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Two schemes offer cost-free calling in exchange for ads

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Two schemes offering users free calls in exchange for listening to ads will start in the UK this summer. New phone company on the block, Freedom, looks set to pip BT to the post by offering the first nationwide system on 1 June. The scheme works by subjecting users to radio-like ads at the start of each call, then periodically bombarding them with other 10-second ads throughout their conversation. In the same month, BT will pilot its own service in the Tyne & Wear and Bristol areas. But this is not scheduled for the rest of the UK until later this summer. Freedom, a privately held phone company that Noel Edmonds has shares in, said its Free-to-Talk scheme could handle up to 2 million customers. The service will be offered in conjunction with fellow investors Energis and Siemens, according to today’s Financial Times. BT has teamed up with Swedish company GratisTel, which developed the idea. Yesterday it predicted its BT Freetime would appeal to kids – letting them chat to friends without running up huge phone bills. Although the little darlings will, of course, be subject to all manner of commercials advising them how to spend their pocket money. In return for completing a ‘lifestyle questionnaire’, users will receive a free number to dial and personal identity number to use before making BT Freetime calls. They can alternate between making normal paid or free calls, according to today’s Daily Mail. GratisTel has already launched similar schemes in Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Norway and the US. Advertisers include McDonald’s, CNN and Yahoo! No potential UK advertisers have yet been named. ®

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