Monday, 01 September 2008 18:07

AT&T unveils 'œridiculous' iPhone roaming plans

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AT&T has demonstrated yet another reason why Apple should set the iPhone 2G and 3G free, giving users the freedom to insert their own SIM cards when travelling internationally, rather than being forced to choose between two plans which can reduce bill shock but are still expensive.

Bill shock from overseas roaming with any mobile phone is a horrid thing, whether clocked up via voice calls or even more expensive data roaming charges which can actually make voice roaming seem almost cheap in comparison. Almost.

When the iPhone was first launched, users who travelled overseas came back to bill shock of thousands of dollars, of which a large part was for data roaming.

Part of the problem is that the iPhone, according to an article at Computerworld, uses ’10 times the data’ of competing smartphones, with anyone ever having used an iPhone and its data features easily able to agree with that statement.

After all, surfing the web with what is a desktop class browser in a handheld device means surfing the web is so much more pleasurable. Add the iPhone’s unparalleled finger controlled navigation system, plus its ability to receive email updates via “push”, as well as features such as Google Maps to hand, and if you’re not careful when overseas, all these data accesses will add up. Bigtime.

So, we’re seeing companies like AT&T introduce special roaming packs which can be activated for as little as one month at a time, something that’s actually a good thing as it means you can dip in and out of the service as you travel overseas.

In Australia, Vodafone offers a similar service for voice and data calls, giving you a cheaper rate when travelling overseas.

But one thing is for sure – all of these prices are still way too high, because the international carriers like the revenue stream that global roaming brings. Given that costs can soar into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars, it’s easy to see why, but it’s the customer that pays through the nose for these services.

The European Union has set rules in motion to lower the cost of international roaming, but it’s still too expensive, and sadly, the carriers will likely fight the lowering of international roaming charges as long as they can.

So, what’s AT&T charging? Please read on to page 2.


Well, the first plan is US $119.99 per month, which gets you 100MB of data, while the $199 plan gets you 200MB of data.

Hopefully this is enough to cover all your international data roaming usage, because if it’s not, once you go past the allotted megabyte cap, you’ll likely be paying those super high rates again.

The Computerworld article linked above talks of a US executive that travelled to Italy for two weeks and came back to a US $5000 bill, so paying AT&T’s rates to lower such ridiculously high potential charges is certainly a good thing.

$200 is a lot cheaper than $5000, after all. But with the AT&T iPhone, you have no way of popping in your own SIM card should you choose to.

Yes, the whole idea of roaming is that you don’t need to change SIM cards, and have the “convenience” of using your existing phone number. But for the cost conscious, plugging in a local SIM card and paying local data rates – which are probably still expensive anyway – can still work out to be cheaper than AT&T’s $199 per month plan.

You’ll have to do your homework on that one if you’re using a different brand of phone that is unlocked, thus letting you change your SIM card if you so desire. AT&T notes that at 2c per kilobyte, overseas SIM data charges might not be that cheap after all, making AT&T’s plan more attractive.

But that only shows the ridiculous nature of the high cost of mobile data. Mobile data is just as important as mobile voice, and it should not be expensive!

If you do have an unlocked phone and want to use a local SIM, you’d also then have to call your regular number and leave a new voicemail message that tells callers what your international number is – the number of the SIM in whichever country you’re in.

But receiving calls on this SIM won’t cost you the roaming rates for incoming calls, and will probably be cheaper for the caller, too.

It’s just that with the US iPhone, you don’t get this choice. You either have to pay AT&T’s roaming rates for data and voice, or turn data off altogether, simply using your iPhone as a phone and iPod.

Or switch your phone off completely, which isn’t that useful in today’s connected world.

Apple and AT&T, and more specifically Apple: when will you just sell the iPhone as an unlocked device, especially in the US? At least customers in other parts of the world can pay to get their iPhones totally unlocked, although that option isn’t available to all.

Globalisation and the lowering of phone costs still has a long way to go!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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