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Types of Calling Card Companies
Several types of companies sell calling cards to consumers. Good (and bad) cards can be found from any type, but there are important differences that you should be aware of.
Calling cards are sold by three main types of companies:
Resellers are by far the most numerous type of calling card company. Resellers act as sales agents for wholesale communications companies that want to sell calling card minutes. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of calling card resellers worldwide.
There are relatively fewer 'integrated providers'. These kinds of companies both sell and deliver the voice minutes on their calling cards. Integrated providers are generally set up as the calling card subsidiary within a much larger telephone company.
In general, we recommend buying cards from integrated providers because they give you a single point of contact. In contrast, when you buy from a reseller you will usually have 2 points of contact.
Integrated provider have a single point of contact because you are buying from just one company that both markets the card and operates the voice calling network. With a reseller, you are actually buying from 2 companies: the reseller (sales and billing) and the wholesale carrier (call quality or minutes). With one point of contact you eliminate finger pointing if a problem arises.
'Integrated providers' are calling card companies that both sell and deliver the voice minutes on their calling cards. In other words, they are 'facilities-based' telecommunications carriers that operate their own voice networks. Integrated providers are generally set up as the calling card subsidiary within a larger telephone company.
We generally recommend buying from integrated providers because you have to deal with only one company. Plus, these companies generally have more control over the overall product quality and card features than reseller cards.
Integrated calling card providers are operated by two main types of telephone companies: regulated telephone carriers and non-regulated VoIP carriers. (Note: we are simplifying a bit just to give you a sense of the options. In reality, telephone operators come in many flavors.)
Division of a regulated telephone company
Regulated telephone companies are the kinds of phone companies you normally deal with to buy your landline or mobile phone service. They are 'regulated' in the sense that federal and local governments impose various service, pricing, and other restrictions on these companies.
Many telephone companies sell calling cards as a part of their overall business, but usually the calling card piece is very small percentage of their total sales - like <5%.
As a general rule, calling cards sold by regulated phone companies tend to have the very high per minute rates. Often the rates are 10x higher than you can get elsewhere.
Why are the rates higher? Three main reasons: 1) Because these companies tend to have higher costs, so they need to charge more. 2) They tend to have very strong brand names, so they can charge more. and 3) They tend to have the most reliable, highest quality phone networks, so they deserve to charge more.
Telephone companies tend to sell only a few branded calling cards - sometimes just one card. Usually these cards offer wider coverage and more calling versatility than cards sold by resellers.
Also, cards sold by phone companies tend to have fairly simple pricing as compared to reseller cards (though you must always be on the lookout for hidden fees with any type of card).
Overall, we generally don't recommend calling cards from regulated phone companies because the rates are just too high. You can get much, much cheaper rates elsewhere with little, if any, downside.
Examples of telecom carriers: AT&T, BT, Reliance.
Division of a VoIP Carrier
VoIP is a rapidly emerging type of communications technology that will become the dominant form of telephony within a decade. VoIP uses the internet and internet technology to deliver voice calls to normal landline and mobile phones as well as to/from computers. VoIP carriers are telephone companies that deliver calls over VoIP networks.
Although they operate somewhat differently than normal phone companies, VoIP carriers are able to seamlessly and reliably complete calls to any type of landline or mobile telephone - and they can usually do so at prices well below regulated telephone companies.
Calling cards bought from VoIP carriers work very much as do cards from telecom carriers: there is a single company involved and that company is fully responsible for delivering services to you.
As with telecom carriers, we believe that buying cards direct from VoIP carriers offers some advantages over buying from resellers - largely due to the streamlined customer service experience if there are problems.
In addition, because VoIP networks are less costly to operate than traditional telephone networks, calling cards from VoIP carriers often have very low rates.
Like phone companies, VoIP carriers tend to sell only a few, or even just one, card - and normally the pricing schemes are much simpler (though you should always be on the lookup for hidden fees).
In general, we recommend buying calling cards from VoIP carriers. They offer both single point of contact customer service as well as very low rates. However, rates, in particular, vary from vendor to vendor, so we aren't saying all VoIP carriers are a good deal - just some of them.
Examples of VoIP carriers with calling card divisions: Pingo.com (an iBasis brand), PennyTalk.com (an IDT brand).
Calling Card Resellers
Calling card resellers are marketing companies that sell calling cards on behalf of one or several wholesale telephone companies. The 'carriers' are separate businesses that operate independently from the reseller.
The reseller doesn't actually deliver the phone service associated with the calling card you buy. They simply act as a sales agent by marketing and selling the carrier's calling cards to consumers. They also handle the billing / invoicing and, to varying degrees, the customer service.
In other words, when you buy from a calling card reseller, you are, in effect, buying something from two separate companies at the same time: the reseller and the carrier.
The calling cards the reseller sells may be custom cards packaged specifically for that reseller or they may be generic cards sold to any number of resellers.
The reseller handles the marketing and billing aspects of selling the card. They also provide the consumer with information about access numbers, rates, and so forth. Their customer service people can assist you these types of account related things.
The carrier is typically a calling card wholesaler that operates the actual telecommunications network that delivers your voice calls. They may own the network they use or they may lease capacity on somebody's else network - there are many possibilities. Most wholesale carriers do not have the kind of marketing, sales, and customer service operations necessary to do business directly with consumers and so they engage resellers to help them reach the consumer market.
When buying from a reseller, we strongly advise you to check not only the reseller's credentials, but also the carrier credentials. The most reputable resellers will clearly state who the carrier is - if they don't, that should raise a caution flag. Check here for information on some of the leading calling card wholesalers.
When buying from a reseller, very often there will be separate customer service numbers for dealing with account and billing information and for dealing with call quality or other call delivery related issues. This dual-ownership of your account can create confusion and finger pointing if things go wrong with your card.
Resellers typically carry a large number of calling cards - sometimes many dozens. This can be overwhelming - especially if the reseller doesn't do a great job of describing the cards.
Aside from the fact that the carriers differ, the distinctions between cards usually revolve around pricing and coverage. Sometimes the differences are hard to see and it's normal to get confused.
As a general rule, calling cards from resellers tend to have more complicated pricing than cards than those sold by integrated providers. There are often more service fees and surcharges that can really jack up prices over the advertised per minute rates. Caution is advised, but there are excellent deals to be had from resellers.
Note that for online resellers, it is not uncommon for them to run multiple storefronts (i.e., websites) selling the same or a similar mix of cards on different sites. For instance, Comfi.com also operates the website i-telcards.com.
Examples of resellers: Comfi.com, CallingCards.com, Speedypin.com.
Calling Card Distributors
Calling card distributors are resellers to the resellers.
They buy the calling cards at wholesale prices from calling card resellers and then they set up their own website to sell the cards to you. We could do something like that here at AboutCallingCards.com, but do not.
Like the reseller, the distributor doesn't actually deliver your voice minutes - a wholesale carrier does that. Even more than the reseller, they are simply a sales agent that markets and sells, but here they are selling on behalf of the reseller with the carrier now another step removed from the process. Depending on the distributor relationships with the reseller, the distributor or the reseller may be responsible for handling the billing / invoicing and the customer service.
In other words, when you buy from a calling card distributor, you are, in some sense, now buying from three separate companies: the distributor, the reseller, and the wholesale carrier. It is not a good formula for you as a consumer.
Normally, the card pricing is unaffected by this arrangement and you will get the same prices with the distributor that you'd get with the reseller.
When buying from a distributor (which we don't generally recommend), we advise you to check out not only the distributor's credentials, but also the reseller and the carriers.
Examples of distributors: Evocallus.com.
These calling cards get our 'Best Buy' rating.
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