This article was written in 2011 and may contain out of date information. Browse more recent articles.
I was away for a few days in France last week. A friend who lives abroad was getting married to a Scot and the whole thing went off beautifully. Food was great, surroundings were fabulous, and you know the way everyone says Guinness tastes better in Dublin? Well, the French are definitely keeping the good stuff for themselves because St Emilion most certainly tastes a heck of a lot better in St Emilion!
Most of the wedding day was spent outside and it was roasting. The Scottish contingent (and in particular, the piper honking away in the sun) looked very warm indeed in their woolen socks, kilts, jackets and whatnot - and of course there were photos galore... which is where I’m going with this.
Nearly everyone had traveled from another country to be at the wedding. Nearly everyone there had a smartphone with a camera, and sure enough, nearly everyone wanted to put pictures up on Facebook, send pictures home to people that couldn’t be at the wedding, and then call home and talk about how the wedding was going.
Myself and about half the guys there also wanted to get online with our phones because it was Heineken Cup Final Day and we were in the middle of the French countryside with no WiFi and no TV. As we were sitting down to dinner, the game was kicking off and we needed regular score updates.
But nobody did go online. Everyone was terrified about the data roaming charges and overseas phone charges. The guys I spoke to all had horror stories of eye-watering bills after previous holidays. One girl had a story about a trip she spent sending photos to a friend who had to cancel at the last minute. She claims she nearly had to take out a bank loan to pay her phone bill.
Now don't get me wrong, I think my iPhone is wonderful and I find it incredible that I can talk to anyone in the world from anywhere in the world. I think it's remarkable that tmy phone can tell me where I am and how to get to where I'm going. I totally agree with Lewis CK when he says that so many things in the modern world are just amazing.
Crazy Roaming Costs
But back to those crazy roaming charges. Just how bad are they really? I thought it was worth a look, considering that it affected nearly everyone at the wedding and holiday season is nearly upon us.
I’m with O2, and I’m now very pleased that I didn’t send home any photos or use the internet while I was away. I was actually shocked at how much they charge for overseas data and calls. O2 says that they charge €4.98 per megabyte for the first four and “4MBs to 50Mbs is then free!” The exclamation point is theirs not mine – it’s as if they are trying to suggest that it’s a good deal.
So basically, if you go online with O2 while you’re in the EU, it’s going to cost you twenty quid a day unless you send only an email or two. Just one full sized photo from your iPhone is going to cost you a tenner, a single email is going to cost you a fiver and any kind or ordinary data use is giong to set you back twenty quid at least. And that's on top of extra call and text charges. Holy moly.
But here’s where it can get even worse. So you're thinking that you're in for a penny - in for a pound right? It’s a wedding, I’ll just suck up the €20 data roaming charge and send home loads of photos, put another heap of pics on Facebook and then I’ll watch the Heineken Cup highlights on my phone after the speeches?
Potentially limitless roaming bills*
Not such a good idea. O2 will charge you €4.98 for every single megabyte that you use over 50MB. So your bill could potentially be limitless! Ok, not quite limitless, but it could get as high as €50 per day just for roaming.*
Here’s the thing though. O2 is a Telefonica company. They operate in loads of EU countries including biggies like the UK and Germany, but they still charge many of their Irish customers €4.98 per megabyte for data roaming in other EU countries that they operate in.
On the reasonable side of the fence, Vodafone seems to have done something interesting. They have three data roaming zones. Vodafone Countries, Rest of Europe and Rest of World. Vodafone Countries is pretty much all of the European countries that you’re likely to visit and they charge just €2 per day to access up to 50MB of data.
As you’d expect from a mobile phone company, lots of blah-blah-blah applies - like these rates are for bill-pay, new plans, renewing customers and some old plans. But still, it in contrast to O2, they are charging what is essentially 10 times less for data roaming.
Now I don’t want O2 to think I’m picking on them in particular. I’m not. It’s just that I happen to be an O2 customer so I checked their rates first. They do charge a lot, but they are nothing compared to Meteor who charge an absolutely unbelievable €10.24 per megabyte in the EU! So if you send just one email and it'll cost you more than a tenner! One photo and you're out more than twenty euro!!
Data roaming the way to should be
One of the fairest companies seems to be Three. They have a thing called “Three Like Home” and if Three are an operator in the country you are visiting, there is no charge for data roaming. It’s just taken out of your regular allowance. So, you can go to the UK, roam away and it won’t cost you a thing. Isn’t that they way it should be?
Now Three don’t operate in some of the big EU countries, and they’ll charge you €4.00 per megabyte in those. So like O2, watch out. It could really add up.
Data would cost €1,250 per MB if it was charged the same way as a text
But here's some food for thought - we all know that texts are a swizz, especially for us Paddies who pay far too much for everything anyway. And at about 20 cents per text when you are abroad, the cost of texts is just outrageous. How outrageous? Well, there's 163 bytes of data in a text, so if your data roaming was charged the same way your texts are, you wouldn't be paying a fiver for a megabyte of data, you'd be shelling out about €1,250!!
Anyway, to finish up, the best travel advice is to know before you go. Call your mobile company, tell them what country you’re going to and find out what your calls, texts and most importantly your data is going to cost you.
And so - just what exactly will one megabyte of data actually get you?
A full sized photo on a phone is usually larger than 1MB. On an iPhone it’s about 1.3MB.
1MB should allow you to send and receive about 100 text based emails.
You’ll only really be able to safely view about five full featured web pages.
One song is about 3MB so downloading music is not a good idea.
Unless you’re a Russian Oligarch, stay away from streaming anything. Video, music or even radio.
There are the equivalent of 6,282 text messages in a megabyte.
And on a final note, a lot of smartphones have “push” features. They check for and download email and notifications all by themselves. They can really much into your data, so turn these features off.
Some disclaimer stuff so I don't get into too much trouble. There are dozens and dozens of mobile roaming plans and schemes. There's no way I could focus on or even find out about all of them. Therefore I've been very selective and the mobile companies I've mentioned in this piece all have the rates I've covered on their websites. Also, I have only focused on bill-pay plans. Pay-as-you-go may (and very probably do) vary.
*There is an EU €50 daily cost limit on data. The rule came into effect last summer and operators are required to inform customers when they are nearing that limit, and then cut them off when they reach it ,unless another arrangement has been made.