Phone rates as posted

I purchased a Mobal Communications phone to use on a trip to the Middle East, March 11-April 17, 2006. We started in Jordan and went on a ship through the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.

When I got my bill, I noticed that some of the calls from the middle of the trip, around Egypt and the Mediterranean, cost over $5 a minute — the price we normally complain about when we call from hotel rooms overseas.

One of the calls actually appeared as having been made in Iraq! Mobil’s explanation was that some calls made in the Mediterranean area appear that way on the statement. I paid the charges rather than dispute it.

Here is my suggestion to ITN readers. Before buying a phone from Mobal, discuss very carefully with the salesperson the cost per minute of calls made from the area you will be visiting.

While the phone was convenient, I believe buying a local phone card in each country would have been much less expensive, and I would not have had the added expense of buying the phone.


Albuquerque, NM

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Mobal Communications and received the following reply.

Firstly, I would like to applaud Ina Miller’s sound advice to all consumers; with Mobal, as with any cell phone supplier, it is always good practice to carefully check the call rates before you use the phone.

Our call rates are displayed on our website for customers to check, both prior to their decision to purchase and before they travel, so they always have the full picture of our charges before they use the phone.

Regarding the “Iraq incident,” the cell phone network that Mrs. Miller’s phone was using at the time was Mobinil, one of the Egyptian networks; I assume this was during the North Red Sea/Suez leg of her cruise. Mobinil is an unusual network in as much as they provide coverage in two different countries: Egypt and Iraq. (In the GSM world, this is known as “extended coverage” and is a practice limited to only a small handful of GSM networks worldwide; Bermuda, Jamaica and Monaco are the only other ones that spring to mind.) Perhaps surprisingly, in an “extended coverage” scenario it is impossible for us to discern from the call data which of the two countries the calls originated from. This is the reason why we state “Mobinil Egypt/Iraq” on our itemized bills.

We certainly do not intend this description to imply that Mrs. Miller was in Iraq, and by virtue of our stating “Egypt” first, we really do not believe that it should have been construed that way.

We are, of course, sorry that Ms. Miller was confused by this, however we can absolutely reassure her that she was charged at the correct advertised rates for Egypt. (In cases such as these, when we cannot be certain of the call origin, we always charge the lower of the two rates in order to err in the customer’s favor.)

We would like to reassure your readers that the prices we quote on our website are the exact prices that we will charge for calls in that country, and that our itemized bills can always be relied upon to detail the correct origin of the call, subject only to the slight ambiguities brought about by extended coverage as described above.

For the record, Mrs. Miller’s total call spend on this trip was $298.45, and in view of her confusion we did not pursue $100.30 of this total that she had charged back through her credit card company. The total cost of her calls was therefore just $198.15.

ROXZANNA HILL, Customer Services, Mobal Communications, Inc., 171 Madison Ave., Ste. 300, New York, NY 10016