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ShakenNotStirred asked:
In places that have it, how does "calling party pays" work? How is a person billed who calls a cellphone, not knowing if the person is picking up locally, or maybe halfway around the country? Is it based on local rates, or how far away the cellphone answerer is? Would the calling party be billed differently if he had ATT, vs Spring, or someone else, or had a cellphone account himself? Sounds confusing, and may be the reason it wasn't adopted here in the first place - just guessing. I assume it was decided that cellphone owners should be billed, to get the technology adopted as soon as possible. How was it that other countries have it the opposite?

I'll try to answer briefly, as a cellphone user on both sides of the pond.

1. In Europe, the first generation cellular carriers each had their own area code. Other phone subscribers were expected to know that a call to the cellular area code would cost dear (IIRC - ~$0.40c/min).

In the US, cellular carriers used the same area codes as the areas where their customers lived.

2. No European country had roaming because the geographic areas were too small. I know that UK analog didn't work in France, I don't know if there were international roaming arrangements elswhere.

In the US there were no carriers offering homogenous nationwide service (most didn't offer any nationwide service). Roaming was the only way to get service away from your home area (often as small as 1 county).

3. Europeans of limited means (i.e. me!) could get a cellphone with a low monthly rate and use it almost exclusively for incoming calls and emergencies. It wasn't a problem giving out the number to lots of people because they would pay to call you. If it was a friend calling, you could switch to a land phone at the earliest opportunity. Carriers (AFAIK) all had single calling rate plans - much simpler.

In the US cellphonnes stayed in the hands of the (relatively) rich. If yoou had a cellphone, you were very careful who you gave the number to - a nuisance call from a double glazing saleman would cost you dearly and him nothing. Various plans emerged with "free minutes" and "evening/weekend rates" to satisfy the American appetite for needless complexity.

4. GSM came on the scene with worldwide coverage. For the first time roaming became a serious issue. The way the system works is that the caller pays for a cellular call in (or to) the country of registration, the cellular customer then pays for the international call from their home country to the place where they receive the call. I recall a situation recently where one GSM customer placed a call in the UK - it was picked up by a UK cellular operator (he was billed for the UK cellular call) - it was forwarded to his home carrier in Singapore (he was billed for one international call) - it was then routed to the number he dialled in Australia (he is billed for a second international call) where the recipient lived - the recipient's carrier forwarded the call to a UK cellular operator (probably the same one - she was billed for the international call) - finally she receives the call and (this is where it all breaks down) I don't know who pays for that last bit of airtime. This really happened - although they were only doing this to show off.

American cellphones are useless as soon as you board the plane :-(

4. I think the current trend in Europe is the "disposable" phones - buy them with a one-off charge which includes so many minutes, keep receiving incoming calls as long as you like.

In America the trend is for plans which include large numbers of free minutes. Most digital plans now include at least some free incoming minutes. Flat rate fees across the country are still very new but I think they'll become the norm.

My view is that the world will converge towards a system where subscribers pay only flat-rate monthly fees & per minute charges are eliminated. International roaming will continue to cost (until sufficient mergers and alliances have driven the price down) and international calling costs will be the last to disappear.

I hope that accurately sums up the historical differences and goes some way to explain the evolution of the services in America & Europe. I wonder how much the history will effect the future...


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