Author: Michael Evans
Remember the stories about befuddled tourists returning home to find £50,000 or $50,000 data roaming bills on their doormats? Or mistakes by border dwellers who accidentally logged on to the next country’s cellular network? The horror stories abound and, with roaming charges as high as €10,000 per GB ($13,500, £8,700) it isn’t surprising that the unwary get caught out.
But relief is at hand from July 1, at least for travellers within the European Union. On that day there will be a daily cap of €50 ($67, £44) on data roaming charges. I haven’t looked into the regulations in detail, but I imagine there will be an override button for those who are made aware of the cost and wish to continue. At the moment, as from March this year, users can voluntarily set a limit on daily data usage but, of course, many do not know this and get caught out. The automatic limit is much safer.
This is a step in the right direction. But many people will still be penalised because €50 can sometimes buy as little as 5 MB of data. Typically, my iPhone consumes about 10GB a day although I try to make use of available wifi wherever possible. Roaming charges on my UK O2 contract are £3 (€3.45, $4.60) per MB for Europe, £6 (€6.88, $9.22) elsewhere. So I would usually be within the European €50 limit and would have the peace of mind that I would receive a warning of excessive usage. On the laptop, though, it’s a different story.
There are a number of ways to help reduce the cost. O2 offer a monthly roaming bundle of 50MB for £50 (down to £1 per MB, a small improvement). Vodafone have a simple system of charging around £10 (€11.50, $15.30) per day for up to 50MB of data. You can see the full details here.
Despite all this, data roaming charges remain exorbitant. At home in the UK I get 3GB of monthly data for £15 (€17, $23). Even existing “cheap” roaming costs of £1 per MB means that that 3GB would run to £3,000 per month, or 200 times as much.
The only sure way to have confidence in using your laptop abroad is to get a local SIM. Fortunately, costs have come down. In the UK you can buy a SIM (including a modem) for £25 and then pay around £15 for a top-up valid for 30 days. I have taken similar deals in several European countries and Australia and have been happy with service from Vodafone. Up to now, though, the initial cost has been much higher than £25. It was AUS$99 in Sydney, for instance.
I won’t mention the USA. This is the backwoods for data costs. Last time I checked it wasn’t possible to get a pay-as-you-go service and, of course, monthly costs if you take a contract are much higher than in Europe. I’m due back in Washington in June and if any readers have a good idea for a cheap way of getting data I shall be all ears.