technology, hospitality, and plumbing…

Why Mobile Users Lose Out When Travelling

In General on February 10, 2011 at 22:04

Data RoamingAs an avid smartphone user (ok, geek), i look forward to using my favourite gadget while travelling. So much is available to the traveller, and so many apps have been created to ensure users have a great time while travelling: browsers allow you to go online and search for information as needed, and apps have functionality that is nothing short of magical. Many articles give the Top 10 Apps for Tourists, Best Apps for Business Travellers, highlighting everything from the prosaic — city guides, restaurant and hotel reviews — to the downright magical — augmented reality apps overlaying details onto the environment around you, or translating foreign signs and displaying them in their original context. Between these 2 extremes come thousands of other great apps, such as GPS navigation, trip schedulers, and flight status.

So really, the modern smartphone should provide a great experience for today’s traveller, right? Well, you’d be wrong. And the reason is? Most people are too scared to turn on their smartphone when overseas because of the fear of…roaming charges.

On a trip to the US, I was unable to take advantage of all the mobile opportunities available — and let’s face it, the US is the leader in these kinds of services (think of how many non-US services come to mind).

Instead of glorying in the experience, I found myself rationing my data usage, and grabbing free wifi where I could find it (such as the parking lot of Starbucks — the shame of it!). Of course, I couldn’t take advantage of this when on the move (creating my own vicious circle — no way to find the nearest Starbucks!)

It’s the same for US users when travelling abroad — punitive data roaming charges.

iPhone users on AT&T in the US have the option of monthly data roaming packages, starting at USD24.99 for 20MB. That’s right, 20MB! If you up that to 200MB, the cost is USD199.99. The irony is that when you travel, away from your home, office and the fixed internet connections they provide, there is more need for a mobile connection. But in your time of need, you get hammered!

Europeans get it slightly better, now that the European Union has imposed limits on roaming charges. Vodafone UK users roaming in Europe get 25MB per day for GBP2 a day, or GBP10 a month. Outside the EU, the contrast is huge — approximately GBP5 per MB, roughly the same as AT&T charge.

So 2 points to takeaway here — firstly, it seems that so far, mobile phone networks will not provide reasonably priced roaming unless regulators command them.

Secondly, an enormous opportunity is being lost, by the operators themselves who are receiving only a tiny fraction of the potential revenue for roaming that mass usage would provide, and also by hoteliers, restaurateurs, and other travel related businesses who have invested in mobile and location based technologies, and expect to see some return on investment.

What can we do about this? Well, as we can see from Europe, the industry is quite happy with the current situation. This leaves it to individuals on the consumer side making much more noise. This worked in Europe, where the public discussion of the issue put pressure on operators. The operators did nothing, which forced the authorities to act. Something similar has happened with hotel WiFi, where in response to public debate, some hotel operators have begun to see the insanity of charging guests.

Any thoughts on how this issue could be brought into wider view?

Anthony Green — February 2011

  1. Your right. The only smart-phone I use abroad is my office phone (I don’t pay!). My own is far too expensive which is a real shame.
    The other part of travel which annoys me with mobile is the unnecessary mobile apps out there. Hotel apps are the worst culprits. So many out there that do absolutely nothing. Hotels need to learn not to invest in something that does not suit their brand. There are better ways to get yourself out there.

  2. Interesting comment about the unnecessary mobile apps. It seems trendy at the moment to talk about the death of the web, and an app-for-everything, but i just don’t buy that, the mobile web is clearly a lot more accessible for users, and a lot cheaper for businesses to build.

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