Vodafone, roaming and the €60 beer

The world of European mobile communications was not rocked to its very foundations this week, as 3 announced a £1.25/MB data roaming deal followed by Vodafone offering up £5 per diem/25MB max.

The world of European mobile communications was not rocked to its very foundations this week, as 3 announced a £1.25/MB data roaming deal followed by Vodafone offering up £5 per diem/25MB max.

Moble data roaming charges are fantastic. Truly. They're like a pub that changes the cost of the beer depending on where you live. And not by a crafty fifty pence neither.

That £5/day/25MB limit? If you're a Voda customer at home, you get a month for £5 and a 500MB limit - which is at least twenty times the value. Imagine trying to buy a three euro beer in Paris, only to have your passport checked and told that it was going to cost you sixty euro. Then, if you complain, being told that this is a brand new and very competitive rate, and in any case the pubs in London charged fifty quid per pint to any visiting Parisian.

That's exactly what the mobile phone companies are doing to us, every time we use data abroad. A sixty euro beer. The same rapacious markup applies across Europe and across mobile phone companies. Yay for free markets, and thank goodness the companies aren't operating an illegal cartel. We can have all the sixty euro beer we can drink.

Only, of course, we don't drink sixty euro beer, and we don't use data roaming. Because we can't afford to. Even though mobile data is at its most useful when we're travelling.

So why does mobile data from the mast in the corner of a foreign field cost so much? Because the networks are operating in collusion to keep the price sky-high, and there's a chance you'll desperately need it. There is no technical reason.

The network you're using abroad will be making a profit selling its local internet access on something along the lines of your domestic deal: it costs no more to serve you beer - or data -- than to serve Helga. I don't know how much it costs the mobile phone companies to reconcile roaming charges: I do know that it can't be very much.

I particularly like the excuses given when regulators rattle their sabres. If we didn't charge our users twenty times as much as we need to, the argument goes, we'd have to charge them more for other stuff. Try applying that to the sixty euro beer, and see how much sense it makes.

So: thanks for nothing, guys. Come back to us when you've worked out that caring for your customers means not ripping them off in a fashion unseen since the days of Vikings and papal indulgences. Come back to us when you've joined the modern world.

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