Mobile roaming rates

February 9th, 2013 at 8:58 am by David Farrar

Trace Watkins reports:

Australia and New Zealand regulators will get new powers to crack down on exorbitant mobile phone roaming rates both sides of the Tasman.

Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard are expected to announce the changes today after meetings in Queenstown.

They will give the Commerce Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission the power to set price caps, or force operators to offer local access services that do not require a change of SIM card.

This looks like a good step to me. Fair to mention though things are a lot better now with Telecom’s flat rate roaming deal.

The changes follow a lengthy investigation and horror stories about holiday makers returning home with mobile phone charges steeper than the cost of their holiday.


While prices had dropped recently, that was only because the threat of legislation hung over telecommunications providers, she said.

“When the work began on the report, New Zealanders were facing mobile data charges of up to $30 per megabit but the price had now dropped in most cases to 50c per megabit.”

I think you mean megabyte.

Even 50c is massive. Domestic charges are around 0.1c per MB or $1 per GB.

Telecom v Vodafone data roaming prices

December 11th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Vodafone pointed out to me their data angel service allows you to buy data in advance and not be able to go over your cost limit. This is better than what they had previously, but I have to say I like the idea of just having a flat rate and not having to worry about how much data I am using.

But people may wonder, which is cheaper. Well here is the comparison.

  • Australia $6/day Telecom v $15 for 100 MB Vodafone. So if you do more than 40 MB a day then Telecom is cheaper. Less than 40 MB a day and Vodafone is cheaper. But of course they key difference is most of us have little idea how much data we may use on a trip. If you end up using your phone for GPS the data use will be much higher.
  • UK/USA $10/day Telecom v $15 for 40 MB Vodafone. So if you do more than 27 MB a day then Telecom is cheaper and less than 27 MB a day, Vodafone is cheaper.

If you use your smart phone to tether your laptop also, I’d say you end up doing far more than 40 MB a day. I’m doing around 70 MB a day in NZ, and that is without tethering when I am in Wellington.

My prediction is Vodafone will move to flat rate data plans within 12 months. And it should be much easier for them to negotiate the plans as their counterparts in other countries are Vodafone Australia, Vodafone UK etc etc. Telecom managed to do it with telcos that are not even part of the same global company.

Telecom introduces flat rate roaming

December 10th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A huge and welcome announcement by Telecom today. They have concluded agreements in a number of countries, so Telecom mobile customers can data roam for a flat rate per day.

The rate is $10 a day for UK, US, Canada, China and Hong Kong and Taiwan (and a couple of others) and $6 a day in Australia. This is pretty damn decent, when you consider per MB rates tend to be $10/MB!

The test for me is whether the rates are low enough that I would keep my NZ sim card in the phone, rather than buy a local sim. While local sims will still be cheaper, it is a hassle to have a different number while overseas and acquiring the sim can be a hassle also. So I’d say I’ll now stick with my Telecom sim when travelling overseas to one of those countries.

As you can tether your laptop to your phone, the $10/day charge is also cheaper than what many hotels charge for daily Internet. In some countries the hotels have free Internet, but not universal.

This new plan by Telecom will shake up the market dramatically. If Vodafone and 2 degrees don’t respond, I can see a lot of business travellers swapping over. Also as far as I know, a flat rate roaming deal is very rare outside Europe (which is basically one market now). This deal could have flow on effects to other markets.

I understand Telecom CEO Simon Moutter personally pushed this initiative, based on his experience as CEO of Auckland Airport. It seems one of the most common complaints he heard there was about international roaming rates.

Two thirds of Telecom customers turn off data when in Australia. I’m one of those. I’ll definitely keep it on for $6 a day (of course would not object to this lowering over time).

The worse thing about the per MB rates is you simply don’t know how much you’ll end up walloped for. There is going to be a fair use policy for use overseas but it won’t be a fixed limit or anything, Basically it will just be based on your data usage overseas being comparable to your usage in NZ. So don’t download any movies while roaming.

I find it quite easy to use 20  to 50 MB a day on my phone, just through normal activities such as web, GPS, youtube, e-mail, twitter and facebook.

I swapped from Vodafone to Telecom a year or two ago for my mobile (still Vodafone for landline and Internet) mainly based on the coverage. There were just too many areas (esp in Auckland) that Vodafone signal was too weak. If I hadn’t swapped. I’d be tempted to do so now just for the roaming rates. However I suspect Vodafone will be under great pressure to respond with a similar flat rate package for data roaming – which will be good. I love competition!

Data Angel

November 6th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Vodafone says its customers will no longer be able to run up unexpected bills surfing the web or checking email on smartphones or computers when travelling overseas.

A new system, Data Angel, means its customers will be prompted to buy data when they switch on their phones or devices after arriving in a country. They will receive a warning once they have used 80 per cent of their allowance and will need to buy extra data in order to continue accessing the internet once that runs out.

That sounds a good system. One thing unclear though is whether you have to prepay for data which you may not use, or whether you can use it just to notify you of your data usage but on pay as you go?

Vodafone said the system was a “world first”. It has at the same time cut the cost of data for New Zealanders visiting Australia by 70 per cent to $15 for 100 megabytes.

Getting better. But $150 a gig still way too high. The real solution is having roaming rates say no more than double local rates.

Brislen on data roaming

October 31st, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

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 roaming rates 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.

Data Roaming Charges

March 5th, 2012 at 9:04 am by David Farrar

Tom Pullar-Strecker reports:

It was nothing more than any holidaymaker might do.

Wellingtonian Magnus O’Neill pulled out his iPhone while holidaying in the Cook Islands, checked Facebook and used Wikipedia to research his hotel and what tropical fish he might see.

The online checks would have cost him about $4 in New Zealand. Instead he now faces a bill from Telecom for $2000.

His roaming consumed a modest 70 megabytes of mobile data. But what Mr O’Neill didn’t realise was that he was being charged $30 a megabyte, a price he believes was “extortionate and unfair”.

It is. This is an all too common story.

In Europe, regulators were forcing the wholesale price of data roaming down to 5c a megabyte, he said.

Which is plenty, considering the cost of international bandwidth wholesales at around 5c a gigabyte. The problem is that when you go overseas with your mobile, you have little choice but to pay or not use. However something I now do is acquire a local sim card. It will give you a few GB of data for well under $100.

Telecom spokeswoman Stephanie Fergusson said Telecom had offered to write off $977.87 of Mr O’Neill’s bill, which he had run up before he received a delayed “courtesy” text from Telecom advising him that New Zealand data rates would not apply during his visit to the Cook Islands.

They should occur near instantly when you land.

This month Telecom will introduce a new service that will let customers set their own dollar limits for data roaming that will stop them from racking up bigger bills unless overridden. It will also text customers when they consume more than 2Mb, 60Mb and 100Mb when roaming overseas.

This is a step in the right direction. But the limits are ridicolous. No person in their right mind wants to use 60 or 100 MBs. You need steps in between 2 and 60. I would suggest available limits should be 1 MB, 2 MB, 5 MB, 10 MB, 20 MB, and 35 MB (which is $1,000 in some countries), 60 MB, 100 MB.

I am assuming that Telecom means megabytes (MB) not megabits (Mb). The Dom Post uses Mb in that last paragraph, which normally indicates megabits.

Better, but not yet there

September 24th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Vodafone have dropped their mobile data roaming rate in Australia to $5/MB from $10/MB.

This is obviously a step in the right direction, but for me the price point is still too high.

Vodafone has had a temporary rate of $2/MB over the last two months for Australia. That was set at an affordable level so during my 8 days in Australia I kept data turned on and Vodafone made around $50 from me – did around 3 MB/day.

In July/August I spent a month in Europe. As data roaming cost so much I turned it on as little as possible, and used only 3 MB over four weeks. I just used local wireless networks instead.

So $5/MB, while cheaper than Telecom, still has a long way to go.

Data Roaming Rates

July 27th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Vodafone has (for now) a data roaming rate of $2/MB when in Australia. On both of my recent trips to Aussie, I have kept my data on when roaming, as I decided a cost of $2/MB was affordable. So Vodafone got to make money from my roaming.

In Hong Kong and the UK, the roaming costs $10/MB. This is better than the old rates of $30/MB but still just too expensive. So what I have done is turned of data when roaming, and instead connect to wireless networks when I can find them.

This means that Vodafone makes no money at all from my roaming.

I’m overseas for a month. I could easily do 5 MB/day which at $2 would be $10 a day or $300 for the month. I wouldn’t be happy paying $300 for a month of overseas data roaming, but I would do so.

However no way would I pay $1,500 at $10/MB let alone $4,500 at the old $30/MB plan.

So if the telcos (Vodafone NZ can’t do it unilaterally) can get the price of data roaming down to semi-reasonable levels, I think they would be surprised by how much more people would use data overseas.

Trans-Tasman mobile roaming

May 27th, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Steven Joyce has announced:

Communications and Information Technology Minister Steven Joyce today released a discussion document on trans-Tasman mobile roaming.

The discussion document has also been released in Australia by Mr Joyce’s counterpart – Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Minister Senator Stephen Conroy.

The document is at MED.

The document sets out three preliminary conclusions for New Zealanders roaming in Australia and Australians roaming in New Zealand:

  1. the features offered and the quality of service are reasonable
  2. the transparency of prices appears to be inadequate and consumer awareness of prices seems low
  3. the prices themselves seem relatively high.

Can’t disagree with 1 – roaming works really well in Australia (and in fact in most countries.

I’ve previously blogged about the outrageously high prices. Vodafone has recently announced a reduction, which is good.

No 2 is for me, the most important. People need to be told upfront about the cost of roaming data. Some of the possible measures proposed are:

Centralised website. A website where, for example, a customer is able to select all the domestic operators from his or her home country and see, on a single page, the best (lowest) rates that they each charge for trans-Tasman roaming (for postpaid and prepaid, and for each visited network).

I doubt this will achieve much as people don’t tend to decide on a carrier based on their international roaming rates.

Personalised SMS on arrival. Operators send their customers one or more personalised SMS when they arrive in a destination, indicating the price they will be charged when roaming (for voice, SMS and data23). To avoid unwanted SMS, this could be an opt-in service, or a ‘pull’ (one that requires the customer to send an SMS first) rather than a ‘push’ service.

This generally happens with Vodafone, which is good. I think it should be mandatory for all networks to send you a message alerting you to the roaming rates in a country.

SMS after use. In some countries, such as the United States it is common for operators to send an SMS to a domestic customer each time they complete a communication, to indicate the price of the communication and (in the case of prepaid users) the remaining account balance. This could involve either a ‘pull’ or a ‘push’ service.

The initial SMS is often received when you have landed at the airport and are pretty distracted. Having an SMS arrive after say the first MB of data would also be useful. I wouldn’t mandate it to occur after every use, but if people after 1 MB get a message saying “You have already incurred $30 of charges” it would be effective.

Billing caps. Postpaid users, in particular, are vulnerable to unexpectedly high bills for roaming, even though many operators now make a practice (both on their websites and in their retail outlets) of warning customers of the prices involved, especially for data roaming. Billing cap systems may present a solution, implemented on either an opt-in or opt-out basis.

Also potentially useful, so long as those who do not want to keep using mobile data etc can easily say they wish to exceed the billing cap.

The discussion document also looks at some price regulation options – both at wholesale or retail level.I would rather avoid price regulation, and focus on enhanced transparency.

This is a discussion document, so you can have your say by e-mailing submissions to MED.

Vodafone drops roaming rates

May 5th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Vodafone will slash data roaming rates to Australia by 93 per cent and other international rates by 66 per cent by the end of the month, the mobile giant said yesterday.

This is a very welcome move by Vodafone. Rates will drop from $30/MB to $2/MB in Australia and $10/MB elsewhere.

I try to minimise data use when overseas, but it is very difficult to have zero use.

Great to see Vodafone respond to the numerous complaints.

UPDATE: A reader alerts me that the Vodafone rate cuts are for three months only. This is better than no drop at all, but people should be very careful after August to ensure if the rates have gone back to the normal daylight robbery.

OECD on international roaming rates

April 12th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

“Unreasonably” high charges for using mobile phones and mobile broadband overseas could face the regulators’ axe under an OECD proposal.

Mobile network owners pay hefty rates so their customers can use the networks of overseas carriers while travelling, and these fees are usually passed on to the customer.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development proposes several ways to reduce global roaming charges – including regulation of wholesale access charges by governments around the world.

The report urges telcos to better educate customers about roaming charges so as to avoid “bill-shock”.

Wellington businesswoman Liz Price says she was horrified to discover she had been charged $3500 for two hours of internet use while on holiday in Australia.

The charges of $30 a MB are highway robbery, and represent massive profit margins.

Let’s say the cost of international bandwidth is US$1,500 a month for 1 Mb/second. That means it takes 8 seconds to get 1 MB of data, which is then charged to the customer at NZ$30.

US$1,500 a month is US$50 a day. That is a cost of US$2 an hour or NZ$3 an hour.

The cost per minute is 5c so the cost for that 8 seconds of bandwidth is basically NZ1c and you pay NZ$30 for it.

Now of course a pipe is not perfectly used at 100% capacity the entire time, but you get some idea of the massive over-charging in place for international roaming.