3G bill shock holiday season

14 Feb 2010
Posted by Laptop Junction

The 3G roaming holiday season

With the 2009 record sales of post-paid internet / data contracts with iPhones, Nokia smart phones and alike, the 2010 holiday season undoubtedly results in a fresh wave of bill shocks.

It’s a deja vue of early 90’s bill shock stories with excessive voice and SMS roaming tariffs.

This time the bill shock potential is even worse – with the speed of 3G cellular internet 15 minutes on-line time can burn a big hole in your wallet.

On European soil the EU bill shock measure has taken effect on the 1st of  March 2010.


3G bill shock trends

Trends started in 2008 and 2009 most likely create a fresh bill shock wave in 2010:

1.    Record sales of post-paid internet / data contracts for smart phones in 2009
2.    Increased coverage of 3G mobile networks in many countries from 2008
3.    Continuation of excessive data roaming rates

Unlimited access to e-mail and web “where ever you are” is becoming the norm. The average post-paid flat-fee internet / data contract is large enough for daily instant e-mail access and Twitter snack messaging.

It’s an extension of SMS messaging and MMS, widening the mobile experience with  for example YouTube videos and websites with rich picture content. Though bandwidth limits still apply, over-bandwidth rates are quite reasonable. That is – when used within the country of purchase.

Next to this – 3G smart phone complexity is moderate to high.. To control or prevent smart phones to access 3G networks in roaming mode takes quite a bit of reading. Not to mention testing if 3G controls really work. Most don’t go that far – it’s too much hassle anyway. Till the holiday season starts.

How 3G roaming rates lead to bill shock

It’s fairly easy to download 50-100 Mb in a day over a 3G connection on a smart phone. Only the smaller screen size seems to limit daily bandwidth use. When the smart phone is  connected to a laptop, monthly bandwidth usage can easily reach 3Gb. (3096 Mb)

Even moderate roaming rates of € 1 per megabyte, accidental downloads can easily cause a shock bill. With 50 Kb/sec download speeds the bill rises to about € 43 for just 15minutes. Vodafone in Europe charges € 2,50 / Mb in roaming mode (December 2009) on a business Voice / SMS contract without a data contract.

The only sensible alternative is to resort to local prepaid / prepay / PAYG / Pay-as-you-go SIM cards. This until till the cellular industry has worked out reasonable roaming tarifs for those on post-paid contracts.

Though it seems there's still a lot of money in sending dear post-paid customers bill shocks and harsly following up payment without any remorse. This up to the level the European Union decided to step in and put an end to the bill shock practice.

Outside the European Union bill shocks are ongoing with 3G as the perfect tool to prey on unsuspecting visitors carrying the latest 3G smart phones.

3G bill shock examples in 2009 / 2010

A few examples of 3G bill shocks in 2009 / 2010:

April 2010 : The $7,865.84 Verizon Bill
February 2010 : £1,500.00 skiing holiday in France
December 2009 : Why is my mobile bill £ 2700,00?
September 2009 : US$1,300 trip to Europe
July 2009 : £ 1600,00 holiday visit to Brasil

 Other 3G bill shocks

January 2010 : U$288.95 Smart phone OS upgrade
January 2010 : AUS $1,000 at home bill
November 2009 : French Café Owner Gets € 46,000 Phone Bill

Bill shock recently in the news - "Smartphone overseas internet warning from Which?"


European Union efforts to limit 3G bill shock

The European Union launched a separate EU website section covering bill shock and EU measures to eradicate cell phone bill shock in the future.

On 1 march 2010 a specific EU cell phone bill shock measure has gone into effect (among other measures):

“The new rules will also protect consumers from "bill shocks" by introducing a cut-off mechanism once the bill reaches €50, unless they choose another cut-off limit."

If users do not put in place a limit by 1 July 2010, it will automatically be set at 50 euros ($65; £45).

The € 50,- cut-of measures triggers a lot of questions how it will work.

However when implemented it's a great help to prevent excessive cell phone bills.