Monitoring mobile phone usage

We find out why excessive phone bills continue to top consumer-complaint lists in Australia.
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02.International roaming dangers

Mobile_usage_Feb2012_InfoBubbleWhile domestic spend management tools are the priority for ACMA, some stakeholders have focused on the murky and often excessive charges associated with international roaming. 

There is no requirement for Australian providers to warn you of roaming charges when you’re overseas, and many claim they are unable to provide real-time tracking due to a delay between overseas networks and home carriers. 

Mobile usage monitoring apps

But industry experts told CHOICE there are a number of apps available that allow you to monitor real time usage overseas. 

XVision’s DataMan allows iPhone users to track their data usage – the main concern when roaming with a smartphone – in real time, according to the company (CHOICE has not trialled the product). 

XVision owner, Johnny Ixe, told us the DataMan app tracks usage directly from the iOS mobile operating system rather than waiting for delayed network updates and is available for both domestic usage and roaming. DataMan offers a basic free version as well as a Pro version for $1.99 that includes real-time usage alerts. 

Telco alert systems

Optus and Telstra both provide an alert system for customers who are roaming but offer little information when you exceed your cap. 

This puts Australia somewhat behind the global trend. The European Union, for instance, mandated in 2009 that all providers must send automatic alerts to customers who are about to incur roaming charges. 

The Federal Communications Commission in the US is currently considering taking similar steps. While telephone calls and SMS are costly when overseas, the biggest sting comes from data. 

YouTube, Google Maps and social networking apps, including Twitter and Facebook, are the real culprits, says Luke McCallum from Sydney app design company, Cyberdesign Works. He believes the best way to prevent bill shock is to disable data roaming completely. 

ACCAN recommends limiting your internet usage to Wi-Fi zones and protecting yourself by switching data roaming off on both your handset and by calling your provider.

Data disaster

Evelyne Wilton was greeted with a $6500 phone bill in November after returning from a three-week holiday in Europe. 

Before leaving Australia, Optus advised Evelyne to disable automatic email download and minimise internet usage to ensure her roaming spend did not spiral out of control. While Evelyne was aware costs were involved, she was unaware of the biggest trap: data roaming. 

As her phone sat idle, the dollars on her bill continued to clock upwards. Simply switching her phone on for an hour transit in Singapore alone cost $150. 

Evelyne tells CHOICE she would have expected Optus to explain the hidden cost of data for customers who choose to activate roaming and provide a notification system when costs climb beyond what a customer would normally spend.

Although Optus had introduced an SMS alert system designed to minimise customer bill shock from international roaming in September 2011, Evelyne claims she did not receive any notification. 

"I would have appreciated if they contacted me when my account hit the first $1000 and warned me, so I could decide if I wanted to turn off roaming," she says. 

In January, Optus agreed to reduce Evelyne's bill and provided her with information on how to switch off certain data-hungry apps.


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