Bob Elliott explains how to set up the most cost-effective telephone line in France
GET THE BEST SERVICE
Orange is the national carrier; it is the dominant supplier and not surprisingly one of the most expensive for most expat needs.
Orange owns the telephone line network and most of the exchanges. Alternative providers either have their own exchanges or equipment in Orange exchanges. They also have agreements with specialist suppliers such as UKtelecom who resell and manage these services, and you can expect to pay less for services from these competitors.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
You can now choose to have your new line installation managed by your preferred alternative provider and have the services managed by them. The line remains the property of Orange and is maintained by engineers that have been engaged by them as subcontractors.
If you wish, you can buy your phone time and broadband from an alternative provider to Orange. There are several to choose from and they all have different offers, with a small number offering services specially put together for the expat market.
One advantage of using a provider targeted specifically at the expat market is that communication will be in English, which is particularly helpful when dealing with technical matters or if you need to ask questions about your invoice.
Once you have your new services set up, do not be surprised if you receive unsolicited sales calls from Orange, Free, SFR or other companies who will have bought your details from a website used to ascertain the speed of your broadband service.
One of the biggest unexpected problems you may have after receiving such a call is to suddenly find that all your services have been transferred to that company. The usual reason for this type of miss-sale is that their telesales staff are paid commission for each sale and they may not be there in a few months’ time. They have little or no interest in your needs and leave in their wake many dissatisfied customers faced with considerable expense to put matters right.
Most frequently a sale is made on the basis of changing the broadband service from a service applied to your telephone line, known as ‘dégroupage partiel’ to ‘dégroupage total’. The latter ceases the low frequency ‘voice’ range on your telephone line and sends all your calls over your broadband service.
The benefit of this arrangement is that the line rental charge of €16 per month is no longer payable, so the saving is attractive. Your line must have a minimum of 2Mb speed for the quality of the voice service to be satisfactory and in our experience few telesales staff undertake this simple test before making the sale, so you should make sure you check yourself.
INSTALLING A NEW LINE
There are two types of lines used for private homes. The first is the standard analogue line, which is permanently active.
The second is known as a ligne résidence secondaire which can be suspended when not in use, and therefore does not incur line rental charges when temporarily disconnected. This second option is not available for your main residence and it is not suitable for most broadband services.
TAKING OVER A DISONNECTED LINE
If your line has either not been used within the last two years or disconnected for more than two years, you will need to provide the name or telephone number of the previous subscriber for the line to be reactivated remotely at a cost of €55. If you do not have this information and Orange cannot identify the details from their own records it is likely that an engineer will have to come out and the charge will be about €130.
Look out for the broadband trick. You are likely to be asked by Orange if you want the line for broadband and if you say ‘yes’ they will most likely interpret this as you wishing to take their broadband service – so simply say ‘no’. This makes no difference to the line’s properties and your preferred supplier will install your broadband service on it in the normal way.
YOUR DIRECTORY ENTRY
The telephone preference service: Like most countries, in France you can opt out of receiving unsolicited sales and marketing calls. The service is known as liste orange and is free.
Choosing to be unlisted or ex-directory: This is also free and you can register online if you did not do this when first applying for your line. As usual you will have to provide an email address and a contact number.
When placing your order you can choose from a number of free features to be placed on your line. These include:
• Last caller information
• Choice to withhold your number
• Choice to permanently withhold your number
• Choice to be ex-directory
There are several additional features that have charges associated with them. The most popular include:
• Call waiting
• Number display: see the number of your caller
• Name display: see the name of your caller
• Call forwarding
CHOOSING YOUR PROVIDER
There are two main factors that affect which provider people choose. They want to benefit from any possible savings but also desire a good customer service.
There are several areas where all companies find it difficult to reduce costs. For example, line rental reductions are not generally available and the broadband market only has four main suppliers so competition is poor.
As a consequence, there is little to choose between many providers on these prices but there are very real differences in respect of calls to international landline, mobile and premium rate numbers. It is here that you will find any difference in pricing.
You will find many call packages providing unlimited calls to an identified number of destinations. The main French companies concentrate on making offers that reflect the calling pattern of French nationals who make very few international landline and mobile calls and rarely call overseas marketing numbers.
As a consequence their apparently unlimited call package may exclude these types of calls and the ‘pay as you go’ rates for them will be high compared with those of specialist providers. Most expat calls to overseas landlines and mobiles tend to be much longer than those made by the French home market and therefore unforeseen costs can really mount up.
None of them include overseas marketing numbers, often known as nongeographic numbers, which are widely used by banks and insurance companies for example. Packages that include mobiles are not generally available because of the high risk of abuse, but this is likely to change.
There are some that offer calls to French mobiles as part of the call package and if you make very few calls to overseas mobiles this will be a good service to consider.
Whoever you choose do not expect UK 0800 and similar ‘free’ numbers to be free when calling from France. The owners of those numbers pay for you to call them only when your call originates within the UK.
For example, if you are calling from France all providers will have to charge you to get your call from France onto the UK network. All the main French companies make high charges for these types of calls while specialist companies serving the expat market are likely to offer better value.
Many people choose their provider on the price of an unlimited package alone, not considering the cost of these other calls. If you have just moved to France or your French home is not your main place of residence, you are likely to make many calls to overseas mobiles and nongeographic numbers, so do consider carefully how you choose your supplier.
Bob Elliott is Commercial Director at UKtelecom
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