At the start of 2022, there were 71.8 million mobile phone connections in the UK. That’s 4.2 million more than the UK population. The reason for this is likely to be that an increasing number of people now have a personal mobile and a work mobile.
With so many of us relying on our mobile phones to make calls nowadays, we’re not even using our landlines that often — let alone public telephone boxes. But there are some instances when you may need to use a payphone to make a telephone call.
Imagine you are in a foreign country, for example, and you need to contact someone, but you have no mobile phone data. You would have to make the call using a public phone box. But many of us don’t carry cash anymore. In this case, you would need to use a specific prepaid calling card, which some holidaymakers choose to buy as a backup before their trip.
But there are other types of calling cards available too. In this article, we’ll take a look at what they are.
Also known as a “phone card” or a “telephone card”, a calling card is typically a credit card-sized piece of plastic containing prepaid credit, which is used to make telephone calls instead of paying with cash.
The term “calling card” also refers to a visiting card left by someone who has made a business or social call, as well as a characteristic or sign that describes a person’s typical traits.
This article, however, focuses on the calling cards that are used to make phone calls. Continue reading to find out more.
Once you’ve bought a calling card, you call an access number and will then be prompted to enter your personal identification number (PIN). This number can usually be found on the card itself. You then dial the number you wish to reach, and your call will be connected. Sometimes, an automated voice will tell you how many minutes you have left on the calling card and may also give you extra information or options to choose from.
Phone card companies use your PIN to track how many minutes you’ve used on calls but depending on your calling card, you may also be charged fees. This means you could lose time each time you dial the access number, call a mobile phone or end a call.
While all calling cards serve the same purpose, they are made using different technologies. The four main ones are:
- Magnetic cards — Calling cards were first used in Italy in 1976. These cards have a magnetic strip which encodes the amount of credit that’s on the card.
- Optical cards — A year later, Swiss calling card manufacturer Landis & Gyr started producing optical cards. These cards are coded with units that are erased thermally once the card is inserted into the telephone.
- Chip cards — The mid-eighties saw the introduction of calling cards with microchips embedded in them. Many of these cards were pre-programmed to expire after a specific date.
- Remote cards — These cards allow users to call a number from any type of phone. They have a panel on the back which is scratched off to reveal a unique code, and many also have a chip to give users more choice in terms of where they can use their calling card.
There are five main types of calling cards:
Prepaid calling cards
As its name suggests, a prepaid card is bought with a certain amount of money loaded onto it.
When you make a phone call, credit — or time — is deducted from the card’s balance according to how long the call lasts. With domestic calls, there will be a standard per-minute charge, whereas international calls are charged according to the particular country’s per-minute charging rate.
These cards are disposable, as once you have used up all the credit, you will need to buy a new one.
Rechargeable calling cards
Unlike most types of prepaid calling cards, these cards are not disposable. After the balance expires, more money can be loaded on, but where you do this depends on where you bought the card from in the first place.
If you got it online, you should be able to recharge it on the website you bought it from. If you bought it from a physical store, you will normally find your recharging options on the card.
Recharging can usually be done using a credit or debit card or cash.
Credit-based calling cards
With a credit-based calling card, you get all the features of a prepaid calling card with the added bonus that it doesn’t expire.
Rather than loading credit onto the card before you make a phone call, you receive a bill each month. This means you won’t risk being cut off mid-call because your credit has run out. Your bill will usually be charged automatically to your credit or debit card, and you will only be charged for the calls you made during that billing period.
Online calling cards
When you buy a calling card online, you won’t usually be sent a physical card. Instead, you will receive an email containing all the information you need to use it. This includes your PIN, access number and instructions on how to make a call using the card.
International calling cards
Nowadays, these are the most common types of calling cards.
While it is possible to use some of the other types of calling cards to make phone calls to other countries, these cards are intended solely for international use.
They are usually purchased for a flat fee, which determines how many minutes of call time you get to a specific destination.
When you buy an international calling card, you will be given a local access number for the country you are calling from, plus a PIN and the destination dialling code.
As mentioned earlier, calling card technology started in Europe in 1976. Since then, it has spread to almost every country in the world.
Different countries do use different technology, though — and calling cards are referred to by slightly different names — however, the premise of these cards is the same the world over.
Calling cards can be bought from various places, including:
- The Post Office
- Convenience stores
- Department stores
- Phone companies
If you are considering buying a calling card, the first thing is to determine precisely what you will be using it for and how often. To make sure you are buying the right type of card for your needs, it’s a good idea to ask yourself some questions like:
- Do I want the calling card for one-time use, or will I be using it again?
- Do I want to be billed for my phone calls, or is it better for my budget to pay upfront?
- Will I be using the card to make international phone calls?
You should also think about how to make sure you get the most value out of your calling card. When shopping around for a good deal, look for cards that charge low or no maintenance fees and low fees to make calls. Another thing to check for is whether there’s an expiration date. With some cards, you have to use all your minutes by a specific date; otherwise, you will lose them.
Once you have made a decision on which calling card you want to buy, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions, fees and instructions by:
- Reading the fine print on the card’s packaging or its reverse to be clear about any limitations or conditions
- Double-checking the cost of the maintenance fee, the fee for dialling the access number, the fee to call a phone number and the fee to end the call
- Checking whether the advertised minutes can be used for multiple calls or only apply to a single call
- Looking for a customer service number and making sure you won’t be charged for calling it
In terms of telephones, a calling card is a small card (the size of a business card) that’s used to make phone calls instead of paying with cash. All calling cards serve the same purpose; however, they are made using different technologies. The four main ones are magnetic cards, optical cards, chip cards and remote cards. The five main types of calling cards are prepaid calling cards, credit-based calling cards, rechargeable calling cards, online calling cards and international calling cards. Calling cards can be used in almost every country in the world, and you can buy them from various places, including the Post Office, shops, phone companies and online.
If you are considering buying a calling card, the first thing is to determine exactly what you will be using it for and how often. Another thing to think about is how to make sure you get the most value out of your calling card. When shopping around for a good deal, look for cards that charge low or no maintenance fees and low fees to make calls. Another thing to check for is an expiration date. Once you’ve made a decision on which calling card you want to buy, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions, fees and instructions.