Roaming charges are still too expensive

Your phone is more than just a device for texting and calling. During the past few years the smartphone is no longer just a “geek” device with a stylus or an Exchange connection, it’s a phone that more people have. People expect to be able to browse, to Tweet, to update Facebook and to email.


Whilst on holiday I came across a horrible realisation. These shiny, advanced, sexy phones are absolutely rubbish abroad. Yes, it’s an obvious statement, but here in Europe it’s painful. Travel across a border and you’d be mad to leave your data connection running. Despite recent inclusive data deals from the major networks (Vodafone and Orange announced their plans last year), many are scared stiff to even use their phones for calls, let alone data. On holiday I did what many do and sent texts, but when I returned an email appeared from a reader which showed how a bad situation can get worse.

Ant went on holiday with his mates to Ibiza. He’s been a long-time user of Lookout. It’s a solution for Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile which protects your phone from loss and theft. You can also remotely lock or wipe the phone. It’s a great service. Imagine the scene, you go to work, you lose your phone. Just log into Lookout and it’ll find the phone for you. You can even make it “scream” so you can find it easier.

There’s similar services to this, including the built-in Google Latitude on Google Maps. If you’ve added your mates then it’s pretty easy to see where they are at all times. If a phone gets lost, just log into Google Latitude and bam – you know roughly where it is.

This is all great, but when Ant went on holiday he lost his HTC Desire on the beach. No problems, he thought, let’s just login to Lookout and click “Missing Device” … Ah..

Roaming charges are still too expensive

It didn’t work. Why ? Well, like 99% of people going abroad he’d disabled data roaming. Yes, I know there’s some good data roaming packages out there, but the unfortunate truth is that most people still turn data roaming off when they’re abroad. This effectively meant that his phone was lost and the whole Lookout system was unable to locate the phone, wipe it or get any sort of data back from it. It’s just like putting it in “Flight Mode” – if the software can’t “call home” it’s pretty stuffed.

Ant then tried Google Latitude, and sure enough that showed a position. Unfortunately it was the last known position, 5 days earlier. He’s now resigned to the fact that the phone is lost. Unless the thief manages to unlock it and connects to the web without deleting the software on the phone, it’s gone.

To be fair, he did call Orange and had the phone barred immediately. Here’s the second issue though – how do you call your operator from abroad ? How long will the call be ? Luckily he had a friend with an Orange handset and, even after a 16 minute phone call to a UK number, he wasn’t charged. Had things been different he would’ve had to use a landline in Ibiza, which would’ve cost even more.

This really needs to change. In the USA, as far as I’m aware, you can fly from New York to California, then call home to say you’ve arrived. Heck, you can even browse the web. It’ll all be included in your plan and you won’t pay any extra. Here in Europe if you live in France and drive a few miles to Germany you’re suddenly clobbered over the head with charges. It’s just not right and, worse still, it’s a cash cow.

Yes, I said that. It’s a massive cash cow. It doesn’t cost anywhere near the amount you pay to send texts, make calls or browse the web from abroad. It needs to stop.