What’s So Great About Circles.Life (and what’s wrong with our Mobile Data Plans)?

Those who knows me will get an earful from me when talking about the local Telcos and for good reasons. I rant not because I love attention but I just had enough of companies shortchanging their customers (looking at you too Apple). But this week, my prayers are answered and for good reasons I am ranting here too for everyone’s benefit.

Warning: TL;DR ahead…but once you finish reading the whole thing you will benefit by helping you to save more and get a new phone every year.

If you just want to have a comparison then just scroll down to the bottom and you will see the numbers.

I do have other two articles that briefly touched on mobile plans. One started because I was reviewing a HTC phone and the other, on Chinese phones. This article is an update to the two blog posts.

The Common Thread in the 3 Telcos: Keeping Customers through ‘Subsidised’ Phones

One thing is very clear: our local telcos, M1, ST and SH, all retain their customers using new mobile phone to entice them to stay with them. Of course from a customers point of view it is seen as an embryonic relationship: the telco get me a new phone at a discounted price and they have a customer for 2 years. It looks good but is it?

Those who are in business should know that if a client orders a product in bulk, there is a very high chance there will be some discounts given to the client. Those who are in sales knows this because suppliers can sacrifice a bit of the profit margin to gain more profits and the buyers can get their stuff cheaper. The question is, did the Telco use this discount and benefit the consumer in the form of a ‘Phone Subsidy’? 

Unfortunately we can’t know for sure because the billing is opaque at best and transparent it is definitely not. For an informed customer, this is definitely not good at all. Why? I use my experience in Australia as a comparison.

How Do the Australians Do it?

How do the Australians bill their customers? By pricing the phone at full price and then repaid over the duration of the contract like an instalment plan. This is on top of the mobile phone plans of course. For example, you buy a 600 dollars phone on a 30 dollars plan and you will pay 600/12 (months) + 30 per month = 50+30 dollars. The good thing about this is that the bill is reduced to 30 dollars once you paid off the phone instalment for the remaining of the contract.

Now herein lies the billing system of Singapore and again – it is NOT transparent. After the typical 21 months of contract with the Telco, assuming 21 months is the instalment plan period, a logically thinking customer would expect their phone bill to reduce to say 30 per month too right? But no we don’t. We keep paying the same amount even after our contract ends on the 24th month. That is also the reason why people are re-contracting because, by not re-contracting, you are paying more with nothing to gain (a new phone). The three telcos are basically laughing their way to the banks if we don’t re-contract to make use of their ‘phone subsidy’.

And quite honestly, Singaporean consumers are suckers when it comes to new phones. See something sexy new and they want to get it despite paying obscene amount of money. The telcos know it and they exploit it to the maximum. Not convinced, go down to the maths section and have a look.

Conclusion: We need our bills to be separated into mobile bills and Smartphone purchase bill. A CLEAR BILL will help a consumer to make the best decision.

What has happened since the 12GB downgrade?

Have a read about this newspiece when SingTel downgrades the mobile data plan and expose the true reasons behind the move though we shouldn’t be surprised.

“SingTel’s decision to cut data caps for smartphones is a big step toward better data monetisation opportunities for Singapore telcos. That said, the short-term impact will be minimal as the majority of 3G data users do not exceed 2GB of data a month.”

The key points

a) Monetisation (for Telco pocket)
b) Assume that majority of 3G data users don’t use beyond 2GB of data a month (this is a stupid assumption that I think hampered the growth of Singapore IT too!).

Fast forward 4 years later and what do we see here? With more Singaporeans Facebooking, Instagramming, Snapchatting and with more businesses such as Qoo10, Lazada, Amazon and Zalora getting online through the use of mobile apps, it is inevitable that data usage will increase. I have not even talk about gaming, listening music and reading news online.

Furthermore, all the apps are increasingly more complex and hence will require more data to run. Right now I am already doing 360 degree VR photos and videos with Facebook and Instagram has 10 photos spread per post.

So you tell me NOW is 2GB enough for you? Even a retiree Uncle friend is lamenting and he hardly uses Facebook (till this day he curses the M1 sales person for saying 2GB is enough)!

And who benefits more when everyone upgrades their plans with more data? Yup you guess it: the telcos.

And the worse part? 4G. Yes, 4G actually makes you use the data faster.

Analogy: Data is the distance on the stretch of road and 4G is a sports car. The sportscar will definitely reach the destination much faster than a slower car. You will definitely use up your Data much faster. That’s not all. When there’s new technology or increased complexity with apps, then your data will definitely increase. In the past, we have 2G with WAP, we hardly touch anything, then come 3G with HSDPA and now is 4G (actually LTE is 3.5G aka still 3G). Every improvement means more data throughput and usage. It is a given and we can’t escape that.

Conclusion: WE NEED MORE DATA as we are more integrated with online services.

Our Telcos’ Pissed Poor Products, Services & Customer Retention Programs 

With the Telco earning more money through data, it is only to their benefit that people keep upgrading from the old plans to the newer plans so they can earn more by selling you more data. Besides, I am with StarHub (yup thanks to reverse take over of SCV) and ST and both gives me next to useless things just to stay with them at little to no significant cost to them.

Now you tell me, redeeming points to watch a new channel for a month…does that add any value to me?

And the Telco is really not endearing themselves to the customers in areas that are important. ST MioTV? Answer: EPL they totally messed it up for everyone and I still remember the screw up in broadcasting on the last day of the EPL season when the title can go three ways. M1? Okay what is M1 doing to will make me remember them?

Then there is (lack of) customer service. Want any help? Call them? Let’s see how long that takes us. I have a friend who will definitely not going back to Starhub just because he is kept waiting for an hour to return the set-top box. How to convince people to stay with you if you can’t even treat your exiting customers right? They are seriously not helping themselves.

Only in Singapore, you are forced to suck thumb AND pay good money for thumb sucking products and services. i.e. Even on contract plans we are paying more as a result.

Seriously…these are technology companies and yet they make us feel as though we are living in the dinosaur age.

Here are some examples

a) SMS
b) Phone call
b) Cable TV business model versus Internet TV Netflix services. Go figure.

The three telcos basically are packaging these three stuffs as though they are the things we are looking for now. SMS is hardly useful until Mastercard/VISA/SingPass wants to authenticate us. How many times per month? Surely it can’t be 1500 SMSes, can it?

Phone time is something that I would say it depends on people. Sales executives and Managers definitely need more for it but for the vast majority of the customers 100mins is really enough.

So I still don’t get it why Telcos like to dangle more SMS and more talk time in front of potential customers when these are the two things people DON’T WANT. How in the world do you expect people to stay with you?

Oh yes ‘Phone subsidy’…but for how long will this work when good budget phones such as Samsung A series, Xiaomi and ASUS can be had without breaking the bank?

Conclusion: WE NEED MORE DATA at more affordable prices without the unnecessary things.

What’s the Solution or what we want out of our Mobile Phone Services?

The management of the 3 telcos are not budging for the last few years and certainly not responsive to the changes in the industry as I mentioned above.

Here I spell this out for you what I think what most people are looking for.

  • 100min talk time or minimal or pay only when used
  • Minimal SMS (or pay when use)
  • Keep bill simple
  • Affordable
  • Making it easier to change data, phone and SMS when I nearly want to hit the limit
  • More Data
  • More Data
  • More Data
  • …yet more Data

If still cannot see hor God help you. But that is exactly what our 3 telcos are doing…they turned a blind eye. Please lor they are not naive! And the underlying reason is hoping that Singaporeans don’t see the contract trap.

Enter Circles.Life and Make A Comparison Between Contract and SIM-Only plans (The Maths Part)

Now we establish what we want then it is to see who can give the best at a given data level. My current plan is around $48 for 12GB, 100min talk time, 500 SMS. I can very safely say no current sim only plans from any of the telcos can match it. So what is out there right now? Let’s use 4GB as the common denominator.

SingTel Combo 4GB

  • 400 min talk time (free incoming)
  • 1300 SMS
  • 4GB data
  • Caller ID
  • Cost: $82.90

And that leads me to Circles.Life and let us look at their basic tier. For most of us this would be enough as I have shared above.

  • 100min (free incoming calls add $2)
  • 0 SMS (however free in-coming SMS good for Bank and SingPass 2 factor authentication. Otherwise $0.05 per SMS sent)
  • 4GB+2GB data [Note: Included 2GB additional data promotion if you port till end of 2017]
  • Caller ID
  • Cost: $30.00 (I added the $2 to make it comparable to SingTel)

And to be even fairer I will also add SingTel’s SIM-only plan (they have a 12 month contract that gives you 150min and 500SMS. You ask yourself if that’s what you need or not but I will keep it at 100min and 500sms as the minimum with no-contract.)

  • 200 mins (add $5.35 with free incoming calls)
  • 0 SMS (free incoming)
  • 3GB + 1GB (add $5.35) Do note SingTel 2GB free is via WiFi so to be fair I didn’t add that in.
  • Caller ID ($5.35)
  • Cost: $ 36.05

And we have not added in our mobile phone yet. Using Huawei as an example, the phone retails at $898 and SingTel wants you to pay $198 upfront. The cheapest retail price I have is $755 from Kasiamobile (as on 8th March 2017).

Total Cost Comparison After 24 Months

SingTel Combo 4 total cost = $198 + 82.90 x 24 = $2187.60 ($82.90 per month charged for every month not contracted)

SingTel SIM Only plan = $755 + $36.05 x 24 = $1620.20 ($36.05 per month charge for every month not paying off installment)

Circles.Life total cost = $755 + $30.00 x 24 = $1475.00 ($30.00 per month charge for every month not paying off installment)

As most of us know, we sometimes do trade-in our old phone and the start off cost can be lower. This can be higher when trading in at the Telco but my experience says the difference between shops outside and at Telco is quite negligible.

Even if I take trade-in into account for the contract plan, the total cost for the contract is still at $1542.90 ($1740.90-198) which is still more than the SIM-only plans.

So I ask – Where’s the so called “Phone Subsidy”? What happened to the bulk discounts the Telcos received when ordering from the phone manufacturers since the Telcos themselves are also retailers?

Secondly, some of us think paying $755.00 upfront with cash is really painful so that’s why there is the interest-free instalment plan to help you pay for the phone making this a moot point in the current context.

We go back to the Australian model again. They have split the bill between phone repayment and mobile plan payment so when you have paid up with the phone, the mobile plan bill will be the only money you pay, ensuring you save more and subsequently keeping you as a customer.

Not so for the contract model – you still have to pay $82.90 per month if you choose not to re-contract and assuming the base cost of the mobile plan is $30.70, you are basically subsidising SingTel $82.90 – 30.70 =  $52.20 per month or over $600 per year!! You can basically buy a new very capable mid-tiered handphone every year!!

The longer you stay in a contract plan without recontracting you are losing big time. Basically the Telcos are saying “Pay us more for staying with us beyond the contract.” But should you re-contract or find a better non-contract solution? The answer is so obvious – buy your own phones and go non-contract.

Conclusion: Circles.Life total cost is cheaper with 0% interest-free instalment and the bill stays at $30 even after paying off the phone.

2017-03-08_12-36-54

Enter Circles.Life with their 20GB for $20 Add-on ( March 2017)

But that’s not all, Circles.Life just announced their $20 for 20GB add-on. So our sums have to change again. This time using 24GB as the main basis of comparison.

SingTel Combo 12

  • Unlimited calls
  • Unlimited SMS
  • 12GB
  • Addtional 12GB (12 x 10.70 = $128.40)
  • Cost: $368.30 (for a total of 24 GB)

SingTel SIM Only

  • 200 min
  • 1300 SMS
  • 3+20GB
  • Cost: $137.70 (for a total of 23GB + 2GB on WiFi but is a marketing gimmick lah)

Circles.Life

  • 100min (free incoming calls add $2)
  • 0 SMS (however free in-coming SMS good for Bank and SingPass 2 factor authentication. Otherwise $0.05 per SMS sent)
  • 4GB+2GB data [Note: Included 2GB additional data promotion if you port till end of 2017]
  • Caller ID
  • 20GB ($20)
  • Cost: $50.00 (for a total of 24GB. I added the $2 to make it comparable to SingTel)

I think the numbers speaks for themselves. Again, do you really need unlimited calls and unlimited SMS? Again for most of us, NO.

So What’s So Great About Circles.Life?

When it comes to money matters I think this is very convincing already. But what makes Circles.Life really great is not the price although that is a factor to consider, it is really their unparalleled customer retention program that is sorely missed in the three telcos.

Just look at these points

  • Every friend you recommend, you will get 200MB of data so long the friend stays. What’s more, they get $20 off registration fee so they pay only $18.
  • After every 6 months, you will get 500MB more per month if you stay with Circles.Life. So after 1 year with them you have 1GB more on top of your friend referral program and can potentially grow beyond what you practically need for more data usage.
  • 1GB free when you download their CirclesCare app.
  • WhatsApp data usage is free (that means using WhatsApp doesn’t count towards your data usage)
  • The additional data stays with you if you stay in Circles.Life.
  • Want to change details of your plan can just do it via their app. On the fly because there’s no contract. No need to call anyone.
  • They don’t throttle your data when you hit limit. They will auto add 100MB so you just have to pay for it lor.
  • Their customer service is lauded by a lot of people (just go Facebook and see how they respond to obvious trolls)

Any catch? No catch. This is what customer service and loyalty program is all about. Just automate, DIY and stick around!

And these are the reasons why it makes Circles.Life great!

I however do want to suggest this to Circles.Life after talking to some people: Allow customers to convert their earned data to Voice or SMS as they deem fit. This is very applicable as majority will have enough data to use at 20GB. Any more earned data if they stay with Circles.Life is potentially wasted and any customer who feel they are wasting money on things they don’t use is basically a no-no in my books.

Sounds too good to be true?

Very good question. Like it or not Circles.Life is tied to M1 as their telecommunication ‘supplier’. We do have a precedent though called Virgin Mobile. Virgin Mobile was hampered by their high costs and features not favoured by most Singaporeans. I try not to introduce any conspiracy theory but with SingTel as one of the major shareholders, there was obvious conflict of interests that led to the early demise (only 1 year in operation). You can read more about it here.

This may lead us to think that M1 will do likewise if Circles.Life is successful. I can only say M1 will be killing a potential huge cash cow if they are as short-sighted as SingTel.

Think about it, if M1 loses their customers to Circles.Life it is more like the money going from the left pocket to the right pocket. I can only hope the Infocommunication Media Development Authority (IMDA) will know what to do if M1 wants to play punk.

Then there is also the concern about M1 telecom infrastructure and the connection speed etc. I agree this is something to consider and so the best way to find out is asking friends or colleagues who are Circles.Life users who frequent the places you go and ask them how is the connection. And I must say too, the mobile phone handset is also a consideration when it comes to connectivity strength.

What of the Contracts Phones moving forward?

Quite honestly if Singaporeans quickly wake up to the fact that they are paying too much for too little things, all the good for us consumers. I sincerely hope they scrap the contract model since it does not add any value to customers.

It is precisely the time when I see SingTel lowered the free data data from unlimited to 12GB and then, horror of horrors, 2GB I immediately know SingTel is taking its customers for a very long ride.

Like all oligopolies, StarHub and M1 followed suit thereby shortchanging their customers as well. This is not planned by the government surely but how not to be surprised when the data trunk lines are owned by, you guessed it, SingTel? If SingTel is profiteering why the other 2 don’t do so?

So yes, no matter who you are following, up till Circles.Life you are basically slaves to the 3 telcos unless you plan to go AWOL or swears off modern communication. Or you like me, keep the super old plans that gives you more value for the money you are paying to these money suckers.  Now you know why the G wants to introduce the 4th Telco because the 3 jokers are now an effective cartel.

If Circles.Life is very successful in this, it will cause the 3 telcos to relook at their SIM-Only plans that at the moment cannot compete with Circles.Life 26GB for $48 deal. Their contract model basically can go die lah.

Circles.Life is just so effing fantabulously good that I liken the move as the great spanking of the 3 telcos (and that also makes Circles.Life great!)

But I do want to applaud M1 for doing something unthinkable. Friends who are on their old 3G 12GB plan have been upgraded to 4G automatically without additional costs and that like my old plan is creating a barrier for me to leave. At least M1 is fighting for their customers. SingTel and StarHub? They are hopeless.

How about the phone brands that are in partnerships with the telcos? I can tell them start to save their marketing dollars and concentrate on helping the retailers to sell their phones directly to the customers. Please bring down the costs of the phones to reflect the reduction of marketing costs the Telcos are demanding in return for exposure on their marketing channels too. Really with the proliferation of online stores selling phones online (last check Oneplus 3T is only selling 500+) the phone brands – Samsung, LG, Huawei, Oppo, Asus, HTC better buck up…one notable exception is Xiaomi but they always like to sell old phones to Singaporeans.

Can our Mobile Plans be better?

Oh definitely. The Australian TPG Telecom is now chosen to be the 4th Telco operator in Singapore and I quickly go and check out their offerings in Australia but this was before the nuclear bomb Circles.Life dropped.

TPG Telecom

  • 10GB (Excess Data $10 for extra 1GB block)
  • Unlimited Calls and SMS to all AU numbers
  • 100 International Minutes (basically you know this is for International students)
  • Cost A$39.99 or S$43

As you can see, even Australia has beaten Singapore Telcos in the value of being offered (apart from the Circles.Life)! Here’s looking forward to TPG’s entry into the market! The 3 telcos ought to be spanked more for resting on their laurels for the past 3-4 years.

And yes, I won’t be shopping for new mobile contracts during the IT Show. I will even cancel my StarHub Home Hub this year too! I will update on this journey as well. Any questions or mistakes I have made please let me know! Will be glad to help.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a Circles.Life customer and definitely not an Ambassador. I am just sharing my views as someone who is mightily pissed off with SingTel in 2012 (on top of the EPL fracas on MioTV) and then the rest of the Telcos by the time they reduce everything to 2GB.

USEFUL Site: Since Circles.Life is using M1 infrastructure, good to know the actual performance of M1. You can read all about it here

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4 thoughts on “What’s So Great About Circles.Life (and what’s wrong with our Mobile Data Plans)?

  1. Thanks for the helpful post, Wilz. Love how you break down the cost for us.
    Very positive that Circles.Life and eventually TPG Telecom will give the current 3 telcos a run for their money, which in turn hopefully benefits the customers.

    Like

    1. Hi QtMonster.

      Thanks for the comment of thanks.

      I would like to thank you for reading all the way through the end.

      The breakdown is just one of many ways to look into buying a phone with contract.

      The good thing now is that manufacturers now sell directly through other channels.

      Hence we can get Xiaomi MIX without going through Xiaomi official channels too (with obvious risk).

      With the ability to get good and affordable phones these days, gone are the time where we pay through our nose for a decent smartphone.

      There remains a disquiet. M1 used to be the first one that disrupts the industry but where are they now? Doing the same thing as the other 2 dinosaur telcos.

      They used to represent youth and vitality that’s why the sun is part of their corporate image against Singtel’s red umbrella.

      I just hope Circles.Life don’t fall into that trap because as the management gets older, they settle into this rut that all of us goes through and get less sensitive to market needs.

      Like

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