We all know the stories about how vacationing smartphone users became the victim of high roaming charges, resulting in monthly bills sometimes exceeding €1000. To put an end to this, the EU has come up with a rule stating that carriers can no longer charge more than €50 per month for roaming, and are obliged to warn the user before reaching this limit. That all sounds nice and consumer friendly, but I recently tested this, and received an “interesting” monthly bill from T-Mobile.
I’ve got an iPhone 4, and like many Dutch iPhone users, I got mine with a T-Mobile contract. I always used Vodafone because it has much better coverage, but when the iPhone 3 came out, T-Mobile was the only way to go and after some hesitation, I switched providers. To this day, the network coverage is not as good as Vodafone’s, I miss calls even when I have full bars, and even if I can get “3G”, the speeds are not nearly as good as friends with iPhones on the Vodafone network.
Having said that, my contract is an old contract which means I have a truly unlimited data plan, for a reasonable price. That is, until you cross the border.
A few weeks ago, we went to France for a week of Eurodisney with the kids and grand kids. Because of the project stress at work, and de possibility to share pictures with my parents, I decided to enable roaming on my iPhone. I did try to check the T-Mobile site for data plans and bundles, but these were either not meeting my needs (day passes), or were too hard to compare with each other. I checked my contract and the roaming charges seemed only slightly higher than the blocks, box-packs, travel-smurf, stack-bundles, or whatever convoluted pricing schemes these carriers were trying to trick me in to. I decided to reset the usage info on my iPhone and keep an eye on it.
I crossed the border and received the usual SMS, about rates everybody ignores. I did see that data was €2,- per MB (yes mega-byte) but it looked more like a typo to me, surely they didn’t mean mega-byte, did they? During my stay in France, I got he absolute worse network coverage and data speeds you can imagine. No matter where I was, reading text-only email turned into a chore taking sometimes minutes to load. Twitter feeds were barely coming through, and sending a downscaled 100kB image actually took several retries, and multiple minutes. It was horrible. And then, on day 4, it all came to a halt. No SMS, no warning, no mail, no phone call, just total data shutdown. I could still make robot-voice calls, but all data traffic stopped and I had no idea how to get that going again. And that turned out to be a good thing.
I checked my usage, and guessed that I must have crossed the €50,- mark somewhere, and the carrier shut me down to “protect me” from high roaming charges. I tried to SMS a few people to let them know I was still alive, and that was that.
A few weeks after I got home, I got the bill, and yes, there it was: I had reached the €50,- mark. It was an expensive experiment, and well worth this blogpost. Here’s why. On my home entry-level 8Mbit ADSL connection, I have free VOIP, and unlimited data. I checked our ADSL traffic and my family seems to be doing about 20GB a month combined. My monthly bill is €45,- so if I don’t use the phone you could say that a GB of traffic costs me (€45 / 20 GB) €2,25 per GB.
As you can see in my data usage screenshot on the iPhone, and the bill on the right, I hardly made use of voice or sms. So we can roughly do the same calculation, assuming that 99% of the bill is data. The monthly bill was €89,45, and that got me 31.450MB of data (yes, again: mega-byte). So the price of a roaming Gigabyte in Europe is (€89,45 / 0.031450 GB)
€ 2844,20 per GB
What you see is no typo. Almost €3000,- per GB. So what the Phone company is telling me here, is that even though the networks in all countries are reaching right up to the border, and we live in an interconnected world where data travels freely across the globe, phone companies charge more than 1000x the regular price to get a bit of information across that border?
I think carriers need to be seriously investigated by the EU and Trading committees, because they are using their monopoly to charge us prices which are totally unrealistic. It also proves that privatization of public services like communication networks doesn’t work. It nearly always results in a few greedy companies cobbling up a system which delivers crappy service for an outrageous price.
The first step for these leeches is to come back from whatever cave they were in, move forward in time to 2011, and replace the “MB” with “GB” on my bill, without changing anything else. That would *still* make them 26% more expensive than my internet provider, but at least it would take the roaming charges to an acceptable level, even for the crappy data speeds they blatantly market as “high speed”.