South African consumers traveling abroad with their cellular phones and data cards need to inform themselves about the costs of accessing cellular data services while roaming on international networks, as well as the other options they have for accessing email and Internet services in other countries.
Mark Taylor, MD of Nashua Mobile, says many users return from overseas holidays and business trips to bills for international data roaming that cost more than their flights and accommodation because they haven't taken the time to find out about the costs before using the services.
Before users leave for an overseas trip, they need to inform themselves about the costs of accessing data services while they roam. This information is readily available from the websites of most network operators and service providers.
Taylor says most customers will be shocked away from the idea of making heavy use of cellular data services while they roam on international networks if they know what they're in for.
The cost per MB of data reaches maximum costs of over R100.00 in the UK, R120.00 in the US, R118.00 in Japan, and R200.00 in China.
"Some people have returned from short overseas trips to bills amounting to tens of thousands of rands after downloading a couple of big emails with large PowerPoint presentations or spreadsheets attached, spending a little time browsing the Internet, and perhaps sending a few video clips or photos back home," he says.
Taylor points out there there are a number of steps users could take to insulate themselves against bill shock while abroad:
* Make sure you know what the tariffs are for roaming on each network in the countries you will be visiting, and set your phone to roam on the network that offers the best rates. In some cases, it may be cheaper to make a quick phone call or send an SMS than to send an email.
* If you frequently travel abroad, invest in a WiFi-enabled cellphone and/or a WiFi card for your notebook. WiFi networks are freely available at airports, coffee shops, hotels, restaurants and other venues in most first world and many developing countries. The costs of WiFi access are generally affordable, especially compared to using a cellular connection while roaming.
* Buy a prepaid SIM card at your destination to take advantage of the local call tariffs within the country you are visiting.
* If you're a Vodacom subscriber, you benefit from a flat data roaming fee (on participating networks) at R17.50/MB thanks to Vodacom's alliance with Vodafone. Check before you depart whether there are participating networks in the countries you are visiting and roam exclusively with those networks if you plan to use data services. Remember, that this price is still nearly 100 times more than what you are used to paying in South Africa for cellular data services, so it's still a good idea to minimise use as much as you can.
* Remember that data is charged by the kb rather than by the second or minute. If you must download or transmit data, minimise the size of the file as much as possible.