In this week’s crop of viral stories on the Internet was a man who came home from a vacation in Dubai with a phone bill totaling P3.2 million. That’s easily the price of property in certain parts of Metro Manila.
His shock, dismay and rage were felt all over Facebook—he had subscribed to an unlimited data roaming promo.
His service provider, Globe Telecom, issued a statement a few days later saying that the charges were part of a system error and the two parties had come to an understanding since then.
Still, that P3.2-million phone bill struck terror in the hearts of mobile subscribers everywhere, especially those with holiday travel plans.
This is not the first time it’s happened. We found another Twitter user contesting over P400,000 worth of roaming charges during a vacation she took six months ago.
There have been several subscribers who come home to find insane phone bill charges, even though they don’t recall using the Internet that much.
We all know how much it costs to make a phone call or send a text message while on roaming abroad, but do you know how much it’s costing you to send a tweet, update your status, check e-mail or surf the Net?
Here’s an estimate of data consumption from Internet activity taken from Globe’s website and other sites, as well as a rough computation based on their regular nonpromo data roaming rates: If they charge P300/MB (Globe’s rate within Asia and America; P500/MB for Africa and Europe) and 1 MB is equivalent to 1024 kilobytes (kb), then let’s allot P0.30 per kb (300 divided by 1024) to give you a general idea (note that this is a simplified estimate of charges and that you should still get in touch with your service provider to find out how they charge exactly).
One e-mail with a Word document/Excel/Powerpoint attachment— 370 kb x P0.30 = P111
One webpage from surfing the Internet—400 kb x P0.30 = P120
One minute of video streaming (YouTube standard quality)—2 MB x P300 = P600 (better save that viral video when you’re connected to the hotel Wi-Fi)
Downloading one application/ game/song—9 MB x P300 = P2,700 (and that’s Asia/America’s roaming rate alone, imagine if you happen to download a 9-MB game using data roaming in Europe at P500/MB x 9 = P4,500, or 74 Euros. A Longchamp Le Pliage [S] purchased in Paris costs less at 68 Euros.)
One instant message—30 kb x P0.30 = P9
Instagram/Twitter post—200 kb x P0.30 = P60 (It’ll cost you P60 to tell your friends what you’re eating while you’re vacationing in Asia/America, so make sure it’s something drool-worthy.)
Using maps navigation feature—5 MB/hour x P300 = P1,500
The rundown listed above doesn’t even cover 10 minutes of your regular Internet-based activity on your smartphone. Doing all those activities in one go already costs P9,603; so, to rack up a bill in the hundreds of thousands when your data roaming is turned on and running unchecked is not only a possibility—expect that it will happen.
Telcos know how essential the Internet is, especially these days with just about everyone using smartphones. They also know how prohibitive data roaming costs are, hence the various unlimited data roaming promos they offer.
The thing about smartphones, though, is that they are extreme data hogs. Even when you’re not using the phone, it can consume data while idle, either in the form of push notifications or background app refreshing (any app that is running will occasionally refresh itself so it’ll be updated when you return to the app).
Apple’s latest software update, for example, enables users to update apps automatically, so if you have several apps that update themselves automatically at 10 MB each while on data roaming, you’re doomed.
Michelle Curran, data and international services marketing head at Smart Communications, advises subscribers to turn on data only when needed. “To make sure you are appropriately billed for your roaming usage, it will be best to turn on your mobile data only when necessary; make a conscious effort to make sure that it is turned off, and be aware of your phone’s other settings, as some handsets automatically detect networks while they are on,” she says.
Even if you’ve subscribed to an unlimited data roaming plan, it’s important to remember that your unlimited plan only applies to your telco’s partner network in the country you’re visiting. This means that if your phone is set to look for networks automatically, it can switch you to a different network based on which signal is strongest.
This activity can happen while your phone is in your pocket. You won’t even know it happened, so, for your peace of mind, switch off your cellular data and data roaming when not in use.
Both Smart and Globe have safeguards in place to protect you from incurring excessive data roaming costs. Arjun Varma, head of postpaid roaming at Globe, says that subscribers registered to unlimited roaming plans are set to receive confirmation messages. “An SMS confirmation with reminders, such as the operator to select and the promo validity, will be sent. Another SMS notification will be sent upon promo expiry,” she notes.
Curran says that Smart also notifies subscribers when their data roaming charges reach a certain amount. “Smart alerts users through text when their data roaming charges reach P5,000; Smart Infinity subscribers will have their data roaming services put on hold once they have incurred a total of P10,000. They may then inform Smart right away if they wish to reactivate it.”
There are so many other factors to consider when traveling with your smartphone that it can get downright confusing, especially for those who don’t like to fiddle around with settings.
For those who want to avoid using data roaming altogether, another alternative is to buy an unlocked phone that has hotspot capabilities (it can share its Internet connection with other devices) or an unlocked pocket Wi-Fi device. Most countries have prepaid data/voice packages for visiting travelers, which you’ll usually come across when you’re at the airport (you can also Google ahead of your trip for such services).
If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ll find that the cost of the unlocked device will pay for itself by sparing you from prohibitive phone bills.