Orange promises cheaper, simpler roaming

Roaming Rip-Offs: Following ZDNet UK's campaign against extortionate data roaming charges, Orange promises to make it easier to understand and cheaper, though it cannot yet say by how much

Orange UK plans to launch a new service for business customers in the new year which the company hopes will stem a tide of criticism the company has faced over high charges for using data services while roaming abroad.

The service, called Business Everywhere, bundles 3G, GPRS and Wi-Fi into one package with one pricing model and new software that, Orange claims, will simplify the way users manage and pay for their mobile services while they are travelling.

It will offer "one contract, one bill and one customer point of contact, regardless of the network accessed" the company said.

The move comes after ZDNet UK highlighted the exorbitant cost of using mobile data services while travelling in Europe and around the world. UK businessman Roger Steare found himself faced with a bill for £769 after using his Orange datacard while on holiday in France and while working in Germany.

Steare refused to pay the bill which he described as "shocking and outrageous".

After investigating his case, ZDNet UK found that he was by no means alone. While Steare had been charged £8 a megabyte for downloading data, users of 3G, Wi-Fi and GPRS services from various carriers were being charged as much as £20 a megabyte.

Alastair MacLeod, head of Orange business solutions could not say how much the service, called Orange Business Everywhere, will cost when it launches in January. But he said users will be able to access data at "much lower rates", adding "pricing for customers roaming will be competitive".

Business Everywhere software for laptop data cards will allow access to 3G, GPRS as well as Wi-Fi networks combined with the new data pricing, said MacLeod.

According to Orange, the combined service will "differ from competitor offerings by giving users total flexibility to mix their use of Wi-Fi, 3G and GPRS".

Orange is "setting no requirements to 'use or lose' minimum portions of any network type", the company said in a statement. "The new data pricing will also include country specific flat rates, whether users are in the UK or roaming abroad.

The initial WiFi-only service will launch on 19 December in partnership with Orange France, BT Openzone and WeRoam. Orange business customers will be able to access about 1,700 Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK and around 12,000 internationally for £6 an hour. Orange will also offer an e-voucher Wi-Fi service for small businesses and occasional users who don't want to commit to a monthly contract.

Roger Steare, the customer at the centre of the original controversy, cautiously welcomed the announcement from Orange. "It's certainly a step in the right direction," he told ZDNet UK. "I would have no problem in paying £6 an hour."

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