The festive season invariably means travel for many of us. I’ve travelled a lot over the years myself, and lugged many a brick-size travel guide in my daypack.
I’ve also been writing about travel and technology for many years and, as both a write and traveller, it’s exciting to realise that mobile phones and small tablets are giving us information and ways to stay in touch while we travel. It’s also saving us from needing those big guide books and crumpled maps.
The one area that hasn’t kept pace, however, is competitive pricing. Travellers should be safe to use our devices and services for a reasonable cost. It’s not exaggeration to say that global roaming costs are exorbitant. Telco providers have gotten away with this because most of us are locked into contracts so we can’t easily swap SIM cards without unlocking our phone or just connect using a local service provider to get a cheaper deal.
It’s welcome news that the telecommunications regulator ACMA is working on a standard that mobile phone companies must notify their customers when they're overseas of the cost of a call, text message and internet access, and provide an opt-out option. But this will really just tell people how much they’re going to be charged; it won’t do anything to lower the cost of global roaming phone calls and internet usage.
Opting out might save you money, but then you don’t have the convenience of using your phone for calls and messages, something that everyone with a smartphone has come to rely on and one of the primary reasons to carry a smartphone while travelling.
The question is how to bring down the costs of reaching for your phone when you’re travelling so you don’t face a bill that looks like the cost of an airline ticket when you’re home. The government has said it wants an agreement to set global roaming charges between Australia and New Zealand to curb the cost of trans-Tasman roaming. That’s a good, very small, first step, but what about the US, Europe and the rest of the world?
The United Nations’ telecommunications agency, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), believes that governments and regulators have a duty to protect consumers by fixing global roaming costs. I’d like to see our government follow the lead of the EU and mandate to set limits on global roaming charges.