The telecom Wild West: Data roaming outside the EU

Travellers face nasty surprises after smartphone surfing abroad

In the age of smartphones we can take for granted non-stop internet access in Denmark for a low monthly fee. Even using the devices in other EU member states has become more reasonable in recent years. But when we go abroad outside the union, surfing on the mobile can be an expensive business.

Don’t feel too at home
Ray Weaver, a journalist at the Weekly Post, was surprised during his recent holiday to the US by the price of so-called data roaming outside the EU.

“I needed to use Google Maps a few times,” he said.

“I burned through my 450 kroner limit pretty quickly. I think the final tally will be well over 2,000 kroner.”

According to Martin Salamon, the chief economist at the consumer council Forbrugerrådet Tænk, Weaver is far from the first to complain about the cost of mobile internet use overseas.

Recurring complaint
“This is one of the recurring complaints we see. People are surprised by the bills they get. People expect the same safeguards within the EU to apply, but they don’t,” he said.

“Thankfully we’re seeing fewer of these cases than we once did because consumer protection has become slightly better in the area.”

Expensive mistake
Salamon explained that telecom providers must inform customers of the applicable charges when they are abroad and alert them when they reach a limit of 450 kroner.

Herman Hansen, a holiday-maker who visited Thailand over the summer, was thankful for this measure.

“I was at Bangkok Airport and they had wifi, so I got the iPad out,” recalled Hansen. But it turned out that instead of the free wifi Hansen was inadvertently making use of data roaming.

“What seemed like seconds later, it informed me I had reached my 450 kroner limit. What if there hadn’t been a limit?”

Excessive markup
Salamon considers the mark-up on data use outside the EU to be excessive.

“It’s not cost-driven,” he said. “These services are so extremely expensive and you can use data very quickly. On a well-functioning network you can use up the megabytes in seconds.”

Salamon explained that, as a result, many mobile users turn off data and their phone when they go outside the EU.

“So the companies are losing out as well as the consumers,” he said.

Be prepared
Tænk recommends looking for special deals offered by telecom companies, whereby more data can be bought by paying an upfront fee or avoiding mobile data use altogether by sticking to wifi when abroad.

“With the types of extortionate prices we are being charged as consumers, one must prepare oneself,” he said.

TDC charges either 100 or 115 kroner per megabyte, depending on the country, for non-EU roaming. A typical music track equates to 5 megabytes, so streaming or downloading it can cost more than 500 kroner.