A new super simple phone has been launched at the American Consumer Electronics Show. The SpareOne is a phone which is designed to be kept in the glovebox and used in emergencies.

What makes it ideally suited to this is that it runs off a single AA battery, which SpareOne claims is the most popular battery size in the world.

The company supplies the phone with a new Energizer Lithium 91 battery that unlike others doesn’t degrade when it isn’t being used. They claim that the phone has a 15 year battery life if the power is off.

It’s pretty miserly with the power on too, SpareOne claim 10 hours of talk time. SpareOne are so proud of the battery it can be seen in the phone through a window which is in place of the usual phone screen. This phone, like the Cycell Seed, doesn’t have a screen.

Without a screen there is no way you can read a text message, but you can send one which says “please call me” to numbers stored in one of the twelve quick dial keys. If someone does text you the phone will automatically respond with a message saying that you can’t read texts and please call.

There is an emergency call button, although this will only call a number set by the factory,  and a torch.

The projected price is £49.99 which translates to about £30 plus VAT.

Lapsed Subscribers

One issue with having a phone which you use very rarely is keeping the subscription alive. You don’t want to have a contract and pay a monthly bill so that means pre-pay and if you don’t use a pre-pay phone, even if it’s got credit on it, then after a while the network will cut it off.

This is done to help give accurate subscriber numbers. The UK networks used to report lapsed pre-pay subscribers differently and this meant comparing subscriber bases was very difficult. The city wants to know who is top on a number of metrics. While it might look good to have lots of subscribers it also looks good to have a high average revenue per user (ARPU). You might think that ARPU is the chap who owns the Quickie Mart in The Simpsons, but to a mobile phone network it’s a crucial number. Cutting off, or at least not counting, those customers who’ve not used their phone for a while increases the ARPU figure.

If you have an emergency phone the last thing you want is for it to not have an account when you need to use it.  Calling 999 or the pan-European equivalent 112 will work without an account or without a SIM but that’s no good if you have a minor emergency like a flat tyre.

The UK networks use a guideline of three months of no revenue earning activity, before a subscriber is counted as lapsed. Some companies, notably Virgin Mobile, keep accounts after this, but  the best way to ensure that your account stays active is to make sure there is some activity. Fortunately incoming calls and texts earn money for the mobile phone network, so if, for example, you ask the bank to send you a monthly balance by text message this is enough to keep the account alive.

Of course with the SpareOne phone you won’t be able to read the text but that’s not the point of the exercise.

I look forward to getting my hands on a SpareOne and will report back when I do.

Simon Rockman