Tech Insight : Avoid Getting Stung With Roaming Charges

In the wake of the recent news that Scotland’s Health Secretary, Michael Matheson, received an £11,000 roaming charges bill from his holiday, here we look at some of main ways you can keep data roaming charges down.

What Are Data Roaming Charges? 

Data roaming charges are fees that you incur when using your mobile phone’s data connection (like for internet or email) while you are in a different country from where your mobile service is based. These charges exist because when you’re abroad, your mobile phone company has to use the networks of other companies in the country you’re visiting. This is known as ‘roaming’.

The foreign networks charge your home mobile company for the use of their networks, and these costs are often passed on to you as ‘data roaming charges’. These charges can be quite high because they include the costs of international agreements and network usage between different companies in different countries.

Roaming Charges Cost More Outside The EU 

Roaming charges are generally higher outside the European Union (EU) due to the lack of EU-regulated caps on these charges. In non-EU countries for example, mobile operators set their own rates, often influenced by international agreements, network costs, and market dynamics.

How To Avoid Or Minimise Roaming Charges

To minimise or avoid roaming charges while on holiday, you can use several strategies. For example:

– Check your plan and any roaming arrangements in good time before you go. Some plans include roaming allowances for certain countries which may already cover your basic needs. You may also be able to buy a reasonable plan for the country you’re going to visit. Your mobile plan may also give you the option to put a spending cap on – i.e. your data will stop working (and you’ll stop getting charged) when you exceed the limit you set.

– Turn off data roaming. You can disable data roaming in your smartphone settings. This prevents your phone from using mobile data abroad, thus avoiding roaming charges. However, you won’t be able to access the internet via your mobile network when roaming is off, but you can (as shown in the next point) use the hotel Wi-Fi (most holiday accommodation now provides Wi-Fi). You can also take the precaution of downloading your favourite music, TV shows and podcasts to your device before going on holiday in anticipation of turning off roaming.

– Use Wi-Fi for internet access whenever possible. Hotels, restaurants, cafes, and public places often offer free Wi-Fi. You can make calls, send messages, and browse the internet over Wi-Fi without incurring roaming charges. However, although the hotel Wi-Fi may be safer (networks with passwords are often safer), it’s best to careful when using public Wi-Fi in areas such as cafes and public places. Some ways you can protect yourself when using public Wi-Fi include using a VPN and keeping your device’s antivirus up to date, not using your banking app or sharing personal information, turning off file sharing and AirDrop options, and by always logging out of accounts when finished.

– Get a local SIM card, i.e. purchase a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting. This gives you a local number and access to local rates for calls, texts, and data. Ensure your phone is unlocked and compatible with the local network.

– Use an international/travel plan from your provider. For example, many mobile service providers offer special international or travel plans that include reduced rates for data, calls, and texts abroad. Check with your provider before travelling.

– Use communication apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger to communicate over Wi-Fi. With these apps You can make voice and video calls, send messages, and even share photos without using your mobile network or your data.

– Before leaving a Wi-Fi zone, download maps, travel guides, and any other information you might need. This way, you can access them offline without needing mobile data.

– Monitor/keep track of your data usage. Some smartphones have built-in features to monitor data usage, or you can download third-party apps.

– Limit time spent online. If roaming is expensive on your plan, you could designate a certain time of day to go online and if travelling with others, consider rotating who uses their phone to check directions/look at recommendations, thereby spreading the cost between you.

– Use a temporary SIM card / consider using an international SIM card or an eSIM with plans that offer better rates for multiple countries if you’re visiting several places.

– Avoid data-intensive activities like streaming video or music, and downloading large files when not connected to Wi-Fi. For, example, the Scottish Health Secretary attributed his £11,000 roaming bill to his sons usage of their iPads to stream content. For example, on your smartphone, you can often set a data limit warning that alerts you when you’re nearing a specified data usage threshold.

– If you feel you’re able to do so, switch your device off altogether on certain days. For example, in popular holiday countries outside the EU, such as Turkey, you may find that you incur a whole daily charge if your phone is on at any time between midnight and the following midnight.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The realities of data roaming charges, especially the higher costs outside the EU, have significant implications for both mobile networks and individuals travelling abroad for business or holidays.

For mobile networks, the evolving landscape of data roaming presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Networks must balance the need to cover the costs incurred through international agreements and network usage while remaining competitive and customer friendly. They have an opportunity to innovate by offering tailored international plans, roaming packages, and features like spending caps to appeal to global travellers. This not only enhances customer satisfaction but also helps in maintaining a loyal customer base who might otherwise seek alternatives.

Business travellers and holidaymakers need to be increasingly savvy about managing their data usage abroad. The hefty bill incurred by Scotland’s Health Secretary highlights the potential financial pitfalls of unchecked roaming. For businesses, this underscores the importance of having clear policies and education for employees traveling abroad. Implementing best practices like using secure Wi-Fi, opting for local SIM cards, and utilising data management tools can lead to substantial cost savings.

Also, there’s a growing need for awareness about network security, especially when using public Wi-Fi, which is critical for protecting sensitive business information. Businesses can invest in VPNs and educate their employees on digital security measures.

While roaming charges present a cost challenge, therefore, they also encourage both mobile networks and travellers to adopt smarter, more cost-effective strategies. For businesses, this means being proactive in managing data usage and security for employees traveling abroad, while for mobile networks, it’s an opportunity to innovate and provide value-added services that cater to the needs of global travellers.