Fonic.png (Disclaimer: I have no relationship or interest in Fonic or its parent company)

Telecom companies and wireless providers are generally not known for their good products and customer service … I think we all have multiple stories to tell on that front ;-)

In fact, on a recent trip to New York I wanted to buy pre-paid GSM voice & data service to avoid being charged ridiculous overseas roaming fees during my week-long stay. After a bunch of online research and visiting several AT&T and T-Online USA shops it appears that it is currently impossible to get cost-effective short-term data access with a smart phone in the U.S. (I’d be happy to learn otherwise).

I heard various explanations and excuses for why that is but the bottom line is that U.S. wireless providers are simply not interested in selling a product that meets the needs of millions of potential customers. Well, I guess ignoring your customers is one way to deal with “a problem”.

Or, maybe, I’m just spoiled by my wireless provider here in Germany: Fonic.de (sorry, site only in German).

Fonic is the pre-paid brand of O2, which is in turn a Telefonica company. Pre-paid is extremely popular in Europe, with a market penetration of 30% to 50% of the total wireless customer base (compared to subscription plans). And for good reason: You are not locked into a long-term contract, you are free to move your SIM card between devices, and often you have very low or no monthly service fees at all – you just pay what you use.

Fonic is one of many pre-paid brands here. What makes Fonic different is a couple of things (these may or may not be exclusive to Fonic):

  • You’re on the Telefonica/O2 network – which has seen major upgrades in the last years and gets you good coverage across the country and HSDPA download speeds of up to 7.2 Mbit/s (yep, you’ve read that right). I’ve actually gotten around 3 Mbit/s on several occasions, but mostly around 1 to 1.5 Mbit/s – which is still quite respectable.
  • “No-fuss, no tricks” data: You get access to all domains and ports (as far as I know) and the SIM card works on any phone – just pop it in, Fonic sends you an SMS with the network settings, and off you go. In fact, I recently received a Skype call unknowingly using wireless data – it worked so well I only noticed later it was not a regular voice call.
  • Simple and very cost effective voice and data plans such as a one day data flat rate for €2.50 and a monthly data flat rate for €9.95. Sure, they throttle your connection after you’ve used 500 MB – but still, that’s a good deal by almost any measure.
  • No termination periods or fees and they even refund you your unused payments.
  • And finally, their web site and customer service is excellent. I recently had a billing issue – they answered the phone within 2 minutes, understood my problem right away, and refunded me the amount within 24 hours. They even called me back the next day to make sure my issue was resolved to my satisfaction. Impressive.

Fonic has certainly raised my expectations when it comes to wireless providers. Makes you wonder why some companies still suck so badly and get away with it.

By the way, Telefonica just reported a 65% rise in net profits for the last 9 months. Seems to me that providing a good product and service at a competitive price is still a pretty good business model. Contrary to all the noise.

Cheers,

– Terrence