Avoiding a $5000 Phone Bill on Your Trip

Whether you know it or not, your smartphone may be surfing the Net – and running up your bill – during trips abroad.  Discussion forums are full of reports from business travelers with high phone bills due to unintended data access: comments such as “one day, $768,” “one trip, $4800″ abound.

This can happen even if you don’t think you are using any data services.  For example, users of SimulSays, a clever visual voicemail application that allows the user to scroll through and select voicemails on screen similar to the Apple iPhone, receive voicemail messages in the form of data packets.  When I tested the service on a quick trip to London, I inadvertently ended up with a $200 data roaming charge.

AvantGo, a mobile news and information service, frequently updates itself with the latest news, weather, and feature stories.

Users of such services could unintentionally incur charges of hundreds of dollars in the course of a similar trip.

If you don’t have a BlackBerry device, your options are limited and expensive.  Business travelers can either purchase flat-rate data (AT&T charges $24.99 per month for a 20 Mbyte plan for PDAs and smartphones and $59.99 for a 50 Mbyte iPhone plan;  T-Mobile charges $10.24 per MB in Canada and $15.36 per MB elsewhere) or simply turn data or data roaming off (something not possible on all devices ).

Both AT&T and T-Mobile also offer BlackBerry customers a $20 per month “bolt-on” option for international e-mail data roaming in addition to the domestic monthly fee for BlackBerry service (Web browsing is not included in the fee).  Considering the costly alternatives, this option could easily pay for itself.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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