Short term greed means long term harm for mobile operators

Roaming Rip-Offs: Mobile data operators love high tariffs as much as users hate them. That's not a smart way to make money

Mobile data is being held back by fear, uncertainty and doubt — IT's own three horsemen of the apocalypse. But whereas FUD is normally dealt out by companies trying to reduce confidence in their competition, this brand is being applied by the mobile operators to themselves.

By keeping mobile data pricing high — in some cases, extortionately so — and difficult to understand, they ensure a steady stream of revenue from people who have no choice, no idea or no limits on their expense accounts. But they are denying the mass market by scaring off the rest of us.

Without a doubt, mobile data will produce a new generation of services and devices. The technology is improving at speed, people of all kinds are learning to live online, wired broadband is becoming ubiquitous. But businesses and individuals alike are afraid to use GPRS and 3G, because it is nearly impossible to manage the cost — and the costs can be enormous.

This is especially true when roaming abroad, when — of course — mobile data is at its most useful. Some of the charges are truly iniquitous: it is impossible to justify the £20 a megabyte that Orange extracts from UK users in the US. When the experience of most travellers is that Wi-Fi provides a better service at a fraction of the cost — indeed, is often free — then the premiums demanded by the operators seem beyond ridiculous.

[? /*CMS poll(20003887) */ ?]It certainly makes their concentration on introducing new, faster technologies such as HSDPA hard to understand — do they want to bankrupt us even faster? It also makes a mockery of their claims to be eagerly searching for new service models for businesses, when they seem unwilling to fix the old ones.

Our advice for travellers wanting to use mobile data is simple: don't. For mobile operators who would like to survive flat rate broadband wireless networks, the way forward is equally clear: don't rip us off. Look what happened to the telco's expensive, exclusive online data services once the Internet got going. Wireless data is too important: it will happen, with or without the mobile operators. It's their call.