There might just be some rather big cost implications with BT Fusion that the company isn’t overly keen to highlight.
The new BT Fusion service, formerly code-named BluePhone, consists of a Motorola mobile phone and a wireless router called the BT Home Hub. You install said router in your house, and when making calls on the Motorola phone within range of the Hub you pay only standard BT landline rates if you’re calling another UK landline. If you go walkabout, the phone switches seamlessly and automatically to the Vodafone network, and you start paying fairly typical mobile call rates. BT Mobile rates, to be precise.
The service is only available if you use both BT broadband and have a BT phone line, but the advantage is that you get the flexibility of having one mobile phone and phone number, yet are able to make relatively cheap calls at home from the same handset. You also get the convenience of getting a home wireless network, broadband, fixed line and mobile call billing from a single, trustworthy source.
So far, so good. But when you look more closely, it’s not quite so good. For example, what rate does someone pay if they call you on your Fusion handset while you are at home? Do they pay the standard rate you would pay when calling a fixed line, or do they end up paying mobile rates, because the call is being routed to your Fusion handset? We asked BT, and they haven’t told us yet. They said fuller pricing details will be announced in September. We think calling someone on BT Fusion will mean paying mobile rates, whether they are at home or not.
It’s a big question, because it means that your granny’s calls to you at home could suddenly start costing her a bigger chunk of her pension. She may not know she’s calling you on a mobile tariff, because as far as she is concerned she’s calling you at home.
But there are other hidden cost implications. With BT Fusion, while calls to UK landlines originated in the home will be charged at BT landline rates, all other types of call made in the home are charged at mobile rates. Specifically, BT Mobile rates, which are 10p per minute for calls to other BT Mobile users, or 30p per minute for calls to other mobile networks.
It also makes international calls a little dear, to say the least. Call Hong Kong from your Fusion phone and you will pay 50 per minute at any time. If you had left your trusty phone plugged into the wall socket and were on a price plan like BT Together you’d pay just 12p per minute at peak hours in the week, and 8p per minute in the evenings or all day on the weekend.
Call Australia, and BT Fusion customers pay 30p per minute at any time. BT Together customers on a standard landline pay 22p at peak times during the week, but just 9p per minute in the evenings and all day on the weekends.
BT Together costs as little as £8 per month and includes BT line rental. BT Fusion requires BT broadband (£17.99 per month), a BT line rental (another £10.50 a month) and a BT Fusion rental package too. The BT Fusion rental options are either £9.99 which gets you 100 free, anytime cross-network minutes, or £14.99 a month for 200. But BT also said that these packages are merely "launch pricing", whatever that means. Even so, the minimum is £38.48 per month to start with.
The long and short? If you’re a relatively light user of your phone at home, or only really call other landlines, and want the convenience of having one handset to make and receive calls at home or out and about, BT Fusion ain’t that bad. Particularly if you are a BT broadband customer anyway, or if you tend to use the phone for not much more than the 100 or 200 ‘free’ minutes.
But if you use your phone at home a lot, particularly to call mobiles or internationally, you’ll probably find it works out far cheaper to stay on a standard fixed line package like BT Together. Of course, you’ll have to pay for broadband separately if you want it, and you will also have to pay for a mobile service separately should you want one – who doesn’t these days?
Our take? It will gradually seep out that call costs with BT Fusion are a little pricey after the first ‘free’ minutes. BT would have been better to make calls made from home on BT Fusion exactly the same price as for standard landline customers on a package like BT Together, instead of matching them only for calls to other UK landlines. The proposition is less attractive as a result. Ultimately, BT Fusion will help BT retain existing broadband customers, but will probably not drive huge numbers of new customers.
That’s a shame, because the scheme could have been attractive to a much wider audience if BT had been just a little more generous. Besides, BT could have done with something really dramatic to try and stem the tide of people taking to Skype, which is free to call other Skype subscribers. 80,000 new subscribers are believed to be signing up every day. BT Fusion may be BT’s attempt to stem that tide, but if it doesn’t bring down the prices even further it doesn’t go nearly far enough to do that.