​Google to offer free international roaming with new mobile service

One of the biggest pains for travellers abroad can be roaming charges. Google may be looking to fix that for US customers.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google's rumoured mobile operator may offer its customers free international roaming.

According to a report in The Telegraph, Google is working on a deal with Hutchison Whampoa in the UK, the owner of the Three brand, which is about to become the country's largest mobile network.

According to report, Google and Hutchison are discussing a wholesale access agreement that will allow customers of Google's MVNO to make calls, send texts, and use data wherever they are in the world for no additional cost.

In March, Google confirmed it was looking into setting up its own mobile carrier, but said its ambitions were "small scale" and therefore not a threat to established players such as Verizon and AT&T - much like its Nexus brand of smartphones in relation to Android OEM partners. The company will be leasing network capacity from Sprint and T-Mobile for the new service.

Despite its supposedly low-key ambitions, a deal with Hutchison could give its US mobile customers some of the benefits that are available to Three UK customers through the operator's 'feel at home' program, which allows them to call and text home from overseas at the same cost as they do at home, as well as use their monthly data allowance while abroad. The service is supported in Australia, France, Italy, Ireland, the Nordics, the US, Hong Kong, and other countries.

Sources told The Telegraph that Hutchison made a good partner for the project due to its efforts to eliminate roaming charges.

Hutchison late last month bulked up its presence in the UK, agreeing to acquire the UK's O2 network from Spanish operator Telefonica for £10.25bn. Pending regulatory approval, it will make Three the UK's largest mobile network by subscriber numbers. The deal is expected to be finalised in 2016 and follows a similar acquisition it made in Ireland in 2013.

Roaming fees can be a pain for mobile consumers, in particular customers that are locked into a contract with a provider at home, who may not be able to substitute their existing SIM card with a local SIM in a foreign country.

While US carriers do offer roaming packages, they're typically expensive and require a special setup. If Google can strike a deal that makes roaming simpler and cheaper for its users, it's likely to be a key differentiator for the company.

Google's move follows its other connectivity projects such as Project Loon, which looks to boost wireless coverage in underserved parts of the world, and Google Fiber, which offers high speed broadband.

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