Brislen on data roaming

Paul Brislen writes:

Roaming is one of those issues that makes most people despair of the telco sector. It seems so unfair and unjust and penalises customers for simply using their phones the way the telcos seemingly should want them to.

Yep – thansk to the outrageous data charges, I dump my NZ sim card and phone number when travelling overseas, and use local sims.

Firstly, let’s clarify a few points. Telcos should want you to use their services. They want to sign you up; they want you to give them money. They’re in business to make money and they do that by building products and services that you want.

What this means is my NZ telco gets no activity at all during that period I’m overseas.

The price for this is relatively low – the average 1GB offer for mobile devices in New Zealand is about $20-$30. I rang the Vodafone call centre and whined that my 1GB free add-on had disappeared and they reinstated it for me. That’s 1GB for free.

Travel to Sydney, however, and that all changes. That 1GB will set me back $500 and if that seems a bit steep for what is, after all, the same product. But take a moment to show your solidarity for Australians coming here. They’ll pay anything up to $20,000 for that 1GB of data.

I’m in Cambodia at the moment. If I used my phone in roaming mode it would cost me $30,000 per GB. I could but 1/6th of an X5 BMW for 1 GB of data!

Or I can get data for $3 a GB by using a local sim.  For US$20 I could get 10 GB of data – $300,000 of roaming charges.

In addition, when you look at the costings in the trans-Tasman ministerial review of all this, you’ll see that the price for data at a wholesale level is quite a bit less than you’d think. How much? Try about 35 cents/MB, which makes $20 seem a bit overly enthusiastic if you ask me.

There is no justification for data at the levels they are, except of course they are trying to profit maximise. Nothing wrong with that – but smart travellers know now to get local sim cards, and over time the telco prices will have to drop to sane levels.

The review has come up with a variety of options, ranging from that old “let’s keep a watching brief” chestnut right through to something the Europeans call “de-coupling” which, in effect, allows the roaming customer to keep their mobile number for voice and text but to buy data packs from a local provider. So, for example, you get off the plane in Sydney and stroll up to the telco booth of your choice and buy 1GB of Aussie data for the local price.

That would be great. The only hassle with using a local sim card is my normal number doesn’t work. In some ways that is a blessing, but it would be nice to be able to just keep your own sim card, but get your data locally.

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