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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mobile data roaming - still ridiculously expensive

I'm about to renew / churn both my business and personal phone contracts, and so I'm wading through all the current tariff plans and options.

Looking over my bills from the last year, the largest variable monthly cost tends to be international data roaming - picking up email from abroad, using the web on my phones, and so on. I don't tend to make many international voice roaming calls - anything lengthy is usually prearranged, so I can use SkypeOut from my laptop via WiFi or ethernet.

But although there's been a lot of movement in laptop data pricing over the last 6 months, with some (comparatively) sensible roaming fees, that's still not true for handset plans.

I really resent paying £7.50 per MB to roam on T-Mobile - even to Germany or to other on-net T-Mo subsidiaries. And don't get me started on the £3 / MB costs for even domestic data on my personal O2 phone.

Unfortunately, these prices have hardly shifted in the last 18 months. If you can actually find the tariffs cunningly hidden on the operators' websites, you find that (prices including VAT):

O2 - £7.05 / MB
Orange - £6.50 / MB
Vodafone - £5.00 a day or "up to £10.28 per MB"
T-Mobile - £7.50 / MB
BT doesn't seem to give any details at all of data roaming costs.
3 doesn't seem to allow data roaming in most countries unless it has its own local network for X-Series, although then it's free if you're a subscriber (if I'm reading it correctly)

Frankly, these prices are ridiculous. I'd say they are overpriced by at least 2 orders of magnitude, or arguably 4. Putting traffic on the Internet costs well under £1 per GB.

These prices are more than some tariffs using data via satellite with an Inmarsat BGAN or similar.

I posted a while back that the EU is keeping an eye on data roaming. Well, Ms Reding if you're reading, now might be a good time to start waving a very large stick. Come to think of it, Ofcom might want to have a look as well.

EDIT A brainwave....

I wonder if you could write a Symbian / Windows / Java app that emulates an old-world 56k modem over a cellular voice connection? 56kbit/s = 7 kBytes/s = 420kBytes / min.

So 2.5 Mins = 1 MB....

So in Europe with the new EU capped roaming rates, if you could squeeze 56kbit/s into the voice channel, you'd be paying about €1.14 per MB... or about £0.80p. Which just goes to illustrate how much of a ripoff the whole thing is. You could even use a much less demanding audio modem @ 9.6kbit/s and still pay less. And if you did some sort of callback function so you receive the call inbound whilst roaming, the rates are half that sum.

Forget VoIP, this is IPoV......

This must be feasible - someone needs to do this NOW.


Zed said...

I know it not a real solution, but Martin has been collecting info on prepay 3G data tariffs in different countries to avoid data roaming charges.

Check it out at http://prepaid-wireless-internet-access.wetpaint.com/

- Zed

vinnie said...

dean with US carriers most everything international is out of sight ...see


the recent imit on roaming vocie charges in EU does not appear to help US consumers who travel there...

Zed said...

Ixnay on the modem emulation. The GSM voice data channel is a maximum of 13 kbps. Furthermore the GSM codec distorts and/or filters out frequencies above the vocal range which limits audio coupled modem emulation.

- Zed

Martin said...


it addition to what Zed zaid above, check out the Vodafone Germany roaming offer on prepaid cards. Still an order of a magnitude too expensive but workable :-)



Tom Godber said...

Have you tried just connecting through an old school dial-up connection instead of GPRS? Back to billing by the minute using as much as the GSM channel will allow, in a way the phone supports natively... (I haven't tested recently to see if operators are still supporting this kind of connection)

Anonymous said...

I think you are confusing a 56k rate feasible on a dialup fixed line with the compressed data throughput of a GSM channel. Data "dialup" service can be provided at 9.6kbps, and is supported by many handsets, but this is identified as a different call type and may be charged at a different rate (I suspect very likely when roaming!). GPRS is required to use higher modulation techniques to get higher throughput (using EDGE), and thats when these ridiculous rates hit home.

I did check my email on my phone when on holiday last month, and realised that I had no clue about the likely cost. In the end, it was only 10 pounds or so (i wasn't downloading large files), which I was happy with - there is value in immediate easy access anywhere rather than finding an internet cafe, plus security in not divulging passwords on a shared PC - more transparency on pricing would certainly make me use this more.

Perhaps a scheme where downloading/accessing text only email for a small fee, combined with clear advice of charge to download large files, presentations etc. is needed. If this worked well, I could even see me using the mobile operator to host my personal email service.

David said...

One of the reasons mobile operators are terrified about lower data rate prices, is that VoIP applications can then potentially use these at much lower rates than existing voice (roaming) services.

Customers value voice calls per minute far higher per bit/sec than data (10x to 100x more). So unless operators are allowed to distinguish/differentiate VoIP and charge more for it, they stand to lose too much voice revenues to make low cost data wortwhile.

See truphone.com for an example. Perhaps a bit clunky to use, but allows use of same mobile number for inbound calls.

This is the million dollar question for data pricing in the next year or two. Will be very interesting to watch.

Ali said...

Your data rates are very high in your part of the world.
check these 2 Mobile Networks that we have in Saudi Arabia:
1 www.stc.com.sa, the website for there data plans is www.jawalnet.com.sa
2- www.mobily.com.sa

there is an 'english' button on the top.