How to Save Data Roaming Charges
Many a times, travelers both for business and leisure ignore the additional cost of Data Roaming when they travel outside their home country and most of these travelers were in for a rude shock looking at their phone/data bills after their trips. For Leisure, it is a big shock to individuals while when you travel for business, usually travel managers or the Finance gets a shock as they seems to struggle on how they can manage this cost.
Businesses want their employees to be connected always and it is the time, they should follow some of the tips shared below and include these in their corporate travel policy. This will certainly help them reduce their travel spend by at least 5%.
In the winter of Dec’2009, I was on a week long business trip to Dallas from India. After returning home, I got a big shock; my phone bill including data roaming was US$500, which usually was always US$100 or less. This high bill was an eye opener to analyze and find out what I did wrong to get such high bill and what I can do to save it for future travel. My findings were:
- My emails (both business and personal) on my Blackberry at that time was “always on”
- I had Facebook app downloaded and it was set on “auto background refresh mode”
- Location services were “Always on”
Post this, I set some rules for myself (listed below) and have always managed to keep my data roaming bill to absolute minimum.
Let’s first understand how & where we consume data:
When we are traveling and connected to or using any one or more of the following applications, we consume data:
- Official & Personal Emails on our phones
- Networking sites – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram among others.
- Chat Applications – WeChat, Line, Viber, ICQ, Skype, Hike, BBM and Whatsapp among others
- Video Calling Applications – Facetime and Lync among others
- Location Services like – Maps and Weather among others
- Internet based Applications – Travel related apps, news apps, banking apps and shopping related apps
Even, the most important applications like Camera also use data when connected to location services. Each of the service when used either directly or is put on background refresh mode using Mobile Data adds up to our data consumption cost.
I’m happy to share these tips with all fellow travelers here, which will help you all to control your data roaming bills.
- Turn-off Mobile Data: The moment you are ready to turn-off your phone at the time of take-off from your home country, turn off Mobile Data and also keep Data Roaming switch on OFF mode. Almost all phones provide these two master switches which supersede all other individual settings of applications in your phone on data usage.
- Switch to Wireless Mode: If your phone does not have Master Switch to turn off Mobile Data or you want to be extra careful, you can go to individual applications and turn-Off their usage on Mobile Data.
- Background App Refresh: This is another high data consumption feature. Turn-off Background app refresh either via Master Switch (most phones have) or individually for applications you have downloaded on your phone. This will also help improve battery performance
- Local Mobile Data Card: Whichever country you are traveling to, majority of them have “prepaid mobile data cards” and are available to be purchased at airports. All you need is to show your passport and arrival boarding pass to get one such card. These cards are available in various denominations of usage and days, some of the common one’s are: 3 days/1GB (valid for 3 days and up to 1GB data), 7days/5GB and/or 30days/unlimited. This is the most effective way of saving on your international roaming data charges and also gives you a great advantage of being connected with the local service provider and can get good connectivity. Another advantage is you can connect multiple devices (computer, Camera, Smartphone etc). It is important to buy these at airports as airport staff are trained to set-up data cards on various devices, which most of the time city locations are not. Countries where language is an issue like Thailand, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Scandics, Italy, Spain, Hungary etc, usually airport counters has English speaking people. The big question is – How can you use this Data Card? There are few options:
Old Smartphones: Most of us usually change our smartphones every 2 years because of two reasons: 1)We originally purchased the phone on a 2 year contract and now the contract is over and we are eligible to buy a new phone 2) Most of the smartphones have shelf life of around 2 years. In either case, when we get a new smartphone, our old phone is a great way to be used as Mobile Hotspot. Insert the local data card in your old smartphone and use this as a mobile hot spot and carry in your pocket. Connect your main phone and your computer with this hotspot and use all your data on wireless.
Mobile Wi-Fi (Mi-Fi): This is a great device and I’m one of the most satisfied users. Easy to set-up and operate and can be used with both data card and with a LAN cable. The device cost less than US$100 and available globally on most of the retailers both online and brick & Mortar. You can insert a data card, make it a hot-spot, connect your smartphone and keep it in your pocket to remain connected on the move. Most of the hotels offer free internet in the rooms when using LAN cable, but wi-fi is chargeable, you can use the LAN port of this device, again make it a hot-spot and can connect your smartphone and computer. You can connect 5 devices simultaneously with this device.
Cellular Tablet: Apple & Samsung both have cellular options in their tablets. If you carry one of such tablet while traveling, you can insert local data card in one of these, make them as hot-spot and use it with both Phone and computer. This will also give you added advantage if you have your emails configured in one such device as you will be able to use your emails, social networks etc all within the tablet and can use phone for calling purposes only. The only disadvantage is their size to carry when you are on the road and want to remain data connected on your phone.
- Locked Phones: Most of the smart phones these days come with a plan with a locking period of 2 years. These phones are locked by your mobile operator to bind you using your phone and number when overseas on roaming and voice calls. When you approach your service provider to unlock, majority of time they refuse because you are still in the contract and bound by T&C of the contract you signed at the time of purchase. There are few telco’s who charge extra to unlock phone, but to me paying that cost is a waste of money. Buying an unlocked phone, comparing to a locked phone which usually comes very cheap is also waste of money. You should get your phones unlocked only when your contract is over, so you can then use it as a second phone to be used while traveling.
By following above tips & tricks, I’ve been saving on my phone bills over last 5 years now and I’m sure these tips will help you start saving as well. If you have some additional tips to share, please post them on the comments below to help me and fellow readers to save on data roaming charges.