Smartphones on holiday can cause problems when you get home
Passport, tickets, money is the checklist reeled off in homes across Bristol as families set off for the summer break.
But these days there’s another must-have often added to the list – the mobile phone – as few it seems can go a few days without texting, checking emails or going online.
Between January and April this year, Bristol Airport has seen more than 1.5m passengers going to destinations such as the Canary Isles, Greece and Turkey, and it’s more than likely most have been carrying mobile phones.
However, for many the cost of calls abroad is often not discovered until the joy of the break is over.
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Called bill shock, the scale of the problem was such that the EU stepped in to impose price caps and enforce reductions in mobile charges.
According to the industry regulator Ofcom, more than a quarter of adults – 27 per cent – and almost half of teenagers – 47 per cent – now own a smartphone.
Carolyn Park, director of C The World in Easter Compton, Bristol, said: “People don’t realise the costs. I have my data roaming permanently off until I can hook up with wifi.
“The best advice for people is to switch off their data roaming as it’s easy to rack up a bill that’s bigger than the cost of the holiday. Everyone is excited about going away but don’t think about the practicalities.”
A survey by Ofcom also found as many as 1.4 million mobile phone contract customers may have been affected by ‘bill shock’ in the six months prior to its review.
It said: “Ofcom will now work with the mobile industry on a series of measures to address the main issues identified by the review. If these do not sufficiently reduce consumer harm, Ofcom may consider mandatory options to tackle the problem.”
According to Ofcom, the main causes of ‘bill shock’ are downloading data primarily while travelling outside the EU; using mobile voice services in the UK and lost or stolen phones.
Over the next few years costs fall. This summer the maximum price to make a call from Europe will fall from 35 cents (29 pence) a minute to 29 cents (24 pence). To receive a call while abroad will cost a maximum of 8 cents (7 pence), down from 11 cents (9 pence). The cap on the cost of sending a text will edge down from 11 cents to 9 cents (7 pence). Receiving texts is free.
It will cost 70 cents (57 pence) per megabyte (MB) to download data or browse the internet while travelling abroad. The eye-popping bills that many people received on their return from holiday could often be traced to internet usage, and the EU has been highly critical of network providers' charges for this element of their service.
The popularity of sites such as Facebook and Twitter, along with increasing use of tablet computers, has been cited as a prime cause for increased internet usage.
The EU took action last year to reduce internet-related "bill shock" by requiring service providers to send customers a text, email or pop-up window to alert them to the fact that they are nearing €50 of data download, or any pre-agreed level they had set. Customers are required to confirm that they are happy to go above this level to continue online roaming.
From July, people travelling outside the EU will also get a warning when they approach the €50 mark.
As the table below shows, there will be further falls in 2013 and 2014. By July 2014, roaming consumers will be paying no more than 19 cents (15 pence) per minute to make a call, a maximum 5 cents (4 pence) per minute to receive a call, a maximum 6 cents (5 pence) to send a text message and a maximum 20 cents (16 pence) per MB to download data or browse the internet.
From July 2014 customers will have the option to shop around and sign up for a separate mobile contract for roaming. This might be from a different firm to their existing domestic mobile provider, but they will be able to keep the same phone number.
Under this arrangement, each time the mobile user crosses a border, his or her phone will switch to the network of the roaming provider they've chosen, without any further action on their part. Customers will also have the option to select a local mobile network for data roaming when they get to the country they are visiting.
The current popular tactic for many travellers is to buy a compatible Sim card once they get to their destination - but this means they have a different phone number while there. Some operators such as WorldSIM and Toggle Mobile offer SIMs that operate in various locations.
For example, the Toggle SIM, which comes with a UK mobile number, allows users to add up to nine local numbers for any countries they are planning to visit - this reduces the cost of using the phone will in that location. Each number is valid for 30 days, although those staying abroad for longer, or who make regular trips to the same country, can buy the number for permanent use while there.
Services such as Toggle and WorldSIM also offer free incoming calls.
There are several ways to keep in control of your mobile and tablet usage costs while overseas:
For peace of mind, if you are going abroad this summer also think about different types of holiday protection insurance to safeguard your travel plans.