Mobile

Pooled Data for Mobile Devices and New Optus Offering

As someone who is a regular user of mobile data (laptop, iPad and mobile), both for work and when travelling, I have longed for a data sharing plan that would give me a pooled data allowance to use across all my devices. Tethering provided that to some degree, but has the downside of putting additional drain on my iPhone’s battery, and also isn’t nearly as convenient as having a separate data SIM in an iPad. I had heard about such plans in the US, but not in Australia until recently.

Some months ago Telstra launched a data sharing plan in Australia that allowed customers to obtain up to five additional SIM cards that could share the data allowance on their mobile phone plan. However, the plan seems to have a nasty sting in that each additional SIM costs an extra $10 per month, and that extra charge doesn’t increase the base data allowance in the slightest.

Worse, despite having to pay an extra $10 per month per SIM, the base data allowances on Telstra’s mobile plans aren’t exactly generous. At the time of writing Telstra offers the following data allowances within its mobile phone plans (charged monthly):

S M L XL
Cost $45 $55 $70 $95
Data 500MB 1.5GB 2.5GB 3GB

In comparison Optus has just launched a shared data plan for customers on its My Plan Plus mobile plans that offers up to five additional SIMs able to share the mobile plan’s data allowance for a one off cost of $5 per additional SIM. And the data allowances in Optus’s My Plan Plus mobile plans are significantly more generous (charged monthly):

$30 $45 $60
500MB 2GB $5GB

This seems like a significantly better deal, and one I’ll likely explore in the near future—although it will trade off the coverage benefit I currently get from having an Optus SIM in my mobile and a pre-paid Telstra SIM in my iPad (and the ability to tether to either device depending which has the better connectivity in any particular location).

Making the Optus offer even more enticing is that on their My Plan Plus plans, users who blow through their data cap are automatically provided extra data allowances in 1GB blocks, charged at $10 per GB, as opposed to the Telstra plans where the cost of additional data packs are $5 for 250MB, $15 for 1GB, $30 for 3GB or $60 for 6GB.

If nothing else, the Optus offering will increase the appeal of cellular capable tablets over wi-fi only models, having eliminated the ongoing cost associated with dedicated tablet data plans—whether they be monthly plans or pre-paid.

New Optus Roaming Rates

Last month I wrote about Vodafone capping global roaming fees at $5 per day, well Optus has now[1] responded with their offering, which includes a $10 per day travel pack to ‘Zone 1’[2] countries, offering unlimited text, unlimited talk and 30MB of data per day. The packs will be available to post-paid customers from November 2013, and in a tweet response to a question I asked, Optus advised the new travel pack will replace the existing data travel passes, which offered:

Expiry 1 Day 3 Days 5 Days
Price/Pass $10 $27 $40
Included Data Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited

Although the above were only available on selected networks in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, USA and the United Kingdom.

Outside of the new travel pack, Optus will charge cheaper—but not cheap—flat rates of:

Zone 1 Zone 2
Text 50c / text $1 / text
Talk $1 / min $2 / min
Data 50c / MB $1 / MB

I’m optimistic about the new $10 travel pack, and although 30MB a day doesn’t sound much, it’s close to a 1GB plan when stretched out over a month. I just wish they could have brought the price down a little more, and it still isn’t clear what they mean by unlimited text and unlimited talk. Does this include unlimited calls within the country? Back home to Australia? Or unlimited calls anywhere? Not that I actually feel any great need to call when I’m travelling. My preference would have been for a more generous data allowance.


  1. Well, three weeks ago—I’m a little bit behind with my blog posting.  ↩

  2. Includes, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Europe, UK, USA, Canada and Asia. Excluded from this deal are ‘Zone 2’ countries, which include Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.  ↩

Report Vodafone to cap global roaming fees at $5 a day

Last month I wrote about some positive trends in mobile roaming costs (and on the lacklustre Australian Government action in this area). Well, in follow-up, Lucy Carroll had a story in on the Sydney Morning Herald website yesterday spruiking Vodafone's plan to cap global roaming fees at $5 per day in certain countries:

Vodafone will eliminate widespread ''bill shock'' by capping global roaming fees at $5 per day for customers travelling overseas.

From August, customers visiting the US, Britain and New Zealand will be able to use their existing plans to make calls, send text messages and browse the web while travelling.

$5 a day still sounds excessive, but it's still a positive trend, if true. If nothing else it generates some competitive pressure on competitors to match or beat the charges, which may ultimately get mobile roaming costs to a sensible level.

Towards the bottom of the article there was also a comment from Optus, although the context in which it was made seems a little unclear:

Optus' consumer business division head, Vicki Brady said: ''We welcome today's announcement on the simplification for global roaming in selected countries. Optus is working towards a more comprehensive international roaming solution in the coming months.''

But again, I'm hoping this news indicates a positive shift to more sensible pricing. Definitely something to watch.

Update: See this post for details of the Optus offer

We'll Just Tell You About the Problem

A few days ago I wrote about European reforms to address excessive mobile roaming charges. Well, the Australian response is detailed in the below infographic—we'll just tell you it's a problem.

IMR Infographic.png

From 27 September 2013 the Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) will be phasing in international mobile roaming consumer protections to combat bill shock, including:

> A notification via SMS to be sent to all consumers on arrival overseas, warning them that significantly higher charges for using roaming services may apply.

> Enabling customers to stop international roaming, at low cost, at any time—including from an overseas location.

> A notification to be sent via SMS to customers of service providers giving them pricing information for using a range of roaming services. These services include any that would normally be free in the domestic market, such as receiving a call on a mobile device.

> Spend management tools, including notifications in A$100 increments for data usage and notifications at 50, 85 and 100 per cent of included value, if a customer has purchased an included value travel package from their IMR service provider.

I think I prefer the European response where they are actually doing something about the cost, although warning consumers they're being extorted is at least something.

A link from the announcement does go on to say the Australian and New Zealand governments have recognised "telecommunications companies are stinging consumers on trans-Tasman mobile roaming charges" and are considering steps to "put downward pressure" on the costs. But unfortunately it's only consideration and not action (although this acknowledgement was from August 2012, so hopefully something may have progressed from it).

With the current excessive charges associated with international roaming usage, it seems pretty clear market forces alone can't fix this problem. As a consequence, I for one hope that Governments do take action to regulate in this area. Whether we need to be as attached to our mobile devices as we are, they are a part of our daily lives, and even more useful/valuable when we are travelling.

Positive Trends in Mobile Roaming Cost

It amazes me what mobile phone carriers get away with charging for international data roaming. It’s not just that it is expensive, it’s astronomically expensive, and surely can’t have anything to do with the business costs associated in providing the service.

For casual data roaming my carrier charges 20¢ per 10 kilobytes[1]. When I compare this to the email currently sitting in my inbox, the smallest message would have cost me 30¢ to receive, and the largest, with several PowerPoint attachments, $172!

So stories like this one by Michael Grothaus about cheaper roaming within the European Union are undeniably positive:

As of today, roaming fees are dropping significantly and will drop even further a year from now.

And:

[T]he new rate charges, which are in full legal effect as of midnight last night, are now reduced by 12 percent per minute for incoming calls. Text messages are 11 percent cheaper than they were yesterday, and roaming data charges are down a whopping 36 percent. At €0.45 per MB, roaming data charges are now 91 percent cheaper than they were in 2007.

To take advantage of these reduced roaming rates it appears travelers need a SIM card from a carrier in a European Union country. Although not a major drama for non-European travellers, who just need to source a SIM on their arrival in Europe, I’m looking forward to when international roaming charges between all countries are charged at a much more sensible level.

(Under the EU data roaming rates to come into effect from 1 July 2014 that $172 email would cost me a much more reasonable €1.72—although that still leaves plenty of room for improvement.)


  1. Although I should note that they offer substantially cheaper unlimited data roaming packs with a limited number of countries, for short periods of time.  ↩