I'm Your Telecoms Genie. Really.

Some people want to travel the world, meet people, help small children and the sick. And others are looking for more varied ways to work with humanity.

Here's how I do it: I'm your technology fairy-godmother. I'm not a geek - well, not a very good one. I can't code. I can't plug in your network - well, not very effectively. I'm a cross between what scary marketing people call an early-adopter - I want to be the first in the queue with a new toy - and what Malcolm Gladwell, in the Tipping Point, calls a Maven - I just want to improve people's lives with the information I give them.

So I like to help people. But I like to help people do contemporary twenty-first century things like buy mobile phones, evaluate the relative merits of a cable modem over broadband, find the cheapest way to call Nicaragua on a Sunday.

I'm urban. I can set a video and forty paces and text faster than a fifteen year old. Put me in the country, though, and I'm a lost soul searching for meaning. Last year, I rented a cottage for a week in Northern Ireland with some friends; fabulous scenery, bracing mountain climbs, and a real fire. I had not idea how to build a fire, couldn't tell a firelighter from a pumice-stone, and didn't know from squashing the newspaper so that there's enough air for the flames to circulate. My friends teased me that I spent a chunk of each day on my mobile phone to the man-of-the-moment, and about four hours trying - in vain - to get my laptop to dial-up the internet on my calling card. "That's not a holiday" they said, "what about getting away from it all?"

But that's a separate story. My current desire is to be Technology Fairy Godmother to one hundred people. Don't ask me why, I just do. This is not a time-sensitive offer. Your computer will not explode if you miss the deadline. Your mileage may vary. No warranties are implied.

If you're on a monthly contract with your mobile phone supplier, chances are you originally signed up for a year. The first year generally comes with free insurance for your phone - useful if it breaks, as they often do now, due to what my Dad calls built-in obsolescence. Once the first year is up, they'll want to charge you between £3 and £5 insurance a month. They may even automate it on an it's-in-the-small-print-basis. Resist.

Here's what you do. Find out - call your telecoms supplier direct for this - if they do a buyback on your phone, if you upgrade. Let's say you have a Nokia 8210; Orange currently give you £50 + VAT. Your new contract comes with insurance; that saves you an average of £48 a year. You're almost a hundred pounds in pocket already.

Next, decide which phone you want to upgrade to. Don't angst; it's just a phone, not a lifetime commitment. The easiest way to do this is go the Carphone Warehouse and pick up their magazine. The grid compares all the phones; decide on your top three criteria (dual band? MP3 player? Lightweight) and choose accordingly. Remember, it's not just phones where you can't get everything you want; compromise.

Let's say you want the Nokia 8310; a wise choice; an improved 8210 which has solved the screen fault, lit up the keypad and thrown in a radio (though be careful about your battery usage here). Currently £150 for upgrade. That's a lot of money, but don't worry.

Now call your telecoms supplier direct; let's say your with Orange. Find out how much their "valued customer" price is on the phone. Probably £80. Remember that the phones are subsidised, to reel you in, and they make the real money on the calls. Unlike the Israeli mobile phone market where the phones are $300 and the calls are in 0.1p increments.

Whatever price they say, you say this: "that's a lot of money. I could leave Orange and go to anywhere on the High Street and get a new contract with an equivalent phone thrown in."

As soon as they hear you say the magic words "thinking of leaving" they'll put you through to the customer retention people. Haggle. Haggle hard. You really would leave. Be aware of your customer value: if you spend £40 a month, you're spending "nearly £500 a year, you should give me a phone". If it gets tricky, use the lifetime customer value manoeuvre: "I'm twenty-eight, if I keep my mobile phone till I'm fifty-eight, that's £14,400. Maybe I only keep it for half that time, it's still £7,350." Remember, the CSR will only have authority to reduce the price so far; but be creative. Ask for a credit on your bill. Airmiles. Flowers. Free - sorry, complimentary - minutes. Whatever you want.

You rarely get the phone for free, but you should get it for, say £40. So you've saved £110 on the phone, you're £58 (incl VAT) up on the buy-back, and have saved £48 in insurance. And you've had hours of fun on the phone, and enhanced self-esteem from your ability to get one over on a huge telecoms conglomerate.

Get the name, inside-leg measurement and extension number of everyone you talk to. Total revenue from upgrading phone: £216.

See, aren't you happy now? Your very wish is my command.

29 July 2002

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