Don’t Be Caught Out By Mobile Roaming. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Dario Betti, CEO of the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF). David will share advice on how to get the best out of your mobile abroad without spending a fortune and avoiding costly mistakes. Using our mobile phones when travelling overseas is something we all take (mostly) for granted. Mobile roaming started in Scandinavia in 1982, making 2022 its 40th birthday. But all is not well for consumers.
Don’t Be Caught Out By Mobile Roaming
Mobile roaming started in Scandinavia in 1982, making 2022 its 40th birthday! That may seem like a respectably long time, and you might imagine that (after so many years of development in the mobile phone industry) roaming must be well-organised and smooth-running. Still, the service you receive when travelling abroad could leave you disappointed.
Using our mobile phones when travelling overseas is something we all take (mostly) for granted. Roaming requires the complex organisation of mobile operators, phone manufacturers, masts, and regulatory bodies all working seamlessly, making it one of the most outstanding technical achievements of the mobile sector – there are more than 750 mobile networks. Roaming is one of the great liberations of the mobile age.
However, customers travelling to the USA and some European countries might have already experienced challenges that are spreading fast to other destinations. For many, their phone might not work abroad—even in perfectly covered areas—and bills are not worry-free everywhere. No more phone calls, SMS, or even data for some with specific operators and certain devices. Things are getting complicated, and there is plenty to concern customers. Frankly, more work from mobile operators is needed to protect one of the true successes of the mobile revolution.
Many mobile operators are decommissioning their older networks, known as 2G and 3G, in favour of a more efficient 4G and 5G network. These new networks are not yet fully supported for roaming by all operators.
Here is my experience – remember, I work in mobile telephony, so I have several phones. When I landed at an airport in Las Vegas, I received an SMS from my mobile operator: “Please note, major operators in the US have closed their 3G networks, so your services might be impacted”. The vague message was followed by a link to a website that, unfortunately, was not working. This operator did not score much on the helpful scale.
Another mobile operator informed me that I would probably not be able to make phone calls or send/receive SMS within the USA, but I could still get data. However, that would depend on which phone I had. A follow-up SMS confirmed prices of 6 USD per MB, or about $1200, to watch a Netflix video in low quality for 90 minutes (equivalent to my phone bill for the next ten years). Although this operator provided more information, the service was still poor … and expensive.
A third mobile operator was not much better: the gist was that I was lucky to get an SMS in the first place, and perhaps I’d be better off using a messaging app over WiFi.
Roaming Survival List
Mobile operators are letting roaming fall to pieces, and our travel is getting less seamless. They need to pull their socks up, but until they do, here is a roaming survival list:
Is Your Phone 4G Ready?
Check if your phone shows a 4G or LTE sign. If your phone is 5G ready, you are prepared to travel. But see the next steps.
Is Your Phone Older Than 2015?
Even some of the 4G devices might not work well. Most of the earlier models sold before 2015 do not support ‘Voice over LTE’ (or VoLTE). Time to buy a new device if you want to roam freely in the USA and other places. If you are an Apple fan, they are all compatible from the iPhone 8 onwards. If your phone is good, it is time to check your operator.
Is Your Mobile Operator Supporting Volte For Roaming?
Not all operators have ‘turned on’ the Voice over LTE function for roaming. About 700 networks have launched VoLTE in their market domestically, but in 2021 only 50 operators globally support roaming on 4G. A check on the operator’s website or a visit to the shop might help, but often you might have to call customer service to get a proper answer.
Get The Pricing Right
The choice of roaming package is still essential. A regulation made roaming in the European Union simpler to understand. However, if you are travelling outside the EU or are arriving from another country, prices might still be complex and often disproportionally high. Many operators have built international packages and options that make it easier to budget for international travelling – but not all.
In conclusion, roaming is possible when you travel, but still not straightforward and almost certainly not cheap, let alone free. Do your research before you leave and speak to your operator. Not ideal, I know, but at the moment, it is the best advice I can give. Here’s hoping that mobile roaming will soon be what it once was.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dario Betti is CEO of MEF (Mobile Ecosystem Forum), a global trade body established in 2000 and headquartered in the UK with members worldwide. As the voice of the mobile ecosystem, it focuses on cross-industry best practices, anti-fraud and monetisation. The Forum provides its members with global and cross-sector platforms for networking, collaboration and advancing industry solutions.
These are great things to conisder, I didn’t know about the 4G and 5G to be ready. I will keep these in mind. Thank you for this lovely guest post.
I get caught out by mobile roaming very often. This post is really important for me.
My mobile network provider covers me to use roaming in Europe but otherwise I turn it off and use the free wifi and whats app whenever possible
I always use whatsapp to make voice calls over internet. I no longer bother with roaming charges. I just use the hotel’s internet and text or phone.
I think the last time we went abroad we didn’t have to worry about roaming. It was still the flip phone generation. 🙂 $1200 for a movie?? Yeah, pass. 😉
My phone is 4G but sometimes I get 5G here in Japan. If you have an iPhone you can easily get 5G here so I recommend it for tourists.
I haven’t been out of the country in a few years but I recall getting message warnings about “roaming” when I was in a foreign land. You have to be ready to take appropriate action so your service keeps running and you’re not hit with huge roaming charges. At least, I assume it still works that way!
As a travel writer, I find traveling SO tricky with a cellphone. I often just rely on wifi and don’t use my cell service at all when I go out of the country.
I didn’t realize roaming was still a “thing”. I haven’t traveled internationally in over a decade, though, so I just assumed it wasn’t anymore. I remember when we went to Europe and were so careful about only using our phones if an emergency because of the costs.
When I was in Ireland, we used WhatsApp over wifi to call home. I don’t do much international travel, but next time that I do, I will refer back to this article about mobile roaming. (Sidenote: I laughed because at first I thought, wait, we didn’t have cell phones in the 80’s, but then I remembered that my mother had a car phone! Those were the days with the gigantic mobile phones.)
I’m so glad I read this. I don’t know why, but I had this idea that all alls in the US were included.