2UK, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone). If you add in the leading MVNOs, pay-as-you-go and SIM-only deals, then there are thousands of more payment options available.

I struggle to think of another industry that could invent such a barrier to consumers than what has been achieved by mobile service providers in the UK--and which is probably true in other "developed" countries.

At the risk of being cynical, has this patently ridiculous situation been allowed to develop in order to make switching to a more advantageous price plan too complicated and frustrating? Unfortunately, this might appear to be correct.

Earlier this year the UK newsletter This is Money revealed that 60 per cent of mobile phone subscribers failed to use their allotted voice minutes, texts and Internet data limits allowed within their monthly contracts. The report claimed that these UK subscribers could be wasting around £200 a year because of being on the wrong tariff plan.

The chance to switch to another contract is also changing for the worse as operators move away from the traditional 12-month period toward 24-month contracts in an attempt to reduce churn and trim back on handset subsidies.

For an industry acknowledged for its innovation this state of affairs is unacceptable. What it cries out for is a new entrant to overturn this slack and arrogant attitude to customer relations.--Paul