back to article Cheap call? Hardly. GSM gateway judicial review to settle whether UK Home Sec can legally push comms watchdog around

Can the UK Home Secretary order Ofcom to ignore its own legal duties? A court case that effectively began with the trial of a GSM gateway operator will soon decide the answer to that difficult, and potentially expensive, question. Years ago, there was a growing market for cheap overseas phone calls. Readers who are grey of …

  1. }{amis}{ Silver badge
    Big Brother

    I hope the home office looses

    As the historical record suggests that allowing any countries interior department to just pull the rules out of their collective asses usually ends in the kind of horror that the Hauge was created to deal with.......

    1. Alister Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: I hope the home office looses

      Personally, I'd prefer it if the Home Office loses, but each to their own, what do you want them to loose?

      1. MJB7 Bronze badge

        Re: I hope the home office looses

        I hope they lose too, but if they do, I am pretty sure they will appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court, and when they lose there, they'll just change the law. (But of course that will still allow the companies that went bust to sue the Government for its illegal actions.)

        1. teebie

          Re: I hope the home office looses

          On past form they'll appeal it, lose, declare that actually they won, then just change the law

  2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

    It isn't Ofcom's responsibility to protect the profit margins of MNO's, despite it frequently acting as though it is.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, Home Office loses ? Big deal.

    It'll just file that along with all the other court cases it's lost.

    Do something ? Why bother ? There are lots of cases where it's lost and just carried on - look at the DNA database for example.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: So, Home Office loses ? Big deal.

      But in this case, if the Home Office lose, then Ofcom is free to ignore them about GSM gateways, and potentially other things.

      And who knows how much of a precedence this will be? Possibly other parts of the government will feel free to ignore the Home Office's demands until they go all the way and get the law changed (which should result in our MPs making a democratic decision, but I doubt many people have much faith in MP's decision-making capabilities right now)

  4. LDS Silver badge

    "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

    Don't know in UK, but Vodafone here (Italy) has still eye-watering price to call many countries, usually those which are not EU, US and a few others. Last time I checked it was around 3-4 euros per minute.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

      At the time, end of the 90s, I had a girlfriend in Germany and lived in Blights, I was paying around 2-3 quid a minute, and back then that was equivalent to over 1.75 Euros (around 3 Deutschmark) to the pound... And that was from a land line, not from a mobile!

      Going through the gateway I was saving around 118-175 quid an hour.

      My memory is foggy on exactly how much the normal BT costs were back then on my tariff.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

      If only there was an alternative way to make voice calls, then you could avoid those charges. For example, something which uses voice over IP, then you could use something more cost effective like mobile data...and....errr...OK, yes, as you were....

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

        Back in the 90s mobile phones didn't do data, just calls and texts.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

          Back in the 90s mobile phones didn't do data, just calls and texts.

          I don't think anyone is disputing that fact....not least of all the original commentard who was referring to the costs which are in place now.

        2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

          ... and if you wanted to update your Facebook you had to phone it in, somebody would dictate it and post out hand written notes to all your friends.

          Phones didn't have cameras so you'd just give the caption, eg:

          A sandwich

          1. short a sandwich
            Coat

            Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

            Is that my missing one from the picnic.

            That one at the back with the crushed cake in the pockets please

        3. Dr_N Silver badge

          Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

          >Back in the 90s mobile phones didn't do data, just calls and texts.

          Wrong.

          You used to even have extra numbers associated with the SIM for incoming fax and data.

          1. Paul Shirley

            Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

            They may have done data, it was so ball tighteningly expensive SIP would bankrupt the user.

      2. Ian Emery Silver badge

        Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

        This case isnt a way to restart GSM gateways, it is to open the way for the operators who had their livelihoods destroyed by the then Home Secretary overturning UK law to suit himself, to sue the government.

        Although as above - good luck with that; you cannot even get compensated for 20 years behind bars after being stitched up by the police these days; they changed the law to make it near impossible.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

          Compensation should be automatic for wrongly imprisoned people, might make the CPS a bit more careful at ensuring they have all the evidence before going to trial...

          I also think they should compensate people when they drop charges or are found innocent in court, since you can spend months or even years on bail only to have charges dropped and have no recourse to claim any compensation or even expenses!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Compensation should be automatic for wrongly imprisoned people

            Yes ... well ...

            In the UK compensation for people wrongfully convicted is only payable if new evidence they were innocent emerges after the conviction. If there's no new evidence, or just a re evaluation of old evidence, than tough titty, no compo. Although they will waive the bill for board and lodging the wrongfully imprisoned get if they do receive compensation.

            Posting from the UK, in case anyone wonders.

          2. Ian Emery Silver badge

            Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

            It used to be automatic, but it was costing the government too much after all the dodgy convictions from the 70's, so the law was quietly changed about 5-6 years ago.

      3. LDS Silver badge

        "If only there was an alternative way to make voice calls"

        That's why I was using Skype to call abroad - even the paid service allowing to call landlines and mobiles is far cheaper than calling to/from some countries. There are other ways, of course, and even if telcos wish to recoup the money lost from the EU roaming rules, smart users won't pay those prices - but I bet they bet on the non-smart ones.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

      those calls abroad are as eye-watering, as before, if not more, I remember in Washington last year, to call a bloke next door would have been nearly 2 quid per minute from my UK mobile. Yet, to call the same number from the same mobile back home, in the UK, I would have paid 1p or something like that. In the end, I simply asked my better half back home to make those calls for me. I mean, I get it that the operators try to recoup some cost from using local telcos, but when they tried to rip me off like that, fuck them, they got not a pence (or cent).

    4. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: "eye-wateringly high per-minute rates demanded by telcos back in the early 2000s"

      @LDS - It's a long time since I had a phone with an Italian SIM (and telco), but I imagine any significant operator, like Vodafone, there as here will offer a choice of different deals. A contract costing several € per minute to phone abroad is for people who don't anticipate phoning such countries.

  5. M0PLT
    Facepalm

    Ofcom ignoring the law?

    Ofcom have never ignored their Statutory Duties, have they?

    The men-in-blank from DG Enterprises told them there can be no barrier to free-trade, so they sit on their hands ignoring EMC regulations.

    They buried the independent EMC report into how polluting PLT is.

    They continue to ignore their Market Surveillance Authority duties by allowing tonnes of non-EMC-compliant junk onto the market.

    They have ignored Openreach's VDSL2/G.Fast pollution of the radio spectrum and failed to enforce the ETSI recommended notches to protect safety-of-life HF radio services.

    I am sure there are far more statutory requirements that they are completely ignoring! If they win this case in court, it will further reinforce their ability to operate independently of any parliamentary control.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Ofcom ignoring the law?

      "I am sure there are far more statutory requirements that they are completely ignoring! If they win this case in court, it will further reinforce their ability to operate independently of any parliamentary control."

      Maybe they are planning on being bestest buddies with Ajit Pai and merging with the FCC?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    years ago, there was a growing market for cheap overseas phone calls.

    I had an opportunity to test what it's like in 2019. In short, it is shit. Only about a few years ago, there were plenty of (dodgy and dodgier) players, and using their subsystem to call abroad was cheap, dirt cheap, although the quality of call was pretty much in par with the price. Then, something happened, and that was, some legislation that made it possible to charge, if I remember correctly, a "connection fee" to those cheap services. I bet it was the backstage lobbying by the big players who suddenly saw that their profits from rip-off charges disappeared. I had no reason to worry about this extra 60p or so connection charge, because I ditched bt landline anyway, and pay as you go three had a roam like at home or something like that, at 3 - 5 p. per minute, for EU destinations.

    Yesterday however, I needed to call one of those non-EU European countries, and the per-minute charge by three is something like 1.5GBP. It suddenly felt like 1990s again. So, I went out in search for those cheap deals. Well, they're as dodgy as they were years ago, only - much more expensive, around 30p/min, and then, they coyly mention, in small print, that "network charges may apply". May apply, you bet, it's charged as per premium number. And then, after much agonising (do I want to have anything to do with the MS ****s? - I went for it. They have a neat feature where you can "port" this call via a special number they generate for you, so you can call it from your mobile (why not directly from skype, as used to be the case), only that the service is shit - I got misconnected twice (even though the number is 100% correct), in both cases I don't even know if the men on the other end of the line heard me. Unfortunately they were not those I wanted to speak to. But hey, MS got something right - I was actually calling the right country (they certainly spoke the language).

    Purpose of this rant? None, other than bafflment that instead of so-called progress, i.e. cheaper calls, less fuss, etc., there's so much harder, and so much more expensive than several years ago. So, if you both use whatsapp or skype, you can fart in the general direction of network operators. But, if you just want to make a quick call abroad, it's gonna hurt you. Ah, and let's not think what happens if the operators decide that brexit means brexit :(

    1. Paul Shirley

      Re: years ago, there was a growing market for cheap overseas phone calls.

      It's a jungle if you just need odd calls and don't want to open an account with a VOIP provider. But at 30p+/min it doesn't take long to burn through more than the minimum topup on somewhere reliable and cheap, with local rate access numbers if you can't SIP.

      Thanks to phone phobia we find it massively cheaper throwing a couple of £ at Localphone each year than having bundled landline or mobile voice minutes even for local calls.

    2. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: years ago, there was a growing market for cheap overseas phone calls.

      My ISP in the UK charge a flat rate 5ppm across nearly the entire world - and no connection fees, so you must be with one of the big telecos, BT started it and TT et al, all happily copied them.

      I call my mum 500m up the road 5ppm

      I call a friend in London - 5ppm

      Swmbo calls her mum in China - 5ppm.

      Yes, you can get Lyco at 1ppm, but the VIOP they use can be pretty ropey sometimes, and they are being investigated for money laundering.

  7. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

    SIP is not that bad

    If you want something that is cheaper and wipes the floor with Skype or whatsoever it's called just pony up £30 a month to a proper SIP provider.

    Zen seen quite good....

    https://www.zen.co.uk/small-business/products-solutions/voice/sip-trunking

    1. Paul Shirley

      Re: SIP is not that bad

      In the typical UK pattern, an old tech made irrelevant a decade ago by SIP will finally have it's legality ruled on!

  8. big col

    I run a small charity for a rare genetic disorder. Most of our members are not in the UK. I have been using a VOIP service since 2003. 10 euros for 120 days of free calls. Then I use the credit.

    On Sunday we had a conference call with our research board in the USA, a 2 hour call cost 1.2 euros. Brilliant service and quality. I hate to think how much it would have cost by standard landline.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Opportunist litigation.

    I’m afraid that I can’t bring myself to believe the ‘heroic effort to support the little people against the evil telcos’ line on this occasion.

    This smacks of someone trying to make millions out of the tax payers’ pocket.

    Much as we may have disliked the rip-off profits at the time, every SIM card used in a GSM gateway was a breach of the T&C’s and explicitly not allowed. The litigants know that and yet they still persist in trying to make a fortune out of us.

    I’m all for challenging the law, its implementation and protectionism but this is simply shameful.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: Opportunist litigation.

      every SIM card used in a GSM gateway was a breach of the T&C’s and explicitly not allowed

      But that's a contractual matter between the litigants and the mobile network operators. This case is about a government minister explicitly "outlawing" their business even though the law as laid down by parliament says otherwise (according to the litigants).

      I think that if you had a business that was legal, regardless of what anyone thought of it, you'd be a bit peed off if a government minister "just killed it" by signing a letter ordering a regulator to change the rules.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So much easier now that my mobile had apps

    I can now talk to anyone over an end to end encrypted connection using one of many applications.

    Must really piss off the home office that they were simply afraid of not being able to track who we all called.

  11. LateAgain
    Linux

    The first real sensible use of asterisk that I know

    Local phones in the UK and somewhere else. VoIP gateway and server each end, connected to each other. All calls routed the cheapest way.

    Simples

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How much?

    After so long this is going to cost an immense sum to resolve with goodness knows how many claimants being lined up. Time to settle pay up and move on perhaps, as it may save the tax-payers' £millions.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. The Mighty Atom

    How does a GSM gateway work?

    GSM Gateways were used in the UK, sometimes by government departments and emergency services, to allow cheaper rate calls from fixed line services to mobiles thus avoiding the high termination charges. Fixed to mobile calls became mobile to mobile and emergency calls continued through the existing fixed line. Calling Line Identification (CLI) could be transferred if the Mobile Networks allowed however the CLI 'Guidelines' from Ofcom weren't mandatory or enforceable. The so-called ban simply reduced consumer choice.

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who to believe?

    There's more twists, turns and subterfuge than a John le Carré novel or a Wikileaks story.

    Someone in the shadows perhaps, maybe determined that progress to legitimising GSM Gateways in the UK is not made.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019