back to article The 99p mobile phone: What's the catch?

Carphone Warehouse started selling a mobile phone for 99p on Friday. Alcatel OT-209 mobile phone The handset is basic and ugly - an Alcatel 0T-209 - and you have to buy £10 Virgin Mobile PAYG credit. And that's it? Yes, that's it: there is no catch. It really is the cheapest PAYG on the market - about £4 less than the …


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  1. M Gale

    Shows you how cheap things can be.

    Okay so it's not going to have a gigahertz Snapdragon and fifty gajillion wotsits of RAM, but I have to wonder how much of a phone really is costs and how much is packaging?

    Mobile phones being sold in Poundland. Whatever next?

  2. Will Leamon


    As anyone who watched The Wire knows these phones are also very well suited for the art of drug dealing.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    nothing wrong with it

    I still keep my 6310i as a backup phone and it boots instantly compaired to these so-called smartphones.

    1. Brad Ackerman


      Er, AC, the 6310i was possibly the best phone ever built, for values of phone meaning something that places and receives telephone calls over a GSM bearer. They go for thirty bob or thereabouts on eBay if you ever get tired of it.

      Badgers, because there aren't any mushrooms are snakes to choose from.

      1. Rasczak

        Much Cheapness


        They go for thirty bob or thereabouts on eBay if you ever get tired of it


        So a 6310i on eBay is only 51 pence more than the phone in the article ? Why would you want to sell the 6310i then ?

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Best phone EVER

      Nokia 6310i? Absolutely the best phone ever. By comparison everything since has been a terrible combination of rubbish phone and feeble, pathetic and pointless PDA. Especially the iPhone.

      I still mourne mine.

      My sixty-three ten i

      At last began to die

      No signal was found

      Interred in the ground

      For my Noki I sometimes still cry.

      Seriously Nokia - just make the bloody thing again. You'd sell milions of them! Maybe a colour screen, but just that OK? Nothing else different. Same software, exactement le meme, savi?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Honestly ...

    It looks perfectly OK and functional to me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Honestly ...

      What he said ...

      Were it not for the fact that my old Nokia 6300 is still perfectly functional, this sort of thing would be perfect for slinging in my saddlebag for long bike rides and/or keeping in the glovebox of the car for emergency use.

      Function beats form every time, and that's coming from someone who owns several devices from a certain Fruit Company ;-)

  5. Giles Jones Gold badge

    No camera

    I'm sure people will moan that it has no camera, no MMS etc.

  6. Andrew Woodvine

    The catch

    Is the required £10 Virgin top-up surely?

  7. David Given
    Thumb Up


    It doesn't look bad to me --- basic and functional, and not trying to be stylish, but neat and well designed. I like the rounded ends; they'd make it fit much more easily in a pocket.

    Incidentally, did you see the battery life? 4.5 hours talk time and *three weeks* of standby time!

  8. J Lewter

    It's about time

    That we finally got another cheap, functional, useful, PHONE.....

    Todays generation of kids are morons quite frankly.. My generation has tried to go from 7" super-low res to 50+ inch HD quality displays. Todays generation wants a 4" screen that they can watch a 3d film on with 7.1 audio (WTF)...

    This college kid came to train with us once, and his biggest complaint was that he didnt have enough money to live off of.. He was spending more on his phone than most people spend on a mortgage, and only having 1 pack of non-branded pot noodle every day to fund the habbit... sad...

    1. Joshua Sugarman

      Re: It's about time

      Well that's a pretty sweeping statement...

      So todays generation of kids can use iphones, develop their own applications at times, use computers in quite an advanced fashion compared to the average older user, and yet they're "morons" compared to an older generation who clicks on every popup warning them of a virus?

      It's "morons" like you who think young generations are just "morons"!!!

      Onto your latter point - OMG you had a bad experience with a college kid...? Right...! I've had bad experiences with older people, yet I don't think the entire generation are a bunch of morons?!

      Society changes with technology - As smartphones become the norm the young generation knows nothing less - This doesn't make them dumb at all - It makes them a part of society. Either grow with it, or don't, but there's no need to complain and insult others...

      1. [Yamthief]
        Jobs Horns

        Re: Re: It's about time...

        People are always going to want the latest gadgets - you'll have to look past the general public that want an Apple branded product purely because their friends have one. You'll see a hoard of people using (and developing for) e.g. Android devices - then sharing their source code. There are thousands of people out there using the technology the way it's supposed to be used rather than paying through the teeth for a toy with which they won't use 90% of the functionality.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Sometimes the "morons" have no choice.

      I was in the queue wanting to ask about a replacement battery. Ahead of me was a young couple. The guy was explaining to the girl that this phone does MMS, video, apps, you name it. He was tapping around, stuff was flashing by. The girl says "can it make phone calls? I only want to make phone calls". Salesgirl was about to respond when he cuts in with something so damn technical I wasn't able to translate it. It looked as if girl AND salesgirl's eyes glazed over.

      So because this bloke is obviously a bit of a prick (in several senses), his girlfriend probably has a confusing overspecified gadget that she has little idea of, or need of, the myriad of non-phone options. You might call her a "moron", but with a boyfriend like that....

  9. Mike007

    ever met an honest salesman?

    only 99p*

    *as long as you hand over £10.99 for it


    *as long as you stay under the limit

    how come sales tossers are allowed to get away with such blatant lies?

  10. pctechxp

    Thief prof

    They are unlikely to want to nick this so its probably a good idea if you are going through a rough area.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thief proof

      I suspect you've no idea of what a rough area is. If you ever do go through one don't expect this phone to offer any kind of disincentive as the general tactic is nick first see what you've got later.

      1. Marky W

        @ AC

        No, no, no, no, no.

        The original posters title was actually correct, despite your well-intentioned correction. He was referring to highly educated ne'er-do-wells who wouldn't touch this phone with a barge pole. Your 'Raffles' type, rather than your 'Artful Dodger' type.

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          thats ok then

          at least you'll have your phone to call a taxi in when you've had your face kicked in and your trainers nicked.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    I'll buy one but....

    Why the insistence on a £10 top-up voucher? Surely I can manage that when needed. Or why not £ 5 top up ?

    By the way, is it locked onto Virgin or I can use my regular SIM card? Any ideas ?

    Paris cos, its cheap now, yet functional.

    1. NogginTheNog

      Probably because

      CPW need to make *some* money on the offering, and Virgin Mobile are probably providing the SIM and contributing to the subsidised price?

    2. Rich 30

      its becuase..

      Carphone will be buying those phones for somehwere between £10-£15 each. If they sold it at 99p they would loose money. If they sold it at £10.99 they would likely loose money too. BUT becuase its coming with a new Virgin PAYG sim, which has been activated and topped up, Virgin pay Carphone a commission (£10-£20 suggest). Virgin pay this commission becuase they hope you will continue to use their network, and as i'm sure a lot of us know, voice calls generate a lot of profit per minute, and texts cost networks nothing. This commission is where the profit comes from. Certainly not from just selling the topup, where i think they'll look to get about 5%.

  12. Richard Scratcher

    How big is it...

    ...compared to say a laser printer toner cartridge?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What, like an iPhone?

      My Nokia 1112 is exceptionally basic, yet very much smaller and lighter than any smartphone I've seen. For a while, they were getting smaller, but now they've started to grow again, and are now frankly back to 2001 proportions, which is just weird.

      1. Code Monkey
        Thumb Up

        Smaller phones

        I've just gone back to my old T303 after my HTC bricked. It's effin tiny and Droppy Shapes Game whizzes on anything I've found in Android Marketplace. It might even stay bricked.

    2. TIMMEH

      Missing the point?

      It's not a matter of how it compares to a smart phone, but whether you can fit a bomb in it. Best delete this comment before the government bans phones that weigh more than 100g.

  13. Octopoid

    I've had a cheaper phone

    From - it was £9 and came with £10 of O2 credit. I can't remember the make and model, unfortunately.

    But yeah, 99p for a phone? I expect to be paid to carry something like this away. :P

  14. zxcvbnm

    I wouldn't

    But who wants a phone locked to virgin for £11?

    If you use a cashback site like quidco you can get an unlocked basic nokia for about £7 including a ten pound sim card from lots of places like . I've had several cheap phones in the past for visitors and not paid more than ten quid.

    (I used to be on virgin payg but left when they were charging me 30p a minute for mobile to mobile calls, went to asda for 8p a minute, much better for my usage)

    1. Rich 30
      Thumb Up


      Who said they are locked. They aren't.

  15. zxcvbnm


    Now that I actually look (owned by the carphone warehouse bizarrely) will do you this phone for 90p with a choice of you £10 top up provider and you can get £6 cashback from a cashback site makeing £4.90

  16. chino

    Bare-bones but good as a backup

    I paid £3 (+£10 orange cred) for one of these from Carphone Warehouse 3 weeks ago when I was away from home with a dead battery. It came pre-charged and I haven't needed to charge it since. It's a great backup. It has predictive text, colour screen, FM radio (which works well) and a frankly ridiculous battery life.

    Apparently people have been buying these to re-sell abroad, since the handset is apparently worth around £40 (only quoting what I was told by the sales rep). Consequently CW now limit the number you can buy within a given period, and they run a check at point to sale to see how many you've bought to date!

  17. Winkypop Silver badge

    It's a phone innit?

    I had no idea my phone had to LOOK good as well as, well, make phone calls.

    Who knew?

  18. JaitcH

    What's with the fake incoming call function?

    Could this be for people who are lonely and have no friends or people with an ego problem ans want to sound important by the number of calls they get?

    Or is the phone for outgoing calls only?

    1. Mako

      You're out on a date...

      ...and it's not going so well. In fact, it's a disaster.

      And let's say you're not a complete jerk and want to let down your date gently. Pretend there's an emergency that requires you to leave *immediately*, through the magic of a fake incoming call.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      great idea.... get you away from the dull sales rep, to get you out of yet another pointless meeting....

      "Oh hold on that's the management alert system, must have a major problem, got to go, bye!"

  19. Lottie

    Last time...

    ... my toehr half needed a new phone, we had the devils own job of finding a suitable one. I'm the one that likes all the bells, whistles and penguins and t'other half just wants a phone that can call and text. No camera, email, internet or anything else. We got an Alcatel for about £15 including a tenner topup, but this would have been such a better option.

  20. groovyf

    Fake incoming call...

    @JaitcH - Or someone needing to get out of that awkward first date!

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Touchy subject

    I don't want to get all greeny/hippy, but if they are knocking these out for a quid a go ( plus the tenner for the calls ), how many Chinese wage slaves are dropping down dead over this?

    If we only pay a quid, someone, somewhere is paying a bigger price for these.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      ...just because you are paying £100s doesn't mean that the factory next door isn't doing the same thing

    2. Geoff Campbell

      That's not how retail works.

      It's perfectly possible that the initial manufacturer of these phones was paid, say, a tenner a unit (to pluck a figure out of thin air), and still everyone involved in the deal made a profit. Single units are not made in isolation.


  22. Mystic Megabyte


    The Carphone Warehouse had the bailiffs after me when their billing system went mad and I refused to pay. As for Mr. Branson, somehow I don't trust him.

  23. Cameron Colley

    The real cost of this phone...

    For those asking how come other phones are so expensive when this phone only costs £0.90 -- the reason is simple: it doesn't cost £0.90 to make at all -- probably more like £49*. This is what supermarkets like to call a "loss leader" and is sold for such a low price hoping that people will either buy it and spend more on profit or go in to look and decide to part with a little more for a better phone.

    *A guess, so I'm sure someone more in the know can correct me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Getting this phone for 99p (with a £10 topup) is no different than getting a supposedly £300+ smartphone "free" when you sign up for a contract.

      And if you really think something like this cost £49 to manufacture you are hopelessly out of touch. The manufacturing cost of a phone like this will certainly be well under the £10 mark. Even then CPW may be buying them legitimately for much less than the initial manufacturing cost. They may have bought a warehouse full of bankrupt stock for 10p a unit for all we know. Another potential scenario is that they may have got them as part of another deal. The possibilities of such dealing are endless.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trouble is..

    I have a PAYG phone as a spare - I mainly drag it out when job hunting so I can turn off the recruitment consultant calls when I get a new job.. This time round the old phone I use failed to start up or charge after 3 years in the drawer so I tried to get a cheap phone from carphonewarehouse..

    Ok you have to buy £10 credit (I needed some anyway) but you have to have it on a NEW sim/number! WTF? No I want the credit on my existing SIM/number please - they couldn't help unless I had built up enough points or something to 'upgrade' my phone.. which of course I hadn't..

    Went straight to Orange in the end - had to pay £9 (+£10 top up) but I got a Samsung that's actually pretty good (as a phone!) 3 days of standby + couple of calls - still got full battery bars! Makes a nice change compared to my Hero!

  25. Bit Brain
    Thumb Up

    Looks perfect

    Been meaning to get a mobile for my Mum and this one fits the bill perfectly. Not too small, nice big well-spaced buttons and an attractive price.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fine for me...

    I have my Blackberry for work and an ancient PAYG phone as backup. I've never needed a phone for anything else other than making or receiving calls or occasionally texts.

    My question is what if I already have a Virgin PAYG SIM with £10 of credit?

  27. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Don't buy too many at once...

    Or you'll have Jimmy McNulty on your tail.

  28. Alan Edwards
    Thumb Up

    My favourite handsets

    The 6310i is a great handset, but mine doesn't play nicely with the Bluetooth kit in the car.

    My favourite is still the Ericsson R520m. I'd still be using mine if it wasn't so old it won't even connect to the car kit.

    The T39m is basically an R520 in tiny flip form, and I also have a soft spot for the Motorola StarTac 85.

  29. thomasthetanker


    Won't somebody please think of the terrorists?

  30. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

    The perfect mobile...

    ...For IED fabricators?

    It somewhat of a bittersweet vindication for me as a former mobile phone design engineer that the technology has matured to such an extent that a communication device representing millions of man-hours work is sold for less than an ice-lolly.

  31. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

    Oh, of course...

    So you buy your 99p phone (with mandatory £10 credit), sling it in your glovebox for emergencies.

    Six months down the line, your £10 credit will have miraculously evaporated and your phone's number will go MIA.

    Unless your account has a billed event within a period of six months, the network swipes your wonga and scrubs your account. They bleat something about credit holding / banking regulations when you protest. That's how they'll make their money on this ice-lolly.

  32. Sonny Jim

    "Who will buy this phone"

    Two words:

    Drug Dealers.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Does it come with a Vibrate Option?

  34. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Rich 30

      this works...

      O2 numbers are released in running batches. ie 07877878000 -> 07877879000

      Mr Scammer has to just go into an o2 store and a carphone at the beginning of the month, and ask to see what numbers are available, "becuase they want to choose a good one for their new contract". The scammer then knows that the next 5000 numbers or so, that are from carphone, and the same from o2.

      The numbers get programmed into an autodialler machine..... RING RING - "hi, i'm calling from Scammers Insurance, you've recently got your phone from o2 (or carphone), but you haven't been given the correct insurance, it should be £99 for they year... blah blah blah etc... i just need to ask you some security questions, i can confirm some basic details with you to prove i'm offical, its an o2 line, on contract, less than £50 per month, your number is 07877878001, and its from carphone warehouse. If you could confirm with me your name, etc etc etc..."

      Ofcourse there is a chance it is the shop staff, or indeed the organisation. But the shop staff would just sell on your personal details, no need to call you, and I'm certain CPW dont have insurance scams as part of its business plan.

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