Minimising the global roaming rort

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 23-Aug-2012 20:53

Mobile roaming is great. The concept of being able to take your phone to over 200 countries around the world and seamlessly stay in touch with the same phone number is a wonderful concept, but it does come at a cost – a cost many believe is excessive. Regulators around the world have struggled to contain what can only be described as a global rort, with carriers around the world charging customers roaming on their networks much, much more than they do their own customers. Why? The only seemingly plausible explanation for this excessive charging? Because they can.

I’ve spent many, many thousands of dollars on mobile roaming in my travels around the world over the years and probably contributed to the bonuses paid to many BellSouth and Vodafone employees (so you’re more than welcome to shout me a coffee if you want). I’ve always known what the pricing has been, but have chosen to use roaming due to the convenience it offers. In recent years I’ve also used foreign SIM cards while roaming, in countries I visit often such as Australia I carry two phones with me.

We all know roaming is expensive, but there are plenty of tips to save money while roaming. Firstly ensure that you’re on the right plan. Telecom and 2degrees only offer a single roaming plan, this plan charges the same for calls back to New Zealand as it does for calls within the country you’re in. You pay a base rate for the country you're in and then pay the standard per minute rate that applies to calls in NZ on top of this. SMS messages cost a standard 80c to send no matter where you are, and roaming forward inbound calls cost $1 per minute to answer (the exception to these price points are Inmarsat backhauled satellite services such as on planes and cruise ships). Vodafone on the other hand offer two different roaming options, their Traveller plan works in the same way as the plan from Telecom and 2degrees, but their Standard roaming plan differentiates between calls within a country and calls back to New Zealand. Vodafone charge the same 80c per SMS and $1 per minute for inbound roam forward calls regardless of the plan.

If you’re a Vodafone customer and sign up to roaming you’ll automatically be placed on the Traveller plan, however this may not necessarily be your best option. If most of your calls are within the country you’re visiting rather than back to New Zealand you’ll be paying significantly more than you need to for calling, as an example while roaming in Hong Kong a call within Hong Kong on Traveller will cost you $3.00 per minute + your NZ airtime rate, so you're looking at around $3.40 - $3.70 per minute for that call. On the Standard roaming plan this will cost $1.00 per minute. In every destination except Australia the cost of receiving a call ($1 per minute) is cheaper than making an outbound call back to New Zealand, so for many the best option is to select the Standard plan and get people in New Zealand to call you rather than making a call from your mobile back to New Zealand.

Because Telecom and 2degrees only offer the single zone based roaming plans, significant savings can be made by switching to Vodafone if you roam regularly.

One thing that has caught my attention over the years has been a gradual increase of pricing, I thought it would be interesting to compare BellSouth’s February 1998 roaming pricelist to the prices charged by Vodafone today.When looking at this pricing it’s worth noting that inbound roam forward calls were billed in minute+second intervals rather than the minute+minute billing applied by Vodafone, Telecom and 2degrees today. Minute+minute accounts for an approximate 20% - 25% price increase over minute+second billing. Not long after this pricelist came out BellSouth also introduced offpeak and peak rates for the roaming inbound rate, meaning it cost 49c per minute to answer a call in major countries such as Australia and the UK during the New Zealand offpeak rating period (7pm to 7am and on weekends).

This pricelist also doesn’t feature SMS charges and I’m unable to locate my later pricelist that lists this, however SMS pricing was a surcharge on top of the rate you paid in New Zealand, ie 20c + surcharge. In most countries this surcharge was between 20c and 60c, so the cost of sending an SMS in 1998 vs 2012 was cheaper in many cases than it is now where a blanket 80c charge applies.

For the following table Traveller rates are the Traveller zone rate + your standard calling plan price for calls in NZ (ie somewhere in the vicinity of 40c - 70c per minute). Since prices don't differ now between networks as they did in 1998 I have only listed the price once per country.

Country 1998 Cost to answer1998 National Call1998 call to NZ2012 National
2012 Call to NZ2012 Traveller + your rate
Optus$1.04$1.05$2.20$0.50$2.00$NZ rate
Vodafone $1.04$1.00$2.35 ($5.60 for data)    
Max Mobil$2.56$1.05$2.85$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
Mobilkom $2.56$0.85$2.75   
Mobistar $2.56$0.90$4.60$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
MobilTEL$2.85$1.00$6.20$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
CYTA$2.56$0.25$4.25$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Czech Republic:       
EuroTel Praha$2.85$0.80$6.20$1.00$6.00$2.00 +
RadioMobil (Paegus)$2.85$0.75$6.95   
Sonofon$2.56$0.85$5.45$1.50$5.00$2.00 +
Tele Denmark$2.56$0.80$5.00   
EMT$2.56$0.80$4.95$1.50$6.00$2.00 +
Radiolinja Eesti$2.56$0.75$5.50   
Vodafone $1.65$0.85$3.95$2.00$4.00$3.00 +
Oy Radiolinga AB$2.56$0.65$3.30$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Telecom Finland $2.56$0.55$3.80   
France Telecom$2.56$1.00$3.20$1.50$5.00$2.00 +
De TeMobil D1$2.56$1.75$3.25$1.50$5.00$2.00 +
Mannesman Mobilfunk GMBH $2.56$2.05$3.95   
Gibtel $2.85$1.00$4.60$1.00$3.00$2.00 +
Panafon$2.85$1.20$4.60$1.00$3.00$2.00 +
Stet Hellas $2.85$1.15$4.50   
Guernsey Telecoms$1.80$1.16$3.30$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Hong Kong:       
HK Telecom CSL $2.50$0.55$2.50$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
Pannon$2.56$0.75$3.25$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Westel 900$2.56$0.70$2.60   
Pt Excelcomindo$2.56$2.35$4.75$1.00$6.00$3.00 +
Telkomsel $2.56$1.30$4.20   
Eircell $2.56$0.80$3.60$1.00$5.00$2.00 +
Esat Digifone$2.56$0.80$4.60   
Isle of Man:       
MANX Telecom$2.05$0.60$3.60$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
OmniTel$2.56$0.80$5.15$1.50$5.00$2.00 +
Telecom Mobile $2.56$0.95$5.20   
Jersey Telecoms$1.80$0.75$2.75$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
MTC$2.85$0.25$3.75$3.00$6.00$3.00 +
LMT$2.56$1.00$8.00$1.00$6.00$2.00 +
FTML$2.85$0.90$9.90$1.50$4.00$3.00 +
LibanCel $2.85$0.85$9.00   
SwissCom$2.56$1.25$3.50$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
P&T $2.85$1.20$6.65$2.00$5.00$2.00 +
CTM $3.01$0.50* $2.45$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
Biniarang (MAXIS) $2.43$1.25$3.20$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
Celcom $2.43$1.35$2.30   
MobilTEL (Bulgaria)$2.43$1.35$6.20$2.50$6.00$2.00 +
France Telecom$2.56$1.00$3.20$1.50$5.00$2.00 + 
Libertel $2.56$0.60$5.80$2.00$4.00$2.00 +
PTT Telecom$2.56$0.90$4.35   
Netcom$2.56$0.75$1.70$1.50$3.00$2.00 +
Telenor Molil$2.56$0.65$1.35   
Globe $2.56$0.95$4.20$1.00$5.00$3.00 +
Polkomtel$2.56$0.85$5.25$1.00$6.00$2.00 +
Telecel $2.85$1.00$5.80$1.50$6.00$2.00 +
QTel$2.56$0.37$4.55$2.50$6.00$3.00 +
Russia (Moscow)*      
MTS$2.56$1.50$10.50$3.00$6.00$5.00 +
MobileOne$2.25$0.35$2.75$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
Slovak Rep:      
EuroTel$2.82$1.10$6.00$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
Mobitel$2.56$1.10$3.60$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
South Africa:       
MTN $2.56$0.65$2.55$1.00$3.00$2.00 +
Vodacom $2.56$0.60$2.40   
Airtel$2.82$1.20$5.75$1.00$6.50$2.00 +
Telefonica Moviles$2.82$1.20$5.66   
Sri Lanka:       
MTN (Dialog)$3.31$0.75$6.40$1.00$6.00$3.00 +
COMVIQ$2.56$0.90$4.30$1.00$5.00$2.00 +
Telia Mobitel$2.56$0.95$4.25   
Swisscom $2.56$1.25$3.50$2.50$6.00$2.00 +
Chungwha $2.40$0.60$2.75$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
AIS $2.56$1.05$3.40$1.50$4.00$3.00 +
Telsim$2.85$0.90$3.70$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
Cellnet$1.80$0.80$4.55$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Vodafone $1.80$0.90$2.95   

Other related posts:
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Are Air New Zealand about to dump their Premium Economy Spaceseat?
Will the iPhone 6 work in New Zealand?

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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