Imagine the shock of getting back from vacation and opening your phone bill to find out that you now owe ÂŁ250 on top of your normal plan, as was reported to have happened to David from Glasgow in January 2011 in an article in the Guardian newspaper.
Using the internet while abroad can be a sticky situation. In October 2010, a Nottingham student studying in Paris was hit with an ÂŁ8,000 phone bill for using a dongle that he had bought in the UK, on the advice of an Orange retail associate who was apparently unaware that roaming data would not be capped while overseas. In an effort to save money by not using his mobile to call home, he instead went online to use the internet phone service Skype to call home, unaware until his phone bill arrived of the costs of using the internet while abroad, i.e. roaming data. â€ťIt is an absolutely awful situation, both in the short term because of the ÂŁ8,000 debt and in the long term because the potential damage to my credit rating could be disastrousâ€ť, he was quoted as saying. After contacting Orange about the bill, he was told by a shocked operator that there should be a ÂŁ40 monthly limit on dongle usage. However, what he was not told in the shop when purchasing the dongle, and what Orangeâ€™s own operator did not seem to be aware of, was that this was only in the UK and did not apply to mobile data roaming or data sim card roaming.
This is by no means the first case of a customer getting hit with a huge mobile data roaming charge. In a few even more extreme cases, in 2008 a 46-year-old lawyer ran up a ÂŁ4,900 bill after she used the BBC iPlayer service to catch up on an episode of The Apprentice while in France, while another traveller was hit with a ÂŁ31,500 mobile phone bill after downloading a TV show, and it was only after months of negotiations with Vodafone that the bill was eventually cut to ÂŁ229.
It was because of stories like this that the EU instituted a ÂŁ50 cap on mobile broadband charges that came into effect on March 1, 2011. But although the EU decided that mobile broadband charges should be capped, it only affected wholesale prices - at â‚¬1 per megabyte (MB), which means that while the retail price (paid by the consumer) should reflect this cost, it is up to the individual network operator to set the price. This has led to a wide disparity in roaming data charges.
For example, for roaming data charge in Spain, network operator 3 charges ÂŁ1.25 per MB outside of any monthly allowance, Orange wants ÂŁ2.94, O2 charges ÂŁ3 and Virgin Mobile ÂŁ5, according to website moneysupermarket.com. Vodafone charges ÂŁ9.99 for the first 50MB and ÂŁ9.99 per 50MB thereafter. However most people donâ€™t know what a megabyte of roaming data is, which doesnâ€™t help. So, as a rough guide, watching a two-hour movie uses approximately 800 MB, according to website broadband.org â€“ therefore costing ÂŁ4,000 with Virgin.
Another factor leading to customer confusion is the complicated nature of the information that mobile phone companies give to users, and the extensive fine print that gets overlooked by consumers. The Observer found that roaming data charges are also unclear and often buried in the small print of some mobile phone operatorsâ€™ websites, making it very difficult for customers to work out what they might be expected to pay.
Moreover, this roaming data charge cap only applies to EU countries and as such when traveling to the rest of the world consumers using, for example, iphone data roaming without checking are still liable to receive huge bills.
As the public has become more aware of this issue, many people have resorted to turning off their data sim card and not using their phones while abroad. Although, even this does not always work, as O2 customers have also reported receiving â€śshock billsâ€ś of ÂŁ40 for mobile internet upon returning home, even when they were careful to turn off their mobile data roaming service on their smart phones.
However, for many, turning off your phone while abroad isnâ€™t always the most practical solution, especially when you need to get in touch with friends, colleagues, the office or simply because once one becomes accustomed to using Google Maps to find your way, it is hard to go back (just try to get iPhone users to not use iPhone data roaming while abroad!).
So what can you do to protect yourself against getting stung with a huge phone bill? Luckily there are some companies that have come up with solutions to help consumers ensure they are able to use their phones overseas, while not getting hit with hidden costs. Below is a guide to help prepare you for your next trip overseas and ways to ensure that you never get stuck with a â€śshock billâ€ś.
What is Data Roaming - how does it work?
What is data roaming - If you switch on a mobile device, like an iPhone, iPad, or laptop when traveling abroad, it will automatically attempt to connect with a GSM or 3G network. Smartphones are usually configured to actively seek out and connect with the most accessible network in the country that you are in. â€™Most accessibleâ€™ does not however, mean â€™most affordableâ€™.
When there is a roaming data agreement between your home service provider and the network in the country you are visiting, the home network operator will allow your device to access internet. If the overseas operator does not have a 3G network, or if your home service provider has not yet signed a 3G network, you can only get access to basic mobile data services such as SMS, GRPS services and e-mail, but not 3G broadband services.
Whenever you use your mobile phone abroad for certain activities, your handset pulls the information it needs through network providers that are different from the one that you are signed to back home - this is data roaming.
The services that use Data Roaming when you use your phone abroad include things like:
Mobile Internet Abroad - how does using mobile internet abroad work?
When you are abroad and using a say, iPhone data roaming to connect to the internet, the connection is established by the overseas providerâ€™s network, back through to your home operatorâ€™s network, allowing for data to be exchanged between the two. So unless you have an adequate roaming data contract, when you connect to the internet abroad you can expect to pay for: signalling networks fees; costs for the international transit of the data; the wholesale charge for using the connection on the visited operatorâ€™s network; costs for connecting to the internet from the home network; the home operatorâ€™s retail costs. And sometimes even taxes, such as VAT! So it makes since to get a roaming data sim contract you can trust!
Data Roaming Charges - How much should roaming data charge?
Service providers measure the usage of mobile internet services in megabytes (MB) or kilobytes (KB), and the data roaming charge and tariffs can differ widely. It is important therefore to have an idea of the sort of roaming costs that are associated with your data downloads, and how much data is downloaded when you use data abroad on, for example iPhone roaming and iPad roaming. An e-mail without any attachments usually consists of between 10 and 60KB. An ordinary website can be around 100KBs to 200KBs, or even more, depending on how much of the content consists of images. So this process can end up costing a tidy sum unless you have a SIM that enables reasonable roaming data charges.
Are there any Data Roaming Pitfalls?
Data Roaming â€“ while roaming some smartphones and laptops will continue to update, try to connect to the internet and draw data if you don't switch off your data roaming or your network adapter â€“ if your phone or network adapter is on, then even if you arenâ€™t using it data will still be automatically updating (as a friend of mine found out after a trip to Boston with his iPhone cost ÂŁ160 without him using it). Switch it off before you travel by going into "Settings" and updating it.
How to Avoid High Data Roaming Charges?
The best option for avoiding shocking bills is to buy a package specifically designed for your needs before you travel. RoamingSims.com is in contact with a few selected data roaming SIM card providers, and will be updating our SIM cards comparison service regularly to give you more information about these providers, including all the features and services that they deliver. By buying a specialised voice or data roaming sim card you will stay in control of your roaming costs.
Cheap Data Roaming ProvidersSome of the services offered by the providers include
We are dedicated to finding the most convenient and affordable mobile data tariffs to give you the best deals. We help you stop worrying about your mobile rates so you can relax and enjoy your holiday!
To find the most appropriate mobile roaming solution for you and your circumstances, click here and select the country you're visiting from the drop down menu in the Roaming Tariff Checker banner. If strive to answer all your "what is your roaming data questions here, but, if for some reason the "what is roaming dataâ€ť or "what is roaming" questions have not been answered, get in contact and we'll do our best to help.