Survey: is global roaming a rip off?

Practically everyone thinks carriers charge way too much for global roaming and most would like to see costs cut by 60 per cent or more.
Written by Phil Dobbie, Contributor

Practically everyone thinks carriers charge way too much for global roaming and most would like to see costs cut by 60 per cent or more.

Last month, ZDNet quizzed 1300 people around the world about their global data roaming habits, a quarter of them from Australia.

The vast majority of Australian respondents were customers of Telstra (40 per cent), Vodafone/3 (29 per cent) and Optus (20 per cent), with three quarters on plans that enabled roaming. Of those, about half had used roaming to access data on their smartphones, tablets or laptops while overseas.

Eighty per cent of those using data overseas said they have had a data roaming bill that they thought was too expensive, with this figure higher amongst Optus users (90 per cent) than those with Telstra (78 per cent) and Vodafone/3 (71 per cent). Discontent with pricing is not surprising — overall 56 per cent had paid $200 or more for a monthly roaming bill, with 12 per cent shelling out $1000 and above.

A third of Optus users racked up over a grand in roaming charges, explaining why more of them feel ripped off. In total, less than a third of users on any network have always managed to get away with paying $80 or less. The record goes to the one user who claims to have paid $12K in a month on Optus, which, at 2 cents per kilobyte, is very possible if money is no object.

When asked how much they paid per kilobyte for global roaming, respondents quoted a wide variety of prices, but the most telling statistic is that half of them simply didn't know. Despite not being able to pinpoint a price, the vast majority (82 per cent) of Australians said data roaming prices were much too high — and if you think that's bad, the figure was 94 per cent amongst respondents in Asia. In fact only 2 per cent thought they were reasonable.

The issue can only get worse as Australians head overseas with new smartphones and tablets in greater numbers. Ninety per cent of those using data roaming on their smartphone were checking their email, but more than half were also using it for social networking (54 per cent), other web browsing (52 per cent) and location/mapping services (72 per cent). Web browsing was more popular (72 per cent) among those using their laptop or tablet for data roaming.

The telling statistic relates to the downloading of large files. It's negligible amongst smartphone users (5 per cent) but 38 per cent of Aussies have done it when data roaming with a tablet or laptop.

This is certainly a concern for network operators — downloading large files can soak up a lot of data usage on a foreign network — undoubtedly one of the reasons why prices are kept prohibitively expensive.

For ZDNet Asia's report on the results in the part of the world, click here.

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