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APAC mobile users want lower data roaming charges

Many Internet users in Asia-Pacific already utilizing data roaming services but carriers will have to slash prices by 60 to 80 percent before subscribers are willing to up their usage, finds ZDNet Asia survey.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

When overseas, Asia-Pacific Internet users are predominantly making use of data roaming services for e-mail, online collaboration and messaging via their mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. However, carriers are urged to cut data roaming prices by up to 80 percent to generate higher usage, according to a new ZDNet online survey.

Initiatives to curb charges

The high number of Europeans adopting data roaming services could be attributed to a European Union (EU) legislation directing operators to cap data charges and cut down on subscriber "bill shock". Enforced last March, the law requires telcos operating in EU countries to cap their data roaming charges to 50 euros (US$70.36) per month, unless subscribers state otherwise.

"Protection against data-roaming bill shocks is a useful step toward building customers' confidence to use mobile networks to surf the Internet when travelling around Europe," European Commission's competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, said in a statement then. "Such confidence is essential if people and businesses are to use the Internet to its full potential."

The Singapore government earlier this month introduced new regulations for data roaming services to minimize bill shock from data roaming charges.

Some Asian telcos have undertaken similar initiatives on their own accord and introduced data roaming price caps for their customers, although such efforts are not standardized across the region.

Singapore carrier StarHub, for example, introduced a data roaming management tool called "Roam Manager" in March this year. This tool is meant to help mobile subscribers determine their data usage while overseas, and a means to stop the service if charges escalate beyond the limit.

Some 68 percent of users polled in the Asia-Pacific region indicated they used data roaming services on their mobile devices during their travels. E-mail, location and mapping, as well as social networking services were the top activities smartphone users accessed when surfing overseas, while tablet and laptop users went online to access e-mail, collaboration, messaging and other Web browsing activities.

The survey also revealed that Asia-Pacific travelers were more familiar with data roaming, with 68 percent indicating they used data connection on their mobile devices at least once, compared with 46 percent of users in Australasia. European travelers topped the list with 70 percent, while the Americas came next at 69 percent.

Conducted across four regions--the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe--the survey ran over 10 days from Mar. 14 and polled 1,308 respondents on their data roaming usage. Ninety-one were from Asia including Singapore, India and Malaysia.

Data roaming charges still too high
Across the globe, the majority of mobile users polled said they encountered data roaming charges which they considered to be too expensive. The highest percentage who thought so came from the Asia-Pacific region where 87 percent of respondents said they received "bill shock" before. Comparatively, Europe had the least with 77 percent of respondents experiencing high charges, according to the survey.

Globally, 76 percent felt data roaming fees were "much too high".

In fact, among Asian respondents, the top three most costly monthly bills for data roaming were: 24 million Indonesian rupiah (US$2,736), S$2,700 (US$2,138) and 80,000 Indian rupees (US$1,784).

"Data roaming is so horrendously expensive that I ensure my usage is minimum, and switch to Wi-Fi or a local SIM whenever possible," one of the respondents noted.

The ZDNet survey revealed that to spur data roaming usage, carriers would have to cut down on prices significantly. The majority of Asia users, for instance, called for a reduction of 61 to 80 percent before they were willing to consume more data while roaming.

This sentiment was echoed by their counterparts from Europe and the Americas, while Australasian respondents wanted a steeper price cut of 81 percent to 99 percent before they were willing to increase their usage.

An overwhelming 91 percent of Asia-Pacific respondents stated they connected to Wi-Fi hotspots while traveling overseas to gain Web access. Additionally, 76 percent described the cost of using Wi-Fi as "much cheaper" than that of data roaming, the survey revealed.

Asian travelers were also savvier at achieving data cost savings through pay-as-you-go SIM cards. Sixty-three percent from Asia indicated that they had purchased such cards to avoid high data roaming charges but only 41 percent of Europeans and 42 percent of the respondents from Americas said they would do likewise.

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