M1 announces free prepaid data roaming in Malaysia, Indonesia

Singaporean telco M1 is offering free usage of standard data allowances for prepaid customers travelling to neighbouring countries Malaysia and Indonesia.

Singapore's third-largest telecommunications company, M1, has announced data roaming at no extra cost for prepaid customers travelling to Indonesia and Malaysia, with bundles starting at SG$5.

The two options are priced at SG$5 for 1GB of data to use over three days, or SG$30 for 3GB, which expires after 50 days. Customers can then dip into their allowances in Indonesia and Malaysia at no extra charge, using the Celcom network in Malaysia and the XL Axiata network in Indonesia.

"Many Singaporeans travel regularly to our neighbouring countries for work, to do some shopping, and enjoy other leisure activities, and we want to give them the convenience of using the same mobile line wherever they are," M1 chief marketing officer P Subramaniam said.

According to a recent report by OpenSignal, which calculates "time coverage" -- the amount of time a customer's phone spends actually connected to a 4G network -- M1 is ranked 12th in the world, providing 4G coverage to 86 percent of the Singaporean population. Rival Singtel is ranked ninth, providing 88 percent coverage.

In terms of speeds, the OpenSignal report pointed towards Singapore's second-largest telco StarHub being the fastest in the world, with average download speeds of 38Mbps. Singtel and M1 followed in fifth and sixth place, with 32Mbps and 30Mbps average download speeds, respectively.

Celcom's network in Malaysia is ranked 162nd and covers only 41 percent, according to OpenSignal, while XL is ranked last place, at 183rd, covering just 19 percent of the Indonesian population. XL provides average download speeds of 12Mbps, ranked 118th, while Celcom is ranked 91st, at a marginally better 14Mbps.

M1 also outlined plans to give prepaid customers the option to top up their data with SG$30 for an extra 2GB for 30 days, which will be available across Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

"Mobile data usage has grown alongside smartphone penetration within the prepaid segment, with average monthly prepaid data usage approaching 1GB," Subramaniam said.

"With the 2GB data bundle on M1's Super Data plan, prepaid users will find it even more convenient and cost-effective to get the most of their smartphones."

By comparison, the lowest-priced global roaming option offered by an Australian telco is provided by Vodafone Australia, which grants usage of customers' standard data allowance overseas for an extra AU$5 per day on its Red plans.

The recently agreed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is taking aim at the high cost of mobile global roaming, with the 12 signatory countries reaching an agreement to encourage competition in wholesale pricing for access to foreign mobile networks.

The TPP covers Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia, along with the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile.

While the full text of the agreement has yet to be published, with the member states only releasing summaries, the 12 Pacific Rim countries said they have agreed to attain lower global roaming charges through regulation.

"Australia has successfully advocated for a provision that addresses, for the first time, the high cost of international mobile roaming," the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced in its TPP overview [PDF].

The United States government expanded on this, saying the plan involves increasing global roaming competition, ensuring equal access to wholesale rates between countries should one decide to offer a lower price, and providing other options for telco usage while travelling overseas.

"They also agree that they may take steps to promote competition in international mobile roaming services and facilitate the use of alternatives to roaming," the Office of the United States Trade Representative said in its TPP summary.

"TPP parties agree that, if a party chooses to regulate rates for wholesale international mobile roaming services, that party shall permit operators from the TPP countries that do not regulate such rates the opportunity to also benefit from the lower rates."

It is not yet known what form the global mobile roaming regulatory rules will take in the TPP, but Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development Canada pointed towards a similar wholesale approach decided between telcos and shared between member states.

"A dedicated article addressing the high cost of international mobile roaming ... Ensures that a party's regulated rates and conditions on wholesale international roaming services are provided to the other parties' telecommunications service suppliers on a reciprocal basis," Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development Canada said in its summary on the TPP's telecommunications chapter.

M1 was launched in 1997, becoming the second telco established in Singapore after Singtel. In July, it announced a net profit after tax of SG$90 million for the half year ended June 30, 2015, an increase of 3.8 percent year on year.