International mobile data roaming costs are increasingly becoming a problem all over the world. With difficult to understand policies and exorbitant fees, many travellers are coming home to some very steep phone bills.
Mobile roaming data costs are incurred by using your cell phone while travelling outside the country, and therefore outside the scope of your mobile operator.
How mobile roaming works is a local operator such as Vodacom or MTN will make deals with various mobile operators in other countries so that you, their customer, can have access to mobile services while travelling in those countries.
The first problem with this is that the different mobile operators all make deals with different foreign providers, according to their own unique alliances, rivalries, power struggles and negotiations. This can lead to huge disparities in roaming costs across different networks. For example someone traveling to Australia can pay anything between R17.50 and R330 per MB of data depending on their service provider.
Another major problem is that mobile providers all over the world seem to see roaming charges as a bit of a cash cow. It is not uncommon to be charged over R100 per MB of data in most foreign countries. When asked to defend the high cost of roaming data local mobile operators claim that they are just passing on the costs they are charged by their international partners. But this does not stop them from turning around charging equally high rates to foreigners visiting South Africa.
While there may be some legitimate additional cost to providing roaming services, it should not be enough to justify the exorbitant tariffs being levied and it is obvious that mobile operators are simply using it as a way to make easy money.
There are some steps being taken however, to curb the spiralling cost internationally. The International Telecommunications Union has begun urging regulators and policy makers to “introduce regulatory interventions on international mobile roaming service tariffs for the benefit of users” and the European Commission has stepped in to lower roaming charges in the European Union with Vodafone already facing fines of up to 2 million euros for failing to adhere to European roaming tariffs.