Mobile data roaming – Why it’s not as unaffordable as you may think.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 28-Apr-2013 17:56

The last year has seen some big changes occur in the mobile market, with roaming in particular seeing very significant price decreases. Voice calls while roaming are still a massive rip off  (see my blog post here on pricing in 2012 being more expensive than 1998) but data has now dropped to a level where it’s affordable enough to use while roaming. Sure it isn’t as as cheap as data while in NZ, but it is a significant change to a year ago where the first thing anybody did when they travelled overseas was to ensure data was disabled to ensure the cost of casually using data on your phone didn’t exceed that of your airfares! Historically mobile data cost in the vicinity of $10 – $30 per MB depending on your destination, in many cases prices have now dropped to a mere fraction of that.

This post intentionally doesn’t make any mention of purchasing a SIM in the country you are travelling to. This is something that people may also wish to investigate as it may offer significant pricing reductions over roaming.

Lets look what each of the major players in the NZ market has on offer -


Telecom announced a game changer in December with the announcement of flat rate daily data roaming to Australia, the UK, USA, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Saudi Arabia. Roaming in Australia costs $6 per day for “unlimited” data, and $10 per day for the other countries listed above. A fair use policy applies to the “unlimited” offering and the $6 pricing for Australia is a promotion that expires on the 30th June 2013. For all other destinations you’ll pay $2.50 per MB for data in Asia, Europe and South Africa, and $5 per MB for data in every other country where data roaming is supported.

All of the pricing above only applies to On Account users, if you’re a Prepay user you’ll pay between $1 per MB for data in Australia, $2.50 per MB in the UK, USA, Canada, China, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia, $5 per MB in Europe and South Africa and $8 per MB for data in every other country where data roaming is supported.

2 degrees:

2degrees offer pricing that is fairly standardised between both On Account and Prepay users. Pricing in all countries that support data varies between 50c per MB and $30 per MB of data. If you’re vising Australia pricing is 50c per MB for high value customers (those on plans greater than $59 per month) and 95c per MB for all other On Account and Prepay users. Pricing to other common destinations such as the UK and USA is $2.50 per MB.

2degrees also offer monthly international data packs that can be used in Australia, the UK and USA that offer 10MB for $20, 50MB for $75 and 100MB for $100. These are available to both On Account and Prepay users and can be used across multiple countries over the course of the month. If you use your pack within a month, another pack can be purchased.


Vodafone have made major changes to their data roaming in recent months with Data Angel. Rather than offering any casual data rates, data roaming is only available with the purchase of a monthly data pack. This can be done by logging into your account before you travel, or on arrival in a foreign country you can use your web browser and will be redirected to a captive portal account page that allows you to purchase a pack. Countries of the world are split into 3 zones, with the pack being able to be used within any country in that zone within the month.

Zone 1 covers Australia and offers 100MB for $15, 250MB for $30 and 500MB for $50.

Zone 2 covers North America, most of South America, most of Western Europe, most of Asia and South Africa offering 40MB for $15, 100MB for $30 and 200MB for $50

Zone 3 covers every other country not in Zone 1 and Zone 2 and offers 5MB for $30, 10MB for $50 and 25MB for $100

As no casual data rates are available Vodafone customers roaming are no longer faced with the risk of bill shock while roaming – you can only use the data after you have purchased a pack. If you use your pack within a month, another pack can be purchased.



So who’s the best network to roam on? That’s a tough question to answer and there isn’t a simple answer.

If you’re heading away for a short trip to Australia, the UK or US and want to make heavy use of data you can’t beat Telecom’s $6 / $10 per day offering. This really is amazing value and beats the prices you’ll typically pay at hotels in these countries for WiFi. If you’re heading away for a few weeks you may find the value proposition isn’t so great, and may find the Vodafone and 2degrees options are better value than Telecom – sure $10 per day is great if you’re a heavy user, but if you’re only using a small amount of data on your phone you could find that paying $210 for 21 days is excessive and a 200MB pack from Vodafone for $50 is all that is needed. It’s a shame Telecom don’t offer anything in the way of monthly pricing as both Vodafone and 2degrees have a significant advantage over them in this respect.

Vodafone have a very compelling roaming product these days, and the ability to buy a data pack that covers all of Europe is fantastic for anybody travelling around multiple countries within Europe, something many people do. If you were planning a trip for a month to the UK and Europe with a stopover in the US on the way over and Asia on the way back you could spend $50 to get 200MB of mobile data, easily enough for casual use of email, social media, browsing and mapping use for the entire month. While they don’t offer any daily capped plans the ability to use a single data pack across a large number of countries is something neither Telecom or 2degrees offer, and it’s something that many people travelling away from NZ may find is great.

2degrees sit pretty much in the middle. Their monthly plans don’t offer the same value as Vodafone, and they don’t have a daily flat rate offering like Telecom, but considering the UK, USA and Australia are the most common destinations that people travel to they have these covered with a reasonably priced offering. Outside these countries however 2degrees pricing is expensive, with a number of countries costing $30 per MB of data – you will pay significantly less than this on both Telecom and Vodafone.

At the end of the day the offerings from each network differs slightly, if you’re travelling overseas and want to make use of your mobile it would certainly pay to look at the offerings from each network before you go. With people so attached to their phones these days the benefits of being able to use data while roaming are significant, and you could see some significant savings by moving network or simply signing up for a no term contract solely for the purpose of roaming.

Other related posts:
Skinny takes FUD to new heights with Vodafone GSM network shutdown billboards.
Are Air New Zealand about to dump their Premium Economy Spaceseat?
Will the iPhone 6 work in New Zealand?

Comment by NonprayingMantis, on 28-Apr-2013 19:14

For comparison purposes, recent Cisco report showed average smartphone user got through 342MB per month in 2012, so on that basis the Vodafone offer doesn't seem all that great.

I suppose It's debatable whether you would use more or less data than normal whilst roaming. Although you might not be doing as much stuff with data, the fact that you won't be on a work/home wifi connection might mean your 3G usage would be higher than normal.

Obviously for the audience of this blog on geekzone, 200MB is definitely going to seem a pretty small amount. I get through typically 2GB per month, so roaming on vf would be hideously expensive for me,

Comment by Ultra Fast Broadband, on 28-Apr-2013 19:30

It's a shame about 2degrees - they've got a strong domestic offer but they fall flat on their nose when it comes to roaming.

I'm in the US both in May and June for a few days at a time. If I was on account with either Vodafone or Telecom I'd be paying a fair price but $100 for 100mb!? Come on!

Comment by antoniosk, on 28-Apr-2013 19:39

I found when we went away to Europe, there was so much free wifi around that data roaming mattered not a jot. I never switched it on - and in 35 days had just 2 with no internet connection....

I expect the USA will be similar, but of course you can't rely on there being free wifi everywhere you go... although funnily enough we went to Mozart's birthplace in Salzberg and their free wifi had rocking speeds....

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sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at