Here’s Your Typical International Roaming Charge Complaint

When I was in Amsterdam a few weeks ago, I noted that the industry still manages to get hung up by small things, like shoddy SMS interconnects. Today, my T-Mobile bill arrived in the mail, bringing with it the inevitable feelings of regret that I actually bothered to use the phone while I was there. I can handle the 99 cents per minute for voice and the 35 cents per text message, really, but the $15 per MB of data really gets to me. This is a path plenty of people have gone down before, so I won’t rehash the entire argument — I’ll just say that I’m a T-Mobile US subscriber, and I was roaming on T-Mobile Netherlands, so the cost of delivering mobile data to me in one country versus the other shouldn’t be that radically different.

But it gets better: I also pay $20 a month for an unlimited subscription to T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi network. But it’s got international roaming charges, too, of 18 cents per minute. I find that one even more difficult to understand.

While I think this sort of thing affects a relatively small group of mobile users, that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. It also highlights the folly of many mobile operators: they view their offerings from the perspective of “what can we get away with?” not “what can we do to really please our customers?”. The problem is that the small group of users likely to get really annoyed by these stiff international data charges are the ones most likely to do something about it, whether that’s by getting local prepaid cards, using alternative services (like Jajah), or simply by doing without or using Wi-Fi (assuming you’re not roaming on that, too, of course).

3′s X-Series — despite the kinks that are still getting worked out — is notable in this regard: there are no data roaming fees when you’re on 3′s networks elsewhere in the world. Skype calls when roaming are still subject to a charge, but that’s likely because of the iSkoot voice call mechanism it uses for that, rather than a data connection. Still, it’s a lot more than can be said about other operators’ plans.

While I tend to think the EU’s plans to regulate international roaming are a little bit heavy-handed, I also think the free market’s failed here, and I won’t feel particularly sorry for the mobile operators when they’re forced to slash their prices. By keeping the rates so high, they’re really not doing themselves any favors; they’re discouraging use and annoying their customers. Apologies for raising this personal complaint that’s been raised so many times before, but the fact that people continue to talk about things like this reveals the degree to which it’s still annoying so many of us.

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