This review got an awful lot of people excited.
There's only one problem: those were the wrong rates. The Cubic phone still saves you money, but not as much as I wrote.
The company's Web site hadn't yet gone public. I asked its chief executive several times if I could see the Web site in his beta form, but he never did give me access.
So I sent him a list of sample calls I wanted his per-minute prices for. He returned the list with his prices filled in. They were incredibly low, around one-tenth the price you'd pay T-Mobile or AT&T.
But when his Web site (maxroam.com) finally went live, the same day my review appeared, readers immediately started sending me e-mail—sometimes very angry e-mail—letting me know that the Cubic prices online did not match the examples in my story.
At first, I thought that he must have been quoting me prices in Euro cents rather than American cents. That would explain about half the discrepancy.
But no, the prices online don't match what he quoted me, even in Euros. (Furthermore, the list I'd sent him included the T-Mobile and AT&T prices for all those sample calls in dollars. I assumed he'd know I wanted a comparison of apples to apples.)
So I wrote him just after the first reader complaints came in. "This has been set up too quickly this morning," he wrote back. "Pricing model will be fixed for tomorrow AM. Just an error from a rushing web designer, sorry."
Whew. Crisis averted.
Except the next day, there was no change to the prices. I wrote him again. This time, he replied: "This error was totally down to an error or miscommunication by our company. We have, however, decided to completely honor this error and update our prices accordingly. These new rates will be lodged today. We apologize for this and error and would like to thank you for bringing it to our attention."
Well, sort of. As far as I could tell, he planned to post the super-low prices he'd originally quoted me—but only for the country examples I'd supplied! Those were no longer representative samples; they were artificial samples to match my review.
And besides: he never did, in fact, change those prices (Bahamas, Russia, Greece, Iraq, and so on). They're still higher than what he originally told me.
That's not good, even for a startup company. It shouldn't have happened. Still Cubic Telecom has great features. New York Times' David Pogue lists them:
One of them, for example, lets you choose up to 50 phone numbers for your single phone, in cities all over the world. The idea is that your friends in other countries can now call you for the price of what, for them, is a local call. The Cubic phone is also a Wi-Fi phone, meaning that you can make unlimited calls around the world for a flat monthly fee when you're in Wi-Fi hot spots. And finally, Cubic's higher prices are still much better than most cellphones' international roaming rates. On average, then, it looks like the Cubic card saves you between 25 and 75 percent off the big carriers' rates. Not 90 percent, as I reported.
Journalists don't like it to be fooled. It makes them look stupid to their readers. Cubic Telecom's Sean O'Mahony has more explanations:
We've had lots of great comments from customers and we've made quite a few mistakes as well.
The biggest one was our rate sheet. A couple of times we posted the wrong one so people were confused about whether it was in euros or dollars. We also garnered the attention of David Pogue over at the NY Times who corrected his original piece. Of course Andy Abramson was onto the bandwagon immediately.
I say it's been a funny week because you'd think from all the comments from the "intelligentsia" that we were out to fool people. Our rates are public. They are good and they are honest. If you can find a better deal somewhere else then by all means buy that service.
Hat tips to Andy Abramson for reading that much media that he found the New York Times' correction. See also David Pogue's update article "Cubic Telecom Kerfluffle: The Final Chapter?" from October 6, 2007!