T-Mobile has promised to cut its overseas data-roaming charges later this year, after one of its senior executives told conference delegates that it is "screwing" its customers at the moment.
The remark was made by the operator’s enterprise strategy head, Ed Williams, at the Mobility Summit in London, during a panel discussion on the subject of mobile data tariffs.
Discussion moderator Chris Lewis, a senior analyst with Ovum, asked Williams if, despite T-Mobile’s £8.50 "all-you-can-eat" data tariff for usage within the UK, the operator still "screws" its customers on data roaming.
"Completely screw them, yes," was Williams’ response.
Williams, who is also a director of the Mobile Data Association, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that his comment was "made in jest". He also revealed that T-Mobile will be lowering its data-roaming tariffs later in 2006.
It's not yet clear exactly what T-Mobile is planning, but another company executive, senior pricing manager Uday Kansara, later told the conference that T-Mobile is planning to bring its consumer rates down "as the costs come down".
Last year, ZDNet UK exposed the fact that many mobile workers were falling victim to excessive roaming costs. MPs have accused the mobile operators of 'profiteering' from their customers, and the European Commission has now intervened in an attempt to drive prices down.
Ovum's Chris Lewis told ZDNet UK that T-Mobile’s flat-rate domestic data tariff is "what is needed" in the drive towards IP-based communications, but warned that networks such as T-Mobile and Orange "do make a significant proportion of their revenue from roaming charges".
According to Lewis, some UK-based multinational companies are finding that up to 60 percent of their mobile bill comes from voice and data-roaming charges.
Calling the transparency on data-roaming charges "negligible", Lewis told ZDNet UK that "CIOs want to see what they’re getting for their money".
"Most companies are saying ‘we don’t mind paying a bit of a [mobility] premium’… but it should be a fair rate for the service being offered. We loosely talk about value-added services, but value to whom? Value has been added for the operators — they have been charging premium prices," he said.
Data-roaming rates vary widely between operators, and between countries. Tariffs can be as high as as £10.28 per MB (in the case of Vodafone, if roaming outside one of its preferred partner networks), but most can be viewed on an operator's Web site. The one exception at the time of writing is T-Mobile, although a spokesperson for the company said on Tuesday that its worst-case scenario maximum tariff was 6.38 per MB.
The T-Mobile spokesperson also said it was an oversight that this tariff is not available on its Web site, and said that the situation would be corrected.
Orange’s vice president of business solutions, Alistair MacLeod, who appeared on the panel with Williams, told delegates that "the industry is adjusting itself as fast as can be coped with", although he pointed out that "mobility has an innate value that is worth paying for".
Referring to recent trends such as the promotion of so-called "free" fixed broadband, he continued: "At the moment there is a real sense that communications is free. We fully understand where the economics are going with this [and] we’ve got to manage the transition from where we were to where we’re going".
MacLeod also said that "all the operators are anxious to pre-empt the regulator", a reference to European Commissioner Viviane Reding's attempts to drive down roaming costs.
Speaking on the same panel, Clifford Wetherall, the group operations director of Telecom Plus, claimed that some companies were finding themselves with huge roaming bills because they were "very determined to get a good headline [flat] rate". As a result, they "forsake" some of the best roaming tariffs and end up with "monstrous international bills".
The moral of that story, said Wetherall, was that "flat doesn’t always work", and "every organisation needs to know what is important for them".