Smartphones and the cost of "Global Roaming"

Global roaming risks extortionate mobile phone data costs

Australia has one of the highest penetrations of smartphone users in the world and individuals going overseas risk extreme "budget shock" if they allow their phones to keep them automatically updated about the weather, news and sporting results, much less using them for web browsing, email and video viewing.

In short, using your smartphone while overseas, known as “global roaming”, can be extortionately expensive. If you are an Australian Telstra mobile customer then the cost of accessing data through your phone outside of Australia will be 1.5c per KB (downloads + uploads) = $15.36 per MB = $15,728 per GB!! These costs are very consistent with other mobile phone providers and Optus, the other major provider, is currently even more expensive.

Unless you are exceptionally rich, you should switch off your "Data Roaming" setting on your phone (this is usually found under the network menu) before proceeding overseas. Particularly when you're travelling on business doing without ready access to data - and that means email, web access etc. - is not an option. If that is the case then consider:

  • See if your mobile phone provider has lower cost global roaming data packs available to purchase which include the countries you intend to visit. You will still pay through the nose - currentlly Telstra charges postpaid clients $1,050 for a 1GB Casual Data Pack -
  • Ensuring that your hotel has access to Wi-Fi, free or otherwise*
  • Use the free access which is often available in fast food chains, libraries and other public locations.*
  • Purchase local SIM's with a data allocation, or
  • Utilize a service such as GlobalGig - which currently provides much lower cost data access in the USA, UK & Ireland and Hong Kong and with more countries to follow shortly.

*For reasons of privacy and security anyone using Wi-Fi in a public environment should very seriously consider purchasing access to a VPN (virtual private network) otherwise there is some risk that passwords and other personal information may be captured illegally

As a Postscript, Telstra announced in early May 2013 that they will send data usage alerts for every 20 megabytes customers use overseas in an effort to stamp out "bill shock". However, depending on their plan, some customers will already have spent over $300 by the time they were warned of using 20MB of data, if they hadn't chosen one of the international data roaming packs mentioned above. Vodafone followed up by announcing that from August 2013, that "customers visiting the US, Britain and New Zealand will be able to use their existing plans to make calls, send text messages and browse the web while travelling" for $5 per day. Still not good enough, we think.