Roaming with SIM4travel

by Jonathan Jensen on 31st May 2009

Vodafone’s recent announcement about scrapping roaming charges over the Summer for users on the Passport tariff is a bold step in delivering simpler and fairer charging to customers when they’re roaming (in a country with a Vodafone partner network).


Saving you money?

When I travel abroad I try to avoid using my personal mobile as much as possible. It’s almost a matter of principle not to use it because charges are so much higher than in the UK. At home I’m in control of my spend because I have a decent bundle of minutes and texts and unlimited data.

But roaming – anything can happen!

A case in point was last week in France. Despite disabling all data features I still managed to run up around £5 of data charges in one day when launching apps and switching them over to WiFi. Puzzled how – but as many apps have a life of their own, anything’s possible and it does go to show the shocking price of data roaming!

I took a travel SIM with me to France from SIM4travel (part of Truphone) because I wanted to assess it in terms of delivering certainty and clarity of spend – essential components of a Normob user experience. The appeal of a travel SIM is that you don’t pay to receive calls in Europe (plus a few other countries) and charges for calls and texts are reasonably competitive and come off a prepaid balance; so no nasty surprises when you get home. Overall I was fairly happy with SIM4travel; my only hesitation is around the way you have to make outbound calls. You call the destination number and get the slightly confusing message ‘call not allowed’; the call is then dropped. Next you receive a call which when answered gives you a ringing tone for the person you’re calling. This sequence of calls allows SIM4travel to route calls using the most cost effective routing and once I got used to it, it wasn’t too unfriendly an experience. The other point to be aware of is that the SIM uses a Jersey number so friends calling you from UK mobiles will probably find the calls charged outside of their call bundle. [Ben says: It's a Jersey-based '07509' number - 15p per minute from a BT landline when I last checked]

So what are the savings? SIM4travel charges 25p per minute to call the UK and Vodafone charges me 38p per minute. A text to the UK is 39p on SIM4travel and 25p plus 1 text from my bundle on Vodafone. Receiving a call is free on SIM4travel and 19p per minute on Vodafone. Note that if you’re on an operator international tariff like Vodafone Passport then different rates apply so you need to check your own tariff. This shows that there are real savings to be made using SIM4travel and the pricing clarity is another benefit. Whilst I was using Sim4travel in France, the savings outside Europe can be much bigger  – see these numbers from Ben quoted in a review he wrote last year comparing costs with Three’s prices:

Calling between Dubai / UK

  1. Make call to UK from Dubai: 49p per minute with SIM4Travel  /  180p per minute with Three (contract)
  2. Receive call from UK in Dubai: Free with SIM4Travel  /  80p per minute with Three

Calling between China / UK

  1. Make call to UK from China: 69p per minute with SIM4Travel  /  180p per minute with Three (contract)
  2. Receive call from UK in China: 39p with SIM4Travel  /  80p per minute with Three

If Vodafone’s new Passport pricing becomes the norm it will be interesting to see what the travel SIM operators do to compete. Travel SIMs are a feature of the high cost of roaming but with more competitive deals from the big operators plus continued EU pressure maybe we won’t need them, at least in Europe, in the future?

Jonathan’s also at Sevendotzero.

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