This text originated as an email I wrote in June 1999 to a website visitor who at the time was planning a one year's stay in Germany.
The phone system has changed upside-down. Of course you still can just dial the destination number and expect to be connected, you can still use public telephones the way it used to be for decades, but nowadays you can do it a lot cheaper by using alternate carriers.
If you are expecting to place many or long calls (no matter whether local or long distance) from public telephones, by far the cheapest way to go are
Beware of old public telephones which are still configured to use pulse dialing, so better bring (or buy for 10-20 DM) a pocket tone dialer. Some pulse dialing phones can be temporarily switched to tone mode by the three-key sequence * <
Either bring a calling card one from your home country (check the rates for calls from Germany to Germany, which may be much higher than from Germany to e.g. the USA) or get a local one here (you may need a German street address and a credit card to do that; if you are staying for a year this should be well feasible).
I used to be a satisfied customer of Atlantic Telecom (www.atlantictelecom.de, who bought First Telecom) who were charging 0.14 DM per minute for german domestic calls. In October 2001 the went out of business and transferred all their customers to net-21, which did not finish the bureaucratic actions at the time of this writing. Charges will be similar.
Remember, without a calling card, local calls from public phones are 0.20 DM per minute. This means that anyone using public telephones will clearly benefit from a calling card...
If you want to call home, and a calling card is not an option (or charging more than 0.40 DM per minute), and home is in a well-connected country (these types of word are mine, see below for a list) - in other words, if you are like most tourists or business travellers - there is another big saver:
Call 01803-018018 at the domestic long distance rate of 1.5 units per minute, enter # to interrupt the english language information message (you might want to listen through it the first time though), and then enter the destination number (e.g. 001-415-1234567 to San Francisco). The only drawback is that you have to pay for the entire time of dialling and ringing, so this service is most useful for long calls (more than a minute or two) and when your party (as opposed to their answering machine) is likely to answer.
The list of "well connected countries" varies as the weeks pass by. A current version can be found on the carrier's website at http://www.komserv.net/englisch/nurtext/international/01803/allgemein.htm.
Some additional countries can be called through 01805-024024 at a slightly higher rate (2 units per minute). The list of those countries is at http://www.komserv.net/englisch/nurtext/international/01805/allgemein.htm.
Most (97%) of all telephone lines are still owned by and connected to Deutsche Telekom, who is also writing the monthly phone bill. The standard way to reduce that bill is to use alternate (i.e. not Deutsche Telekom) long distance carriers using the so called Call-by-Call (the english phrase is used in german language too) method.
Simply prefix your destination number with the access code of the alternate carrier (010xx or 0100xx), so e.g. to the USA you dial 01024-001-415-1234567. Many carriers do not require preregistration, so you can just dial them - the charges will appear on the Telekom bill a month or two later.
Unfortunately no charge pulses (each pulse occurs when a charge unit occurs) are generated when using alternate carriers, so any inhouse phone system that requires a timely and accurate bill has to block Call-by-Call, e.g. hotels, hospitals, dormitories. In such cases you have to use the methods described above for public telephones.
There are some 30 carriers that can be used without preregistration (every other month one of them goes out of business). Each carrier has its own scheme of times and distances. Each carrier changes its rates (and sometimes the scheme) every other month or so. In total this means that one can have a pretty hard time finding out (let alone remember) the best carrier for a given destination and time. I personally try to watch, but I could not do that without websites like http://www.teltarif.de/ (in German language). Especially for international calls the market is turning really fast. Expect the rules to change every other week or so.
As of October 2001, the rule of thumb is to use 01024 for calls longer than about 3 minutes and 01078 for short calls. (01078 has slightly higher rates per minute, but they charge by the second, not by one minute increments). Joke of the year: calls to England through 01024 are cheaper (0.069 DM/minute) than daytime local calls through Deutsche Telekom (0.12 DM/90 seconds).
The cheaper carriers suffer quite a bit of overload, so you either need a very patient finger for the redial key, or remember a few alternate carriers.
When comparing rates, also take into account the increments. A carrier billing by the second (such as 01078, you should remember this one) is better than one billing by the minute, especially if your calls are short (e.g. faxes) and the per-minute charge is high (e.g. to a mobile phone).
I have compiled a list of links for easy access (no need to wade through a database).
Except for a few city-carriers, the "dirty last mile" (a.k.a. local loop, the line from the local exchange to the home phone) is still owned and controlled by Deutsche Telekom. They have the monopoly and they know it. So local calls are still pretty expensive (Mo-Fr 9-18: .08 DM/min, 18-21,5-8,weekends: .05 DM/min, 21-5: .03 DM/min, billed in increments of one charge unit = .12 DM).
If you compare these rates with the long distance rates quoted above, there is not much difference. This effect is used by a number of internet providers who are nowadays offering internet access as cheap as 0.03 DM/minute (day round, billed by the second) including(!) the phone charge, no monthly charge, no matter where in Germany (within or outside the local calling area of a major city) you are. This is less than the cost of a daytime local call, so the traditional providers (10-50 DM per month plus the local phone calls) are facing tough competition.
Taken to the extreme, this means
No registration required, PPP username and password are publicly written on the website, billing to the phone line the call comes from. Access is through Call-by-Call, so you need access to a home phone to use these services.
Such services are offered by several companies (comparisons are subjectively mine, I have no relation to them other than as an occasional customer):
website (German language): http://www.msn.de/
cost: .029 DM/min, in 1 second increments
Very liberal terms of contract, they even tolerate entire office networks to be connected through a router.
Requires registration, so you need to supply a german street address and a german bank account number (some providers let you give a credit card or a phone line number instead) that is going to be charged. User identification and billing is by PPP username and password, not by phone-line, so this type of service is extremely useful if you are in a "call-by-call disabled" environment, or at some friend whom you don't want to burden with your internet phone bill. Cost is typically 0.04 DM per minute. Some providers charge a monthly minimum, some charge another 0.06 DM per connection setup.
My former personal favorite (TelDaFax) went out of business in summer of
2001, so I can only sort of recommend NGI (www.ngi.de), but they increased charges in
October 2001, so I have to look for a better one.
Very easy to setup, offer access to proprietary contents, lots of marketing effort, but generally more expensive than anything else. Their proprietaryness makes them less useful if you plan to leave their area of availability. I personally do not recommend them (expensive, proprietary protocols and/or services), but your mileage may vary...
Run by Deutsche Telekom. By far the largest provider in Germany. PPP access, POP3 mailbox is only accessible if you dial up through them (but you can activate web-mail free of charge), their SMTP server silently modifies the sender address, unless you sign up for extended mail service (free of charge, but apparently ).
Used to be a must if you wanted to do online-banking, but nowadays more and more banks are accessible through the Internet.
Medium expensiveness: 50 DM one-time setup (waived if you place the order through certain companies, e.g. when buying a modem), 8 DM per month (includes 2 hours of online time), 0.03 DM per minute online time (includes phone charge).
Access is through an 01910-number which means no charge to the phone line which means you can use it in a "call-by-call disabled" environment.
You might have an AOL account from home, which you probably (I never tried) can use here in Germany. I've heard from americans, that it's possible, but very expensive (several dollars roaming charge per call). AOL is pretty strong here on the German market. There charges have gone down, so that may be an option: 10 DM per month, .03 DM/minute. Unfortunately they use a proprietary protocol (no PPP, so no chance with Linux), the mailbox is not accessible from the outside.
Broad range of organisations, ranging from nationwide commercial to local hobbyists. Monthly subscription rates range from 15 to 50 DM, there should no longer be charges for online time, but you have to pay a full local call (.03-.08 DM/minute), which causes them headaches when competing with Internet-by-Call at 0.03 DM/minute and no monthly subscription. They are an option if you want extras like a fixed IP-address or telnet account.
You probably know them from the USA (e.g. hotmail) and the idea now has reached good old Europe: free email services. You fill a form on the web and then you have a long term, provider-independent email address. In times like these, when changing cost structures can make you change your internet access provider every other month, this is almost a must. The best (in my opinion) freemailer around is GMX (german language, you can chose from various domain names, including .de and .net), but you have a choice (geocities, hotmail, bigfoot, ...).
When choosing a service, watch for this:
In major cities (especially in the large department stores) Internet cafes spring up. They are useful if you want to ckech your email (you will need a web based mail account, e.g. at a freemail service). The drawback is cost: typical charges are around 5 DM per half hour, plus what you eat and drink (at usual cafe prices).
The average user (home or small business) requiring only an email-address and occasional surfing can nowadays get along without any bureaucracy:
Internet access by MSN and email by some freemailer, preferably gmx.net. If desired, add a homepage on geocities.com or crosswinds.net.
If you are going to stay in Germany for more than a few weeks, you might be interested in getting a mobile phone. There are 4 networks (D1 run by Deutsche Telekom, D2 run by Vodafone, E-plus run by E-plus, Genion a.k.a. E2 run by Viag-Interkom). The D-networks have the GSM-900 standard, the E-networks have the GSM-1800 standard. These standards are in use in most countries of the world, except the US and Japan. So check standards before you think about bringing your phone to Germany.
Radio coverage in populated, flat (no hills in the way) areas is reasonable for all networks, but if you are going to live in a rural place, perhaps with hills and forests, check radio signal availability before deciding a network. All networks have their pros and cons (D1 is generally best for rural areas, E2 is cheapest and has a domestic roaming agreement with D1 - guess where I'm a customer ...), but roughly the same cost structure and target audiences.
The GSM standard specifies that the phone number is associated with a so called SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module), not with the phone. So in theory it should be possible to put any SIM card into any GSM phone which then rings on the SIM card's number. In practice, if you buy your phone at a heavily susidized price as part of a "pay as you go" deal, the provider puts a SIM lock into the phone, permitting only that specific SIM card to operate in this phone, preventing the sale of the phone.
As far as I learned, it's quite a bit different compared to the USA:
You pay around 100 DM for a SIM-locked (useable only with that specific contrac/card) new phone (or buy an unlocked used one for around 100 DM or bring your own - check for compatibilty) plus 75 DM (includes 25 DM initial credit) for sign-up. Then you can fill up your account in increments of 50 DM or so and use that credit for calls at high rates: 1.79 DM per minute daytime, 0.69 DM per minute evening, 0.15 DM/minute weekend, billed in increments of 10 seconds, which makes it tolerable. The drawback is that the credit has a limited lifetime, corresponding to a minimum usage of 25-50 DM per year. After the credit has expired, you can still be called for some period of time, typically 2 months to 1 year, depending on the contract.
If you stay in Germany for one year, it might be a useful option to invest in such a contract, let the initial credit run and be callable for the rest of the year. Check whether the contract permits international calls (some do not).
Brand names to watch out for:
This type of contract is very popular for either kids (who don't have a bank account to be debited) or people who want to be callable, but call only in "emergency" situations. Together with a callback or callthrough contract (see below), this may be an attractive option.
Minimum duration 24 months, the phone is largely subsidized (nominal price of less than 100 DM), 20-30 DM per month, 0.99 DM per minute daytime, 0.39 DM per minute evening/weekend. Billed by the minute (badly expensive) unless you opt for a monthly surcharge of 5 DM, which gives increments as short as 10 seconds, an option well worth considering if you expect more than 1 or 2 short calls per month.
If you stay in Germany for one year, it might be an option to invest in a 24 month contract and pass that contract (with then only the second year left) to someone else when you leave (the provider charges a handling fee of 35 to 100 DM for changing the contract partner - check this before you sign). If you can find someone willing to take over your contract, this is probably cheaper than the investment into a phone, as needed for a "pay-as-you-talk" contract.
Minimum duration 6 to 12 months, 60-80 DM per month, 0.49 DM per minute day round. A subsidized phone requires 24 months minimum duration. Probably too expensive for you.
Recently most networks start offering some kind of "local discount", typically reducing call cost to 0.29 DM per minute if you call to the area of a certain city (or the city you are calling from; contracts vary). Check this if you expect to place local calls from your mobile phone.
The single most important money saver is: don't use it, especially not during prime time. Sounds odd, but it's true - the calls are very expensive, everything else is tolerable.
I have a mobile phone with a private contract since 50 months now, but I never paid a single minute of daytime charge, because there are money saving tricks:
It's a difference whether you pay 1.29 DM per minute (mobile) or 0.14 DM per minute (land line)
i.e. call from Germany to Germany by crossing the Channel (to England, as offered e.g. by Atlantic Telecom) or even the Atlantic (to the USA, as offered e.g. by Telegroup) twice. Odd but it works and it will be popular as long as domestic mobile call minutes are more expensive that two international phone calls.
You have to enter into a contract with a callback provider. If you want to call from your mobile phone, call a special number e.g. in the USA, let it ring once or twice, then hangup. After a few seconds you will receive a call from the U.S. and if you answer you get an american dialtone. Then dial your destination number - don't forget the country code. It's odd but it does occur: a call from a speeding train to the very city you speed through by crossing the Big Pond twice.
1 EUR = 1.95583 DM (fixed by european law)
in October 2001: 1 EUR = around 0.90 US$, so 1 US$ = around 2.20 DM
Many strings used in this website are probably trademarks of some company. I fully acknowledge that and use these names only in the intent to identify products and services of these companies.
All information given here has been retrieved from third party sources. It is definitely not complete and probably inaccurate. Use at your own risk. Some facts have been purposely simplified to keep the point clear.
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