Partner Offering Packages With Less Ties, Free Exits

Company acts before regulator pounces

Cellular operator Partner will start marketing package deals for customers without any time commitment and without fines for ending the contract. Partner is calling its new deals Orangefree, and they are intended mostly for families and small businesses with up to 15 employees. Partner will start offering the plans tomorrow in a big media blitz.

Customers who want to join the new plans will pay a fixed monthly rate and receive a fixed amount of minutes to call phones outside of Partner's network. Calls from Partner to Partner phones will be free under 2,500 minutes a month. In addition to the fixed monthly rate, customers can add packages for text messages and Internet use and can also switch to Partner for their home landline phones. The monthly package will include a minimum of 5 megabytes of Internet usage outside of Partner's portal. The deal will also include GPS and various ringtone services.

Pelephone is scheduled to announce its own similar plan this week.

"Over the past two months we have done extended research to understand what customers want," said Yaakov Kedmi, Partner's vice president of marketing. "We learned that the customer was to be free of commitments and with a minimum of surprises at the end of the month. We analyzed the general situation. We are on the verge of the entry of mobile virtual network operators and maybe a fifth celular operator, and some of the players are saying they will provide simple and fair plans," said Kedmi. "As far as regulation is concerned, the trend is to cancel the exit fines, shorten commitment periods and so on. In Orangefree, we are getting ahead of regulation and not waiting for the regulator to tell us how to act." Kedmi said: "We are preparing the company for the future."

Kedmi said Partner is dictating an agenda for the market and hopes its competitors will join in. "The 'free' plan will become the company's focus and will be expanded soon to other sectors," said Kedmi.

Where's the catch?

The new plans may not have any commitment period or exit fines, but it's quite difficult to understand how they work and what they will really cost the consumer.

The "friendly" plan, for example, will cost a family of five NIS 1,040 a month, which gives all family members free calls to Partner phones and another 240 minutes each to other destinations. The "special" plan designed for individuals will cost NIS 198 a month.

"The more [who join], the more attractive the plan will become," said Kedmi. Cellular firms are limited in raising their rates for existing customers, as the Communication Ministry put an end to the companies' practice of unilaterally raising rates while customers were under a contractual commitment. Instead, the companies are trying to increase the price of all those services not included in existing contracts, such as content services, Internet and other value-added services.

TheMarker recently revealed that the three large cellular firms, Partner, Cellcom and Pelephone, have started adding clauses in their contracts requiring a minimal monthly payment even if customers made no calls at all.