T-Mobile has unveiled details of a market-leading tariff for consumers who want access to the internet through mobile phones while overseas, and announced plans that will prevent customers experiencing “bill shock” when they return from travelling.
The cost of using your mobile phone to access the internet is set to fall dramatically across Europe from 1 July following implementation of rules to stop UK mobile providers setting excessive charges.
It means holidaymakers may finally be able to chat to friends on Facebook or watch YouTube on the beach without breaking the bank.
Some consumers have suffered bill shock after unwittingly running-up charges amounting to thousands of pounds while on holiday, after leaving data-hungry smartphone apps running in the background.
However, mobile providers are introducing lower roaming charges and deals on data allowances in anticipation of tighter pricing controls.
T-Mobile will allow customers to buy “booster” deals, based on how much data they wish to use, and will completely block overseas internet usage until customers purchase one of the new packages (available from 19 June).
Comparison site Broadband Choices said T-Mobile was the best option for consumers wishing to use the internet briefly, buying 3MB worth of data for just £1 or 33p per MB.
However heavy internet users might find other tariffs cheaper than T-mobile’s larger bundles, which are priced at £5 for 20MB and £10 for 50MB (both have time limits).
Three is offering an “all-you-can-eat” tariff, the Euro Internet Pass, for £5, while Vodafone will allow customers to use their existing UK plan overseas for an extra £3 a day.
However Three’s Euro Internet Pass will not allow streaming or tethering – where a mobile is linked to a laptop to enable internet access.
For frequent travellers Virgin Mobile’s new data passes, available from 25 June2012, are valid for three months or until the data is used up, so there is no need to use all the data allowance within 24 hours. This makes the £3 charge for 5MB or £5 for 10MB reasonably cost effective.
A megabyte of data is equivalent to accessing eight normal web pages or 200 emails without attachments, according to Which?. You would need 10MB to download one music track.
The Guardian has reported on several cases of mobile bill shock in recent weeks, including that of Alexandra Xanthaki, who faced a £2,600 bill after using an iPhone app to find restaurants on a short trip abroad.
Consumers can also end up considerably out of pocket if their phone is stolen. Johan Potgieter, was landed with a £9,000 bill from Orange after thieves stole his phone while he was on holiday in South Africa.
The EU ruling caps charges imposed by UK network providers for overseas roaming.
From 1 July, the cost of data can be no more than €0.70 per MB, plus VAT, which is around 69p. This will then fall to 45 cents plus VAT, around 36p, in July 2013 and 20 cents plus VAT (around 16p) in July 2014 – vastly cheaper than some UK providers’ current European rates.
Orange, for example, charges £3.07 per MB if you want to surf the net in Europe, while Three’s pre-EU ruling fee is £1.28 per MB.
But some of the new pricing plans are not straightforward , with some only available to contract customers, leaving pay-as-you-go users facing higher costs, while others penalise light internet users.
Dominic Baliszewski from Broadband Choices said: “Even with these new lower costs, charges can quickly rack up. A £3 charge is still a lot if you’re only using 1MB to quickly check your emails. A £3 data charge per day will cost £42 if used daily over a two week trip.”
The EU rule does not affect the prices providers can charge for data roaming outside the European Union but from 1 July, people travelling further afield will at least get a warning text message, email or pop-up window from their mobile provider when they are nearing €50 of data downloads, or their pre-agreed level. Consumers will then have to confirm they are happy to go over this level in order to continue their data roaming.