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One of the biggest worries about international travel these days is how to stay in touch and get the data and calling features you need on your Smartphone without racking up hundreds or even thousands of dollars extra on your monthly phone bill. It is possible with some carriers to unlock your phone and get local SIM cards, but that isn’t the easiest process and I’m sure I’m not alone in not wanting to deal with that every time I travel to a new country.
Some carriers, including Verizon, used to offer unlimited international data for a flat rate (last Verizon offered it, it was about $69.99 a month), but those plans disappeared and now most carriers offer their customers bundles of data at about $25 per 100MB with sometimes enormous overage charges of up to $1 per megabyte!
It’s one of my foremost concerns when traveling abroad since I have to be in touch at all times and accessible by phone and internet, so data plan pricing is always at the top of my mind.
Bucking the trend towards more expensive pricing and less data usage as part of its “Uncarrier” intiative that includes plans without contracts, plans with unlimited high-speed data, a nationwide 4G network, and competitive prices on phones and plans T-Mobile has just announced (with the help of spokesperson Shakira) that starting October 31, it would begin offering its customers unlimited international data and text services at no extra charge.
The new international services will be available to existing Simple Choice customers for no additional cost over their current rate plans, and will work in 115 countries across the world. Customers will also be able to place voice calls at a flat rate of 20 cents per minute while in those countries.
This represents a huge shift in industry standards and one I hope the other wireless carriers pick up on since T-Mobile reports that 40% of Americans traveling abroad turn off their data on their trips and that Americans make 55 million trips per year, so there is a potentially huge market share to capture there.
T-Mobile will also offer a new Stateside International Talk & Text feature to subscribers who want to stay in touch with those in other countries while here in the US for $10 a month, which features free texting, and calling rates of 20 cents per minute or less, while calls to landlines in 70 countries will be free.
One prime concern of mine would be the speed of international data, and while there are no clear figures from T-Mobile, it’s expected to be at about 2G speeds – not great, but for “free”, that might be worth it. Customers who want 3G speeds can opt for “Speed Boost” plans (speeds will vary by country) starting at $15 for 100 MB of data per week, $25 for 200MB of data per week, and $50 for 500 MB of data per week – all a lot more reasonable than T-Mobile’s competitors’ rates. Plus, there won’t be any overage charges.
Just a few things to note. For the new international features to apply, trips must be no longer than six weeks, and every three months half of a user’s data needs to used in the US – these are meant to prevent people in other countries from taking advantage of these plans.
While I’m not quite ready to switch carriers from Verizon just yet, this is definitely welcome news. I am going to wait to see how data speeds end up measuring up since slow data is of no use to me, even if it is free, but I’m hoping speeds are decent because I am definitely considering this – especially because T-Mobile also just revealed that it can now offer 4G LTE coverage that potentially reaches over 200 million Americans in 233 metro areas, so it’s becoming a more viable option for domestic service as well.
I calculate that I’m abroad at least 4 months of the year, so international data charges are a huge part of my travel budget and expenses, and any downward change is a big deal in my book since it will have an enormous impact on my bottom line. My current Global Data Plan with Verizon charges me $29.99 for 100MB of Global data and then $25 for every 100MB that I use after that. Global service with Verizon covers 120 countries worldwide so luckily I’ve been covered everywhere I’ve gone. That’s in addition to my normal plan, and I’d estimate that I use about 100MB of data every 2 days, so a week abroad ends up costing me about $100. Unlimited Simple Choice plans from T-Mobile cost $70 per month, though, so I could end up saving a decent amount.
My personal hope is that the other big three – AT&T, Sprint and Verizon – will all introduce competitive pricing as well so I don’t have to consider a switch from my current carrier. Maybe that’s a pipe dream, but when T-Mobile started its Uncarrier initiative with the waiving of carrier contracts and new early upgrade features, all three reacted with similar campaigns. After all, many credit cards are waiving foreign transaction fees these days in order to stay competitive with high-value customers who travel a lot, so why shouldn’t phone companies do the same since these international data plans are just a tiny portion of their revenue? Here’s hoping!