Tech Talk: All roads lead to roaming

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Take care with your phone on holiday, says David Behrens

TAKING your mobile phone on holiday this summer? Take a long, hard look at your tariff first.

The practice of “roaming”, making calls from abroad using another phone company’s network, has long been fertile money-making territory for UK operators, who used to claim that it was expensive for them to bear the cost of renting someone else’s airtime in this way. The fact that most of them are now cogs in multi-national conglomerates rather sank that argument, and indeed users within the EU are now protected from the most excessive charges. From this summer, it should cost no more than 21p a minute to make calls abroad and 6p a minute to receive them – yet, according to the price comparison website uSwitch.com, British holidaymakers will face a collective roaming bill of £256m before the season is over.

Part of the problem is that the new capping agreements on roaming apply only to countries inside the EU – so that rules out Turkey, one of the UK’s top 10 destinations, from where you can expect a bill of £280 for making and receiving two five-minute calls, listening to a voicemail message and sending a handful of texts and photo messages each day for a week. Even if you plan on using your phone in emergencies only, you’ll pay up to £1.50 a minute to make or receive a call (yes – you’re charged even for incoming calls) and up to 40p for each text.

The cost of data roaming – using the internet abroad on your mobile – is even more of a minefield, with a mere one megabyte, just about enough to view a couple of web pages and send a tweet, costing an average of £4.75.

On the Orange network from Turkey, it’s almost twice that. A week’s holiday use outside the EU – just based on a little light YouTubing, emailing and browsing – could run you nearly £300. Even inside the EU you can spend £43 on data before the cap kicks in.

The easiest way to protect yourself against unwanted bills is to find the option on your phone to turn roaming off completely – but this does mean you won’t be able to make or receive calls. A less prescriptive option is to disable data roaming, which blocks only internet access. If you really need to go online, you can do it from an internet café.