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Global roaming charges: watch where you roam

Date

Garry Barker

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'The jinx hit first at Dubai Airport, where I discovered I had stupidly left home without blocking international roaming on my iPhone5.

'The jinx hit first at Dubai Airport, where I discovered I had stupidly left home without blocking international roaming on my iPhone5.

I bought a plastic flower the other day, and it died. I should have known my luck was out. The jinx hit first at Dubai Airport, where I discovered I had stupidly left home without blocking international roaming on my iPhone5. Then, next mistake, I also had not shut off iCloud syncing. Within seconds of the iPhone booting, I got a text from Telstra saying 20 megabytes of data had been downloaded, and another, a few seconds later, taking it past 40MB. Sick at heart (the heart of my wallet), I shut down the phone and imagined Telstra's tumbrels rumbling off with a serious chunk of my money.

Dubai Airport's wi-fi isn't great, so the phone grabbed the cellular signal as soon as I switched on, and held it while the data downloaded. I have no idea what was downloaded, but at $15.36 a megabyte, it cost me $803.50, taking my monthly Telstra bill to a numbing $1200.

But why $15.36 a megabyte? Does it really cost that much to move a megabyte between Dubai and Melbourne? Or did all the telcos in the world meet over flagons of Dom Perignon to think up some gotcha numbers?

Tim Webber, Telstra's director of business mobility, says Telstra has to negotiate individual roaming agreements with each of the 500 foreign carriers with which it connects. Many are monopolies. Russia, for example, has 13 carriers, each with sole access to a bit of mother Russia's geography. Similar leverage is exerted, more by small countries than major nations.

''It is very hard for us to negotiate [reasonable data prices] in some countries,'' Webber says. Australians, among the biggest mobile phone users in the world, are also big travellers, and, like ET, want to call home, especially in emergencies.

Webber says Telstra feels a duty to provide connection for its globetrotting customers. Prices are coming down as global roaming burgeons, but in the end they are dictated by the rates foreign telcos impose, plus administration and engineering costs in Australia.

But as I've said, there was a jinx on my back. When I got home a couple of days before Telstra's bill was due for payment, I rang customer service to ask for a week's extension while I moved some roubles from one bank to another to meet the $1200 invoice. After ''thinking'', Telstra agreed, but then hit me with a $15 late-payment fee! Even the banks have moderated such fees, but not Telstra. Sure I was late, but what about the extra time that had been granted?

And still the jinx had me in its sights. Shortly after settling the bill, my cable internet connection failed. Telstra said no outage had been reported. The problem must be in my house. It would send a technician - in three days. Three days without the internet! So what about compensation for loss of service? Nowt, said the call-centre lady. ''The internet is classed as a luxury.''

Who says? I asked. ''The government,'' she replied. ''All Telstra has to do is provide basic telephone service.''

So what was all that government guff about how essential the internet was, and how the $35 billion (more likely $90 billion) the NBN would cost was a vital investment in the nation's future? But not everyone lost. I paid Telstra to use my iPhone's Personal Hotspot for internet connection.

So had the jinx done enough? Not likely. Still working on my internet problem, Telstra technicians found corrosion on the cable in the street. Fixed in a flash.

But my modem was judged to be dicky, requiring replacement. But new modems must be registered, without which service cannot be resumed. It takes 24 hours. Why? I never discovered. But the jinx had a catch-22. Not knowing registration takes 24 hours, you might repeat your online application when nothing seems to have happened. I did, three times. Each repeat sent me to the back of the queue.

In the end, after initially getting nowhere with customer service, I connected with an operator who not only alerted Telstra engineering, which quickly sorted things, but also checked afterwards that all was finally well. Full marks.

But the jinx had a final (I hope) slash. A few days after I'd paid my bill, Telstra announced reduced global roaming charges. A $29 monthly data pack once delivered 20 megabytes. Now, it allows 100MB.

It's vastly cheaper to block global roaming before you leave home. Organise a data pack for your phone or buy a global SIM card here or overseas. I Skype from my iPad at one of the multitude of free wi-fi hotspots in Britain and the United States and I have a £30 prepaid phone bought in a supermarket in England. It's fine anywhere in Europe, but, sadly, not in Dubai.

21 comments

  • Three days without internet. Try four months.

    Commenter
    Martian Beer Pig
    Date and time
    October 17, 2013, 8:40AM
    • Garry, sorry to hear!
      I actually sell (at datago.co) a bunch a decent solutions to this problem. Local and roaming SIMs are a pretty easy fix. We get you all sorted before you have even left Aust, so you can hit the ground running, with Google Maps and all your apps wherever you might be going. The local SIMs hit the mark for people who don't mind taking out their existing SIM (as long as their phone is unlocked), or I now even have a data hotspot for corporates which give unlimited data to all your devices in over 110 countries...way cheaper than roaming with Telstra!

      Commenter
      Peter from dataGO.co
      Date and time
      October 17, 2013, 6:39PM
  • "where I discovered I had stupidly left home without blocking international roaming on my iPhone5

    Says it all really, no sympathy here. If you had an Android device gets even better, there is a setting which allows you to switch off data when roaming. Net result no big bills.

    Commenter
    Ian
    Date and time
    October 17, 2013, 8:58AM
    • Whether roaming or homing, I leave 'Mobile data' OFF and just exploit wi-fi where I can find it.

      Commenter
      AWLor0
      Date and time
      October 17, 2013, 12:00PM
    • Never let go an opportunity to take a swipe at Apple, eh?

      FYI, the same thing is available on iPhone too, and it's in iOS6 so it's been there for some time.

      Commenter
      YMM
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 17, 2013, 12:17PM
  • You must be the first person to ever pay one of those ransom bills. I had the same experience in China, I just couldn't find the right combination of permissions to stop data being downloaded without turning my phone into a brick. When I got home to a $1600 bill (for 3 days and about 6 emails in China) I rang Telstra, told them they were being extortionists and that such behaviour should be illegal.

    To there credit they reduced the bill to around $250 (about the price I would have paid for one of their global roaming packages).

    In speaking to others since, such bills almost invariably lead to a phone call with Telstra and a subsequent redxuction of the charges. May not be so effective after the first "misdemeanor".

    Commenter
    RichardMc
    Date and time
    October 17, 2013, 8:58AM
    • Or you can do what I did & bought a Globalgig hotspot from Dick Smith. $9 a GB in OZ & $19 a GB in most of Europe (& I think the US). No contract & can stop any time. I wouldnt leave home without it.

      Commenter
      Nicko
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 17, 2013, 9:01AM
      • Any excuse for another Telstra beat-up. In the last few years there have been countless warnings and posts about the cost perils of data roaming. This situation has been with us for years and you have to wonder what rocks some people have been living under to have taken this long to find realise it. Optus and Vodafone also play this game although there are signs the landscape is changing and the gouging is reducing, albeit very slowly, with Telstra being the slowest to respond. Interesting to see the Green Guide Telstra bashing baton has passed from Charles Wright to Garry Barker. Now if you want to bash Telstra, please be my guest. I can't be enough of this stuff!

        Commenter
        Alert Traveller
        Location
        Geelong
        Date and time
        October 17, 2013, 9:06AM
        • Same thing happened to me last week after spend two weeks in NZ, $874.00 bill. Thing that gets me cranky is the other people I was with were paying only .50c per MB of data with another provider? and Telstra is $15.36?
          Same service

          Commenter
          Peter
          Location
          Newtown
          Date and time
          October 17, 2013, 9:27AM
          • I've complained to Telsra about there price gouging several times but not for Global Roaming. I've taken to leaving my Smartphone behind and taking an old nokia with me then buying a SIM wherever I land. My issues with Telstra have been a charge for $1300 on my daughters phone for excess usage. When I investigated it turns out that for $10 I could buy an 'expansion pack' but without it, the same amount of data costs $1,300. This is absurd, not least when you realise that they must be making a profit even on the $10 charge!!

            The last time was when I accidentally moved my number to another provider (long story). When I tried to change it back I was told I would have to pay $1,400 for breaking the contract. When I pointed out the charge included an amount of $1,100 to cover 'unused calls' over the 2 year period and by returning to their network I'd be effectively be forced into paying twice for the same calls... they backed down and cancelled the charge.

            Nevertheless, their policies regarding excess usage at home *and* abroad need to amended to bring them into line with reasonable public expectations. If they refuse to do so willingly then, private company or not, their ability to apply penalty rates for charges should be regulated by legislation!!

            Commenter
            Welsh Dog
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            October 17, 2013, 10:21AM

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