For many smartphone users, calling charges can be an unexpectedly heavy burden. Indeed, the regular smartphone plans offered by the major cell phone carriers are more expensive than those in the past.
For people looking to lower their calling charges, smartphone applications that provide cheap calls offer a possible solution.
The regular smartphone rate plans offered by the major mobile carriers charge ¥20 (S$0.30) (before taxes) per 30 seconds for calls.
Past plans charged in the ¥10 range (pre-tax) per 30 seconds, and the base charge included a certain amount of free calling time, which has largely disappeared with smartphones.
This is why one hears people saying, "My phone bill's gone up."
Such consumers could find relief in one of the smartphone apps offering discount calls.
Compared to calls made under the regular plans from the major carriers, calls made using these apps can cost less than half for calls to cell phones and as much as one-fifteenth for calls to land lines.
Some apps charge a monthly base rate, but even so, their advantages can be significant.
Calls between app users are also free in most cases.
No emergency service
Yet according to smartphone critic Hikaru Nitta, "There are a lot of things people need to pay attention to when using call apps, such as call quality and whether their number is displayed to call recipients."
Most call apps use IP phone or Internet line frameworks, and depending on the transmission environment, there can be voice delays or interruptions.
Also, when calls are made through 050 plus or LaLa Call, the recipient does not see the phone number assigned to the smartphone, but a number that starts with 050, which is assigned by the app.
Skype calls do not even display a 050 number, but show up as "number withheld." To call people who block such calls, one has to purchase a 050 number.
Calls made through Line Call display the smartphone's number, except calls to or from NTT Docomo Inc. cell phones.
In addition, these apps cannot make emergency calls to 110 or 119.
Major players moving in
In addition to apps, there are other ways to reduce your calling charges.
If all members of a family use the same mobile carrier, calls between family members are free.
For a fixed monthly fee, some companies offer discounts on calls to designated phone numbers.
Starting in June, NTT Docomo is planning on offering unlimited calls to land lines and other carriers' cell phones for a monthly fee of ¥2,700 (pre-tax).
KDDI Corp.'s au and SoftBank Corp. also appear ready to reexamine their calling rates.
Consumers should examine all options available and pick the plan that fits best.