Data-roaming charges 'too high', ZDNet readers say

A global ZDNet survey demonstrates the scale of opposition to the prices operators charge for data roaming abroad, with 96 percent of readers saying the charges are excessive
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Data-roaming prices charged by operators are excessive, according to almost all the readers who responded to a ZDNet survey, two-fifths of whom said they had received a data-roaming bill that they thought was too expensive.

Of the respondents to the global survey, which was carried out in March, 20 percent said the charges were "too high", and 76 percent said they were "much too high" — giving a total of 96 percent. The figures coming from UK-only respondents were similar, with 23 percent saying data-roaming charges were "too high" and 73 percent saying they were "much too high".

I only use it if I absolutely have to, and that's after looking for Wi-Fi hotspots instead. I don't mind paying a small premium over local data access, but at these prices it's not worth the convenience.
– ZDNet survey respondent

Comments on the survey mostly suggested a degree of anger from mobile operators' customers. "Data-roaming prices at the moment seem extortionate," one person said, while others referred to the charges as "pathological price gouging", "hideously expensive", "unjustifiable" and "terrible service for sky-high prices".

"I used to use data roaming all the time. After switching to an iPhone my first bill with roaming was through the roof," another typical comment read. "Since then, I only use it if I absolutely have to, and that's after looking for Wi-Fi hotspots instead. I don't mind paying a small premium over local data access, but at these prices it's not worth the convenience."

ZDNet UK is publishing the survey results to coincide with the launch of a petition, which calls on mobile operators around the world to cut the prices they charge customers for using the mobile internet on their smartphones, tablets and laptops while travelling abroad. The research showed people are paying hundreds and even thousands of pounds for overseas connectivity, with one reader even quoting charges of £2,400 on a single monthly bill.

Domestic vs roaming charges

ZDNet UK's investigations have shown that the retail prices being charged to businesses and consumers, which can be as high as £10 per megabyte, bear no relation to the actual costs of providing mobile data services, which are 1p to 3p per megabyte. Indeed, data-roaming charges are usually thousands of times greater — or even hundreds of thousands of times greater — than those levied for domestic mobile data usage.

In the survery, 30 percent of UK respondents said their businesses banned them from using data roaming on their company's account — a slightly lower figure than the global average of 35 percent. Just over half of the survey's UK-based respondents said they paid for their own data charges while travelling, while 29 percent said their company footed the bill.

Forty percent of British readers said they had purchased a local SIM card in their destination country in order to bypass data-roaming. Despite its lack of mobility, people also seem to be using Wi-Fi as an alternative to leaving their handsets' cellular data capabilities turned on — 84 percent of UK respondents said they used Wi-Fi while travelling, and 63 percent said such services were "much cheaper" than data roaming.

Asked how important the issue of data-roaming charges was to them, 42 percent of those in the UK said the fees were "important" and 39 percent said they were "very important". Sixty-nine percent said they would need to see the charges cut by 60 percent or more if they were to start using more data services while abroad.

Just over half of respondents worldwide said they had no idea how much they were being charged for data roaming, and many noted that it was difficult to figure out how much a data-roaming session had cost them until they saw the bill.

ZDNet UK's survey had 1,308 respondents from around the world, and 508 of those respondents said they were in the UK. The survey was carried out 11-24 March.

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