July 22nd, 2011
Imagine receiving your monthly cellphone bill only to discover you've been stiffed for an exorbitant amount, perhaps twice, thrice or ten times your normal monthly amount? Some of you out there may not even have the need to imagine.
Roaming has become the horror topic for many an unfortunate traveller.
Take for instance the 22-year-old UK student who received a bill of over €8 000 for data roaming during a single month while studying abroad. After sourcing the "most-cost effective" means for him to have temporary Internet access via mobile network Orange - an uncapped dongle used mostly for video skype calling, usually a free service, ended up costing him a fortune.
Or how about a situation closer to home, involving one of the Co-Founders of Motribe Mobile Networks - take heart in the irony of this if you too have had to suffer the foolishness of expensive roaming costs without any call-limit protection procedures in place. He was not impressed when he received his supersized bill after a business trip to Kenya, incurred mostly due to push data and uncapped usage not subject to any data bundles on his contract with South African provider Vodacom.
80 megabytes around the world...
For those not so familiar, this should give you some idea of data usage: One megabyte is the equivalent of downloading 100 emails without attachments, less than an hour of internet browsing, one minute of downloading music or a few seconds of video downloading. According to the Vodacom call centre data usage on a Talk 130 min package, while in France for example, can be as much as R128 per megabyte. Due to exchange rates, pricing varies so you can never really be sure what you're getting yourself into.
But it will most certainly be expensive.
The European Union was swift in their clamp down on European mobile phone operators. Since April 2010, EU roaming rules have made it obligatory for providers to offer their customers a cut-off limit facility to protect them from 'bill shocks' for surfing the Internet with their mobile phones and laptops while travelling in other EU countries.
For us consumers down on the tip of Africa it's a different story. No such obligatory cut-off mechanism exists for South Africans using roaming facilities while abroad. Add to this a three-month delay before you receive your unexpected and expensive roaming billing - since this is how long it takes for the cross-border, service provider recons to take place.
Despite growth in the use of mobile devices to transact, plan and purchase holidays via the Internet, a recent Tripadvisor survey has revealed expensive roaming charges to be the biggest barrier when it comes to travellers using the Internet overseas.
Things that stopped users from using their mobiles while abroad:
• 47% sited expensive roaming charges
• 18% said it was poor connectivity
• 7% because of the small screen.
But what exactly causes these bill shockers?
Providers across the globe have formulated service agreements with each other, which enables users to have connectivity abroad. Generally if you enter a country and encounter a network that doesn't have an agreement with your provider you're dead in the water. The problem arises when you're unaware that you're using the alternate provider and paying overseas rates at that.
Also, don't be fooled into thinking you're safe since your package includes a specific data bundle. More often than not these are not applicable for usage on data roaming. Black Berry users you have been warned. Pay as you go users - while your shock will be felt immediately, you can save yourself from having to top up continuously by switching off all settings that allow pushed data to your phone. In fact this is advised for all users who want to save on data costs.
Purchasing a cheap sim card in the country you're visiting is also another safe guard mechanism. Although with RICA now applicable in SA, it seems to rule out the prepaid option for foreigners travellers visiting our shores - although some have reported being able to purchase a sim for dirt cheap from a street vendor without having to provide proof of address.
Roaming and your local service provider
- Does not have cap/limit on roaming costs.
- All contracts users have a credit limit amount on the account. Should you exceed this credit limit while you are abroad you will be required to at least pay a minimum of 70% on the credit limit amount, in order for the cellphone number to be unlocked.
- Vodacom offers 10% discount on voice calls made when roaming on participating networks.
- In the case where you are a prepaid user, you need to ensure that you
have recharged with enough airtime, in order to use you simcard for
calls and sending out sms'.
- A 3 month delay in call charges reflecting on statements due to the late
downloading of Call Data Records (CDR's) from foreign networks.
- Does not have a cap/limit for roaming costs.
- A deposit of R2 000 is required for Contract users in order to activate roaming.
- This will be refunded after three months, once all overseas roaming bills have been received.
-While you are unable to set a cut off limit, all MTN accounts have a credit limit which the provider rationalises should protect you from running into debt which you cannot afford.
- PAYG and TopUp customers do not need to activate roaming as it is active by default
• Cell C
- Does not have a cap/limit for roaming costs.
- All calls and SMS charges will include the foreign network charge, plus a local roaming charge.
- You will be charged for messages left on your voicemail if you have activated Call Forwarding Conditional (e.g. if not answered) and for retrieval of voicemail messages.
- Inclusive Minutes cannot be applied while roaming.
- A 3 month delay in call charges reflecting on statements due to the late downloading of Call Data Records (CDR's) from foreign networks.
- Roaming is not available as a service as yet.
Some useful tips when using your cellphone abroad
- Divert incoming calls to voicemail prior to leaving SA to control costs.
- Accessing your voicemail or Customer Contact Centres while travelling
internationally is not free - you will be charged at the applicable
roaming rate depending on the roaming option you have chosen.
- Talk less, SMS more and use data wisely to save money.
- Close all unused applications while roaming. If you are connected to a
website while roaming, you may incur data charges even if no content is
purchased or downloaded. This is due to small amounts of data being
transmitted every 30 seconds, such as website content and banner ads
refreshing in the background.
- Turn off automatic updates.
- Set up your email account to download the header of the message only,and manually select which emails should be downloaded in full.
- Make sure you know wether voice, data or SMS will be available to you when roaming in your international destination and what the costs will be.
- Confirm at least two weeks before the time if your cellphone can operate in the country of destination.
- Familiarise yourself with the dialing codes of the areas you will be visiting.
- Save a list of emergency numbers and important contacts such as the hotel you will be staying at or the airline reservations number that you may need to use while roaming.
- Receiving a call while travelling internationally is not free - you will be charged at the applicable roaming rate depending on the roaming option you have chosen.
- To avoid being shocked when viewing your bill, turn Data Roaming off on your cellphone - select ‘Settings'>'General'>'Network'>'Data Roaming'