Euro mobile data best buys
As new rules come in, we compare the carriers
Product Round-up From today, European carriers will not be able to charge you more than €50 a month for data you've sent and received over their networks while travelling abroad, unless you've agreed otherwise with your service provider.
The move is the result of legislation enacted in 2009 to prevent mobile phone users receiving horrendous bills after accessing data services while roaming. With networks charging as much as £5 per megabyte of data transferred, rather too many punters have come home to bills totalling many thousands of pounds.
Stick to a few emails and basic web pages and you might not be badly off. But now we're all used to downloading music and even movies, taking part in Skype video calls, and updating Facebook throughout the day, our use of data links on the move has skyrocketed.
Networks may have contacted some or all of their customers to ask them if they want a higher cut-off point, but the EU rules state that, from today, if no agreement has been reached, that €50 limit stands.
Networks must warn you, most likely by text message, when you're nearing that limit.
Here are how the UK networks compare on the roaming packages they now offer:
O2 charges £3 per megabyte in Europe, and £6/MB elsewhere, to use data services on your phone. O2 said it will send a text alert when you've spent £20 and again when you reach £40. You'll pay no more than £40, but you'll be able to use up to 50MB of data.
You can ask O2 to up the limit to £120 and 200MB, and it recommends you do so before you travel.
Mobile broadband users on contracts pay the same rates, but can get one of a range of Data Abroad bolt-ons which bundle 10MB for £20 (£2/MB) or 50MB of £40 (£1/MB). They last for a month.
More Info O2
What about texts?
At a rate of around 10p per 160 character SMS from continental Europe to UK, the equivalent data rate would be 64Kp per MB (where 1 MB == 1024 * 1024, and 64 Kp == £655.36).
There will no doubt be some argument from people who know more than I do that there is a routing overhead for SMS that doesn't exist for the data frames, but it seems pointless to complain about a £1/MB data rate when SMS is the equivalent of 600x more.
I only rant about this as O2 recently dropped their 1 SMS abroad == 4 SMS from your allowance rule, that used to give me free unlimited SMS from France, to join the snivelling ranks of all the other networks that charge between 10p and 18p per SMS.
What the EU needs to do is regulate the cost per GB, not the maximum tariff. This gets rid of nasty surprises, but doesn't get rid of the root of the problem. They've done it with voice calls and texts, so why can't they do it with data?
The main problem is that the network in the country you're in sets the prices. The EU now dictates a maximum amount that a network can charge roaming phones for voice calls and texts. However, they don't dictate anything for data. There's absolutely no incentive for a network to reduce charges to roaming phones, because the people who get charged more aren't their customers. AFAIK, the UK networks make very little or no profit on data usage (or other usage) in the EU, simply because they have to pay the receiving network so much.
What we need is a logical cap on data charges. Obviously you should expect to pay slightly more while roaming, but it shouldn't be more than double what you pay at home. A lot of the networks in the EU are the same companies as the networks in the UK, so there's very little but profit stopping this happening.
Colour me ambivalent.
Initially when I received the message "For data roaming please buy a topup" I had visions of having to register my credit card or mess around with the T-Mobile website to pay £50 for 10MB of data but, thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised to find a painless procedure to add £10 to my phone bill and get as much data allowance as I needed to check email and do a little light browsing. So, in all, much better than a previous trip where I returned to a £100 bill because I used data at £7.50/Mb (T-Mobile's listed it in Mb) -- I should point out I knew what I was doing and thought it a necessary evil.
However, when you think about it the situation is still terrible -- mobile data roaming should be included in your UK allowance. After all, it's the same network you're using.