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Monday, 28 July 2008 08:43

Vodafone nicely slices international roaming prices - cool!

Vodafone is proactively slicing the price of international mobile roaming charges, which consumer or business travellers overseas on the Vodafone network will surely love, with a special deal for China during August and the Olympics. It looks very impressive and I can’t seem to find any hidden catches, despite trying!!

If there’s one thing that’s a bona-fide rip off, it’s international roaming charges not only for voice, but for data too.

Plenty of people have come back from overseas to bills of several hundred – or even several thousand dollars – just because they made and received a few calls while overseas and used their phones as they’d use them back home!

Now if you work for a large company and they pay your phone bill, you’re probably covered, but if you’re a consumer and you come back to a massive phone bill, you likely wouldn’t be terribly happy.

So, it’s always both surprising – and very welcome – when phone companies pro-actively come out with cheaper pricing and better deals that lower bills for consumers.

Vodafone has done just that with its new “Vodafone Traveller” package, which it characterises as “Staying in touch while overseas is now cheaper than ever with Vodafone’s new international voice roaming tariff”.

Amazingly, the Vodafone Traveller package has no monthly fee whatsoever, which is a surprise in itself, and has sensible and easy to understand charges to make and receive calls when you’re overseas, for four different zones.

You can add the plan before you leave, or even while you’re already overseas, which is a nice bit of flexibility – whether you’re a consumer or you’re on a business plan or cap.

The plan stays “on” for a minimum of one month, but there is no additional monthly cost to be on it (something we rang Vodafone to absolutely confirm because at first we didn’t believe it), and when you’re back in Australia you pay normal Australian rates on your plan.

Of course the roaming charges are still much more expensive than what you pay at home, but that’s normal – the only other company that has really made an effort to lower prices is 3 Mobile with its “3 Like Home” plan that lets you make and receive calls at the same rate (but from memory with a higher flag fall) in countries where 3 Mobile has a network.

But Vodafone’s great international coverage has given it leverage do to a much stronger global deal, or at least, so it would appear from my understanding of the new plans.

Vodafone Australia say the Traveller plan has “some of the most competitive call rates while travelling overseas” – so what are the prices?!

Please read on to page 2.

Naturally Vodafone are emphasis the new tariff’s “simple and easy-to-understand pricing platform for customers looking to use their mobile phone for voice calls while travelling overseas and covers the key destinations throughout the world for Australian travellers, such as New Zealand, the UK, Singapore and China.”

And, once again, Vodafone’s press release says it’s an “opt-in tariff, meaning subscribers can simply request that it be added to their existing plan either before or during their trip – so when travelling overseas, for fun or on business, it’s easy to lock in some of the most competitive mobile roaming rates available to Australian customers.”

Vodafone say the Traveller tariffs are “based on four new, geographically-orientated country zones, making it easier and simpler to understand.”

These zones are: Zone 1: New Zealand (NZ) and Singapore (SG); Zone 2: Europe; Zone 3: Asia Pacific (AP) and North America (NA); and Zone 4: the rest of the world (ROW). The pricing for each of these regions is as follows:

The zone names are abbreviated as per the zones above, and the term SCR is my own abbreviation for “Standard Call Rate", which would be whatever the standard call rate for your plan currently is, something that varies from plan to plan.

Post-pay tariff (in Australian dollars):

Price Per Minute     Zone 1          Zone 2           Zone 3          Zone 4
                           NZ & SG         Europe           AP & NA         ROW
To make a call      $1 + SCR       $1.50 + SCR   $2 + SCR      $4 + SCR
To receive a call    $1.00             $1.00             $1.00            $1.00
To send an SMS    $0.75             $0.75             $0.75            $0.75

(SCR: Standard Call Rate)

Compared with Vodafone's normal international roaming rates, the "Traveller" rates are definitely better value.

Originally I thought the $1 to receive a call was a flat charge, over which I was very impressed. Sadly it's not - it's $1 per minute. That's a shame as the press release didn't make it fully clear, and I've received a call from Vodafone to inform me the charge is indeed $1 per minute and that they are updating their press release to rephrase it so there is no ambiguity.

An impressive addition is this statement from Vodafone: “Customers can call from any network while overseas to enjoy Vodafone Traveller’s great rates and do not specifically need to switch their device to the local Vodafone or partner network.”

No more accidentally connecting to the wrong overseas mobile network! Vodafone says it doesn’t matter. Wow – that is a handy thing for people overseas that might have otherwise been tripped up and set up for even larger bill shock. This is something Vodafone’s competitors should urgently copy.

Hugh Humphrey, General Manager, Business Markets, Vodafone Australia said: “As the world's leading international mobile communications group, Vodafone is uniquely placed to offer Australian customers the most affordable voice roaming tariffs”.

Humphrey continued: “Vodafone Traveller offers a clear pricing structure, making it easier and more cost-effective than ever for Australians heading overseas to connect with their business or friends and family back home, without worrying about unexpected charges on their bill.“

So, what’s the special deal Vodafone is promoting for the Olympics? Please read on to page 3.

Well, it’s nearly Olympics time, and I guess it’s no surprise to see Vodafone taking advantage of the hoopla to offer a “special deal” that it clearly hopes will entice more people to switch to its network. That’s competition, after all.

Vodafone says that it’s offering a “one month special tariff for Vodafone customers travelling to China between August 1 – August 31”.

It says this means that “customers making calls from China will receive a 50 per cent reduction on the roaming zone charge, making it more affordable than ever to share the success of Australia’s Olympians with friends and family back home”, with China being in Zone 3. That means the “standard Zone 3 roaming charge is reduced from $2.00 to $1.00 for the month of August”.

It’s worth remembering once more than this isn’t just for business customers – but for consumers, too. It really seems to me to be throwing down the gauntlet for international roaming – Optus and Telstra, are you listening?

3 Mobile has its own 3 Like Home as I mentioned before, so if you’re a 3 customer you’re likely already enjoying cheaper prices depending on where you travel, but it is nice to see Vodafone has a global plan in place with fixed rates.

Vodafone is also spruiking it’s international “roaming data bundles”, which it already previously announced.

These give you 25MB for $49 per month, or 120MB for $199 per month, classed as a light and heavy plan, respectively.

Sadly these cap amounts are far too small to allow standard use of your computer – you’d definitely want to access your mail via a web mail account rather than through standard Outlook, and you’d want to ensure your computer is not download large Windows updates, or you could bust through your cap very quickly.

But at least Vodafone are offering fixed data caps at all, again showing up the competition. I just hope Vodafone looks towards doubling the amount of data offered – at the very least – to further reduce the chance of bill shock.

Intrestingly, Vodafone says these international data roaming plans can also be taken up for “just one month” without any additional fixed-term contracts, letting consumers “activate a new plan each time they travel”, which is a simple and fair way of doing things.

To conclude, it’s always a massive, massive surprise when a telecommunications company voluntarily decides to offer its customers a better, fairer, cheaper deal, while giving them more options.

Clearly, given the tremendous price competitiveness of VoIP services, Vodafone and other phone companies could dramtically drop prices even futher to make global roaming even more affordable for everyone that travels.

However given that outcome will still take some time to emerge, I'm nevertheless glad to see Vodafone is keeping its competitive spirit alive and giving its peers a run for their money – just as Optus is doing for consumers with its own “yes” timeless plans, something Vodafone is yet to respond to.

That said, cheaper international voice roaming plans are definitely a step in the right direction, with even more steps, from Vodafone and the other telcos - yet to come.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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