Holiday Warning: Watch out for Unexpected Mobile Phone Roaming

Sep 2, 2013

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When DATACENTRE.ME owner, Caroline Hitchins, left the UK for a Greek island holiday recently, she left with the comfort of knowing she could still use her mobile phone without incurring huge additional charges. In fact, her service provider (O2) even sent her a reassuring text message claiming standard charges would apply as follows:
  • phone calls – 50 pence for an hour
  • text messages – 7 pence each
  • data – £1.99 per day.
Much to her dismay, Caroline racked up a bill of more than £129 in just the first two days of her holiday. It turns out some of her communications were being routed through Turkey and, as such, were assessed with higher roaming charges. The problem is that Turkey is not part of the European Union (EU). Making matters worse is the fact that Caroline considers her mobile phone a vital part of her day-to-day business operations. On several occasions since returning from holiday, O2 has threatened to deactivate her service until she pays the outstanding balance. On one occasion, she spent an entire day trying to operate DATACENTRE.ME without the use of her phone. “Despite my trying to sort out this issue in a timely manner, O2 have failed to investigate this matter and report back to me as promised, which has resulted in much wasted time and effort,” Caroline said. “I have emailed time and time again in order to escalate this matter but all I get in return is automated messages saying that my email will be reviewed within 7 working days.” Caroline went on to issue a warning to all who use mobile phones while travelling abroad. It is always a good idea to check with your service provider, via direct telephone contact, before leaving home. If necessary, do not be afraid asked for a written copy of your terms of service and your service provider's routing policies.

All in a Day's Business

Unfortunately, Caroline’s experience is not uncommon. For mobile communications providers this is all in a day's business. What's more, there is not a lot that can be done in terms of the ‘mechanics’ of how phone calls are routed. Nonetheless, O2 and other service providers need to be more proactive in educating customers of the potential dangers and be responsive in issuing refunds for cases like this. As far as call routing itself is concerned, it is something that is determined by a number of factors, including current cellular traffic, the proximity of mobile communications towers, and how those towers are tied into local and regional data centres. If the service provider knows calls originating from the Greek islands would be routed through Turkey, it should warn consumers visiting the islands to be prepared; even if that meant purchasing a local sim card once they arrive at their holiday destination. In the absence of that, service providers should do what is necessary to change the dynamic. It is foolish to allow phone calls originating in an EU country to be routed through another country that is not an EU member. Infrastructure considerations aside, it is simply bad business.