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30 March 20120 Comments by Jon M

Does the mobile phone industry in the UK need a top-down shakeup?: Part 3

Hi again and welcome to the third instalment of our series on the state of the UK phone market. Today we’re looking at the excessive roaming fees we are made to pay by UK mobile networks and ways you can get caught out while travelling on holiday or even at home. But first, don’t forget to check out all the other articles in the series:

Are you updating your Facebook status by the pool?

How many times do we go away on holiday and take our smartphones with us? Every time, probably. Do you get home from your holiday and totally forget about the next mobile phone bill landing on your doormat? When the bill arrives you have to look at it twice in disbelief wondering how the bill came to £100s of pounds more than you usually spend. It’s not unheard of for bills after holidays to be in excess of £1000.

You might not think that checking your Facebook status could be so costly. The reason it is expensive because your home networks have struck up a roaming agreement with foreign networks. Your mobile network may well have networks in other countries and you would be forgiven for thinking, for example, that Orange FR (France) would be exactly like Orange UK wouldn’t you? Well it is, but in name only. The similarity ends there; it may appear to be the same network, but it it’s charged differently. So you might have only updated your Facebook status once or twice a day, but if you are away for a couple of week it can mount up.

Did you know that if someone from yhe UK rings you while you are abroad, you will both be charged when the call is connected? The rules differ slightly with text messages. In the case of texts being sent abroad from the UK, or vice versa, the sender pays extra for the text, but they are free for the recipient.

Can I avoid being ripped off when on holiday?

The answer is yes you can. There are a few measures you can take to avoid being ripped off. The first is you can switch off data roaming on your handset, then phone your network and ask them to put a bar on international calls and texts. If you really want to use handset abroad, phone your network and ask about international charges. They may have a network in the country you are visiting. You can also have an international call add-on so you won’t be stung for high charges. Make sure you all your notifications are switched off; things like your email alerts, etc.

If you really have to take your handset on holiday it may be cheaper if you buy a PAYG SIM card for a network in the country you are visiting. Your handset will need to have been unlocked to use a local SIM card. It may be worthwhile investing in a cheap phone on PAYG complete with SIM for the duration of the holiday. You can, of course, use it again if you’re a regular visitor to that country. It might cost you around €50-€60, but it’s cheaper than getting a mobile bill of £100s of pounds. The best way to avoid charges is to either leave your phone at home, or make use of any free wifi hotspots that are available, such as in hotels, coffee shops, etc.

Even if you don’t leave the UK you’re not exempt; it’s possible to be charged roaming while actually being in the UK. But how is this possible? A few years ago some people living on the south easy coast of England near Dover found their phones were picking up an Orange FR (France) instead of Orange UK transmitter. This was because Orange switched off a transmitter in the area and the Orange FR signal was the strongest in the area despite having the English Channel between to the two countries. The distance between England and France is only around 25 miles.

It’s a real problem in Northern Ireland too. Many people who live there can’t get a signal at all, as the nearest cell transmitter for the network is 2 miles away. However, often it is is possible to pick up a transmitter in the Republic of Ireland. This shows that it’s possible to pick up an Irish network when still in the UK. Just to be clear Northern Ireland is in the UK, but the Irish Republic is in Europe – where roaming rates apply.


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