Telstra has, for the first time ever, enabled 4G roaming overseas, starting with Hong Kong — but the high cost of using data overseas will be a major deterrent for most users.
Telstra and Telstra subsidiary Hong Kong CSL have enabled customers of each company to roam the other's 4G network when travelling in Australia. Telstra's executive director of networks Mike Wright said that it was the first of its kind for Australia.
"Telstra was the first operator to introduce a 4G LTE [long-term evolution] mobile network in Australia, and with this service we will become the first local operator to offer 4G LTE international roaming for customers."
But despite Telstra owning Hong Kong CSL, the price remains the same as 3G roaming, at AU$15.36 per megabyte. At superfast 4G speeds, customers will likely tear through data at a faster rate, and end up with a higher bill on their return to Australia.
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) spokesperson Elise Davidson said that Telstra should focus on the cost of roaming first, rather than the data speeds.
"Consumers aren't concerned about data speeds they're getting while roaming; they're concerned about the cost. Customers continue to be caught out with high bills even while using data sparingly, and our advice to all travellers is not to use data while roaming at all," she said.
"We understand that this LTE partnership exchange is a first for an Australian provider, but our preference would be for providers to focus on partnerships with overseas providers that bring down the cost of data roaming before worrying about faster speeds that will ensure customers run up a high bill faster."
Telstra told ZDNet that CSL is partly owned by New World, meaning that it operates as an independent entity from Telstra, and roaming prices are, therefore, market based.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has warned that there has been a steady rise in complaints from customers who arrive back in Australia to global roaming bills well in excess of AU$5,000.
Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull himself has been left to negotiate with Telstra over an AU$13,000 bill he received after travelling overseas in 2011.
Wright said that Telstra is looking at signing more agreements with other companies around the world that operate 4G networks compatible with the network that Telstra has deployed in Australia.