T*Mobile made a bit of a splash this week, announcing that as of the end of the month customers on their Simple Choice plans will no longer pay data roaming fees in roughly 100 countries across the globe. SMS service will also be free/included in those countries and voice roaming will be capped at 20 cents per minute. Yup, free global roaming. As someone who travels internationally a lot those numbers – particularly the zeros – are pretty darn appealing. But, like with most awesome news, there is a catch. The free service is going to be at 2G speeds. That’s EDGE or GPRS, depending on where you are. In other words not very fast. But is it fast enough?
I think the answer might be yes on this one. I find myself roaming on international networks a fair amount and for some reason my BlackBerry really chews through battery life when I’m on 3G so I typically force it down to 2G when I’m on the road. It is not fast at all. But it is quite functional. I can post photos to Twitter or Facebook, do basic searches and otherwise generally do the things I want to be able to do when I’m wandering about in some far flung town. Other actions – streaming media or sharing full-size photos – will be painful or simply not work. I get that. I don’t do much of that when I’m out wandering around; I save those actions for WiFi in the hotel or at a restaurant/café along the way.
For people who want higher speeds there are “power packs” available to buy at rather reasonable rates:
- 1 day and 100MB for $15
- 1 week and 200MB for $25
- 2 weeks and 500MB for $50
Those will let you consume at the highest speeds supported wherever you are and fail back to 2G when the limit is reached.
One other aspect of the play I find interesting is T*Mobile CEO John Legere’s explanation for why they’re doing this. In short, he says that international roaming fees are nearly all profit and since his company doesn’t make much money from them anyways it isn’t really such a huge risk to cut the price and hope to make it up with new customers joining and paying for service but not using a ton of it. From a CNET story on the news:
T-Mobile is able to pull off this move because, Legere conceded, it didn’t really make a lot of money on its international business. He called it a “multi-multi-billion-dollar revenue stream” but said T-Mobile didn’t have much of a hand in it. Most customers will to pay the higher rates are either well off, or working for companies willing to foot the bill. Either way, they’re more likely to be customers of AT&T or Verizon Wireless.
Of course, the business customers aren’t likely to settle for 2G speeds when roaming so this might not work out so well in that regard.
The list of countries included in the program, according to engadget is:
Aland Islands, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bonaire, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Christmas Island, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Easter Island, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Faeroe Islands, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Martinique, Mexico, Moldova, Montserrat, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sint Maarten, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, St. Barthelemy, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Martin, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Svalbard, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Turks and Caicos Islands, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vatican City, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia
There are a few things holding me back right now, despite how awesome this sounds. First, it would mean switching to T*Mobile for service at home. And while they announced nationwide LTE coverage as part of the same event I don’t really believe them. Performance in NYC has historically been pretty miserable based on just about every conversation I’ve ever had with a user on that network dating back more than a decade. That’s enough to make me balk. Plus there’s the whole momentum thing. I’m grandfathered in on a sweet deal from VZW, one they no longer offer, so my flat-rate data usage is actually global, not just (admittedly large number of) select countries. The downside of my situation is that if I want a new phone I have to pay the full, unsubsidized price. Hence I’m still using a BlackBerry.
Yes, this move is very much a marketing ploy. Throw “free” out there a lot an see just how many people you can convince to switch or try the service and then don’t hate you because it is too slow when they travel. Or maybe it is the right amount of data at the right price for basic consumption. Buying a local SIM card is rarely too hard, though the rules vary wildly by country and it takes time. For quick visits it is often more of a pain than it should be. Dealing with slower speeds to avoid that for 1-2 days in a new place would be pretty nice.
For free it just might be perfect.