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.

Roaming charges are still too expensive

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.

Roaming charges are still too expensive

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.

Roaming charges are still too expensive

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.

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  • Great post. I love getting into flow during work, and you’re tips for achieving flow during the day and the week are well thought out.

  • Tony

    For the guy who lost contact with Lookout because roaming was switched off, here a simple solution: Don’t use Lookout which *requires* a data connection – while draining your battery. I use “Where’s my Droid”, which operates with SMS, and looks up your GPS location upon receiving an SMS, and sends you another SMS containing the coordinates. If you happen to have data enabled at that time, it can also send you the street address by looking it up on Google Maps. Plus, if the phone is moving in any direction (e.g. in someone’s car), it tells you the speed and in which direction it’s moving. Best of all, it doesn’t run in the foreground and kill your battery, but only activates upon receiving and SMS.

    Just think outside the square and take a good look at the Android market, instead of copying what your iPhone or Blackberry friends do.

    • Anonymous

      Good tip Tony, I’ll give that a bash myself :)

    • Colin

      Its a great point about thinking outside the square but, Lookout also updates, at your desired time, to sync your contacts, photos, SMS etc. etc. so is a very useful tool in it’s own right and to have the locating function is and advantage in the same App.
      Why should you have to search and have numerous apps to do something that one is capable of, but not when your abroad and turning off data roaming!!

  • jritmeijer

    Travelling to the US next week. Just called orange and data use is charged at £8 per MB (yes, megabyte). So I shelled out for the ‘deal of the year’ £15 for 10MB. This has to change, it is stupid.

  • Anonymous

    It should be illegal. It costs them no more to connect to border towns than it does towns your side of the border. There’s not even an ocean in the way.

    Whenever I go abroad I leave my smartphone at home. Without data my Desire is reduced to texting/calling and my (very) old dumb phone is capable of that but crucially with significantly better battery life.

    Android is designed to have an active data connection. I simply don’t trust it or third party apps to respect that I don’t want background syncing of any kind. I too would disable data when roaming. Sure you can get data packages but it’s very hard to work out if they’ll fully cover you. I’ve been stung too many times to now risk it.

    It’s a real shame because being able to use the web to find out stuff when I’m in a city I do no know would be very useful.

    I got charged a mint once for some web browsing in Ireland. Ireland! It costs no more when you’re in Northern Island. It’s the same land mass.

    I was stung by £90 for 2 weeks in Japan. Renting a mobile (My 2G phone was a paper weight) and sending 3-4 JPEG attachments over my Yahoo connection. In the small print the price per bytes (yes byes) was something crazy.

  • wahblow

    If you are a T-Mobile UK customer the most cost affective method of communication is MMS.
    It costs a flat fee of 20p. For that you get a 300KB message. Picture/Text/Sound or just Text.
    Not limited to 160 chars like SMS and u can send to a number or email.

    Any equivalent size email in an EU country would cost £2.25 @ the current £7.50/MB rate

  • The system needs to change and the way it works.
    Phones should be able to talk directly to each other to save costs (walki talkie) and also helpful in emergencies when the phone system goes down so they become mini nods in a system
    The local country should log your number in its database so when you call someone local or is the country at the same time the call is routed internally instead of going back to GB and then back to where you are, so local rates should apply