ECONOMY

OTE competitors are offering integrated telecoms services

The very attractive packages – which combine cheap phone calls, very fast broadband Internet connections, high-definition TV and video on demand, all paid by a single fee and without fixed charges to former local telecom monopoly OTE – offered by competing telecoms firms are only the beginnings of a competitive telecoms market. By the end of the year, we should expect even more sophisticated and integrated services, offering, for example, the ability to turn your mobile number into a fixed-line connection once you enter home, or the office. This is the so-called «quad-play» that will finally allow customers to pay one bill for all their telecoms services (fixed-line and mobile telephony and Internet). These services are already on offer in other European countries and at lower prices than in Greece. As a result, we should expect more price cuts by the end of the year. Most former European telecoms monopolies have seized the trend and are founding subsidiaries, such as Deutsche Telecom’s T-Home, to capitalize upon it. Even slow-moving OTE is bound to react, as it sees revenue from fixed charges decline. There are rumors that OTE may, once again, double its ADSL Internet connection speeds by the summer, without increasing charges, as it did a few months ago: Still, the broadband speeds it currently offers – 768 kilobits per second (kbps) and 1 and 2 megabits per second (Mbps) – are among Europe’s lowest. Aggressive competitors OTE’s competitors came out very aggressively in the past few weeks, offering packs with no fixed charges paid to OTE. There are two kinds of packages offered: those that combine low-price, or free, phone calls with very fast Internet connections (up to 20 Mbps), offered at prices starting at -15 per month; and the triple play packages, which additionally offer high-definition TV and/or video on demand, starting at -33 per month. These services are offered by telecoms firms that have their own network and do not lease lines from OTE. Such providers are FORTHnet, On Telecoms, Vivodi and Tellas, while Hellas On Line is preparing its own offer. Specifically, FORTHnet offers free local and long-distance calls, calls to mobile phones at -0.1650 or -0.1751 per minute depending on the carrier, Internet connection up to 4Mbps, but no «triple-play» services until summer, at -39.90 per month; On Telecoms offers fixed-line calls at -0.09 per call, calls to mobile phones at -0.17 per minute, Internet speeds up to 10Mbps and full triple-play services at -35 per month for those buying this month (and -60 for later customers); Tellas offers free fixed-line calls, calls to mobiles ranging from -0.1650 to -0.2050 per minute, Internet up to 4Mbps, but no triple-play at -46.95 per month and Vivodi offers free fixed-line calls, calls to mobiles at -0.1680 to -0.2200 per minute, Internet at up to 20Mbps and full triple-play at -65 per month (-33 for those subscribing by March 15). These prices are bound to be lowered later in the year. All offer the equipment necessary for free, and varying activation charges. On Telecoms offers the NOVA digital TV package, as well. At present, these offers are valid only for the Attica region, because the alternative providers must install their systems into OTE’s call centers. This procedure is moving very slowly, according to OTE’s competitors. OTE says there are technical difficulties involved. Consumers who switched phone providers often faced delays of up to two months. Market experts believe, however, that these services will become available to 80 percent of Greece’s population by the end of the year. There are four points in these offers that would-be customers must be aware of: First, in the case of triple-play offers, the number of channels and/or movies on offer is not specified. That is because agreements with movie studios and distributors have not been finalized yet. Second, fax reception is not guaranteed and certain security features may come at extra cost. Third, consumers should know that, in the case of a blackout their telecoms connections will also be disrupted. Fourth, the procedure to be followed if a user of alternative carriers moves to a new home «are not specified yet,» according to a sector manager.