There are only two companies in Cambridge that can provide you with a phone line (a physical connection with the national network) — Virgin Media (trading as NTL:Telewest Business for university connections) and BT). The phones in college-owned student rooms are operated by Virgin/NTL, and the sockets are therefore likely to have been installed by them. In private accommodation, existing connections could be provided by either company (or even both).
The physical presence of a line is not enough to use it — you will need to activate it before you’re allocated a phone number by the service provider. Only then will be able to make and receive calls.
NTL Centrex CU2 Service
All graduate students, living in college or private accommodation, are eligible for a Centrex CU2 Line. Graduate students in private accommodation must have a Virgin Media line to use this service. The CU2 line offers very competitive rates, on local, national and international calls. It also offers various extra services and runs on a normal billing (as opposed to a prepay) system.
As well as operating just like a normal telephone line, users can connect to the university’s network. Then all calls to any other phone on the university network (including another CU2 number) are free. Calls to the University Data Network dial-up service (Magpie) are also free, so you can get (virtually) unlimited access to the internet through your modem included in the cost of your line rental. If you don’t have a CU2 line, you can still connect to Magpie, but you’ll have to pay for the dial-up costs. In either case, the university will charge you extra, according to the amount of data that you download.
NTL ConnectEd Service
The ConnectEd service is NTL Business’s standard student arrangement, used at universities across the country. Graduate students should consider getting a CU2 line which offers better rates and a Cambridge number and does not use a pre-pay system.
The ConnectEd extensions have 5-digit numbers beginning with either 2 or 6 (2xxxx and 6xxxx). The latter number range should not be confused with the UTN’s own 6xxxx range. Simple instructions for calling between the services are shown below.
Calling to a ConnectEd extension
- from UTN: Dial 198 and then the five-digit ConnectEd number
- from CU1: Dial 19 and then the five-digit ConnectEd number
- from CU2: Dial *19 and then five-digit ConnectEd number
- from CU2S: Dial 19 and then the five-digit ConnectEd number
Calling from a ConnectEd extension
Calls to UTN, CU1, CU2, and CU2S can be made by dialing 19 followed by the five digit extension number. calls to phones on the main University Network (UTN) and CU2 are free of charge.
NTL Business Customer Service and Complaints
NTL:Telewest Business and the GU are working together to seek to ensure that GU members receive a high (or improved) quality of service. We have a route for passing on information about any problems arising, and we have quarterly meetings with NTL to assess progress. If you have a difficulty with your NTL service, here is what you should do.
- Call the ConnectEd customer service number and see if they can help you. If not:
email@example.com the problem, and attempts to rectify it through the usual customer service routes
This only applies to phone lines in college-owned student rooms: if you are a residential phone customer in private-sector accommodation, you should follow your operators complaints procedure if a problem arises.
Specialist Routing Companies
By default, your telephone line provider will handle all the routing of your call. However, it can be cheaper if you have another company do this for you, which means you will be charged separately for it. There are many specialist routing companies who often charge much less for making calls, especially international calls.
Some services, like Telediscount, can be used on a single call by dialling a number they provide (or a short prefix) before the number to which you are trying to connect. With others, you can establish a contract and/or route most or all of your calls through them: you may be provided with an electronic box to automatically prefix the numbers your dial: the uSwitch calculator compares alternative providers. Your cheapest routing option might turn out be your line provider after all, but it’s definitely worth shopping around: savings on international calls in particular can be huge.
University Telephone Network
The institutions of the University are linked by an internal telephone network, which is managed by the Telecommunications Office. University Telephone Network (UTN) phones are found in University and College offices but are not usually available for student rooms. To make a call from one network phone to another, simply dial the extension number, which is usually a five digit number. To dial a UTN extension from outside the university, you should prefix it with 3 if it starts with 3, or 7 if it starts with 6 or 4: they are often written as, for example, (3)33312 to make this clear. Calls within the network are free; restrictions may be enforced on outgoing calls. Printed university telephone directories are distributed within the university and departments, and the switchboard – (01223) 337733 – can route calls. There are also instructions and a searchable directory online:
- University Telephone Network Guide – Incoming Calls
- Telecommunications Office
- Phone directory and lookup search (Cambridge only)
- List of contacts (global)
There are plans to replace the University Telephone Network with a VoIP system using the university’s data network from 2008-10: see the UTN VoIP project.
Mobile phones are very popular; most students have one. There are five main networks in the UK (O2, Orange, Three, T-Mobile, and Vodafone). All of these providers offer various subscription options. Fortunately, these options fall into two main categories:
- Pay as you go
- Pay as you go offers you an easy way to use a mobile phone. There’s no contract to sign, there are no monthly bills and there’s no commitment. You simply buy a pay as you go mobile, activate it by making a call and buy calling credit as often as you need to. Pay as you go offers the advantage of avoiding a long-term commitment, but the initial cost of the phone will be higher, you will tend to have higher call charges and you may miss out on some services.
- Pay monthly
- Paying monthly for a mobile phone lets you avoid the worry of running out of credit whilst offering you the advantages of itemised monthly bills and sometimes additional services. When you buy a pay monthly mobile, you’ll be asked to sign an agreement that commits you to staying connected for a 12-month minimum period and will arrange to pay your monthly bills by direct debit. In return, your mobile phone handset will be subsidised or free, and call charges will tend to be less. However, you will be tied in for a year and will have to pay line rental. Also, international students may find they are initially unable to pass the required credit check or identification requirements.
Before choosing a provider or contract, it is worth thinking about how you will use your phone: how often, and at what times, you will call national, international and mobile phones. Networks have a choice of packages, some of which will fit your needs better than others.
Handsets themselves can be expensive. If you’re coming from abroad and already have one, you might be able to use it here. If it was tied to a specific network when you bought it, you may find that it works with SIM cards from a UK network owned by the same company; otherwise, it would not to be ‘unlocked’ so it will work on any network: various shops or market stalls can do that for you.
The University website has information on the use of mobile phones for University business, but students do not generally have access to this facility.
If you don’t have your own phone, pay-phones are dotted all over town and in some college accommodation, although some of these have been removed in recent years as mobile phones and phones in student rooms have become more common. To avoid the hassle of collecting a huge stack of coins before making a call, and to benefit from reduced call charges, buy a phone card. Phone cards in various denominations can be purchased from the GU Shop.
To use the card, you call a free-phone (toll free) number, type in the PIN code written on it and finally the number that you want to call. The cost of the call is debited from the credit on the card until it is exhausted. Rates on international calls in particular are typically lower than if you place a call by putting coins into the machine.
Internet Calls and VoIP
Making calls over the internet (VoIP: Voice over Internet Protocol) is becoming increasingly popular as high-speed internet access becomes more widespread, particularly as a method for making cheap or free international calls. Some user-friendly commercial services provide a handset and other infrastructure, sometimes as an option with a commercial broadband or traditional phone contract. More commonly, however, students use a software package to make calls with their computer: Skype is a popular option. However, it should be noted that this is peer-to-peer software, and because this can result in high bandwidth usage some colleges and departments impose a ban: if you want to use this from a college network connection, you should check with your college Computer Officer first. It is not banned everywhere in the university, but the university has a Skype policy explaining the issues and suggesting how to minimise unnecessary network traffic.
For internal calls, there are plans to replace the University Telephone Network with a VoIP system using the university’s data network from 2008-10: see the UTN VoIP project.