You think mobile voice is expensive?
Try data roaming
Workshop The issue of mobile pricing can be something of a sore point in the business environment, and it's one that we're exploring through our Reg reader poll. We'll be reporting back on it a little further down the line as part of this workshop. But of course there are different aspects to pricing, and based on the feedback we’ve seen from you so far roaming charges seem to be the stickiest issue.
In part, the issue of ‘out of control’ roaming charges has been dealt with within the EU zone, and rightly so. Roaming has been under the scrutiny of the European Commission for a number of years already, and from 1 July, compulsory maximum roaming charges for voice calls within the EU will be capped at €0.39 (around 32p) a minute for making a call while travelling, and at €0.15 (around 12.5p) for receiving a call.
For data calls, mobile operators will have to cut users off once they reach €50 (around £41.20) of data roaming charges per month, unless there is an explicit agreement with the customer to bypass this. To some extent this will help with the bill shock that many have suffered, such as the guy who spent his time streaming data when he got stuck abroad due to the ash cloud, and found himself faced with a £7,000 data bill on his return, or the German traveller who ran up a heartbreaking €46,000 bill downloading a TV programme. And while horror stories of this magnitude tend to be few and far between, many employees have found themselves running up data bills way in excess of what they (or their manager) anticipated.
While these caps are doubtless welcome for many businesses, the downside is that they only refer to voice and data calls made in Europe. Once employees are outside the Euro zone, the caps that help to keep their mobile phone bills in check disappear, meaning that a £7,000 bill (or whatever) once again becomes a distinct possibility – and woe betide anyone who forgets this.
Even with capped rates, roaming charges are still exorbitant. And, caps aside, the rumblings from the industry are that it is unlikely to get any better. Without naming any names, mobile operators are regularly slated for high data roaming charges. And we are now starting to see quite significant hikes in these, along with an end to ‘unlimited’ plans.
While some will argue that such changes work in their favour, many, most notably business users who tend to be higher data users, especially when abroad, are likely to end up paying more. Not that it is necessarily always easy to work out which operator will be the least expensive. Data roaming plans across mobile operators typically vary in how they are put together, meaning that the cheapest option will depend on specific usage, which is often not a constant.
Estimates for how much businesses fork out on mobile data as a proportion of total comms spend vary enormously (but we’d be interested to know where you’re at on this). Irrespective of how much data spend actually is, mobile data usage is on a clear upward trend, driven by an increased appetite for access to content while on the move, which in turn is being fuelled by the plethora of smart devices that often start their life in the consumer space, but transition into business-essential kit.
With this in mind, it is important for businesses to take control of data roaming charges. At the outset, this means making sure that you are intimate with your mobile contracts, particularly on the issue of roaming, and ensuring that as many safeguards are in place as possible to prevent runaway roaming charges. Don’t be shy about pushing your mobile operator for help on this – you are paying them enough, after all. But don’t expect your provider to do everything – while they will do their bit, it is not in their interest to shrink your bill too much.
Rather, look at solutions such as local SIMs or Wi-Fi hotspots to reduce roaming charges (although according to Reg readers, these can be less than ideal, and often confusing). Additionally, ensure that employees who self-provision aren’t racking up huge roaming bills and then putting them through expenses. If that is the case, impose limits and/or think about bringing them back into the contractual fold.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet that will make light work of this, but as it is an issue that is unlikely to go away any time soon, make sure you aren’t left exposed.
Has your business been caught short with data roaming? Or have you come up with a cunning plan to deal with it? Whatever your experience, we’d be interested in hearing from you in the comments area below. ®