Mobile operator 3 has taken the extraordinary step of disabling the general capability of using its mobile broadband data service while roaming out of a user’s home network.
If you’re a 3 customer with a 3 broadband dongle – the broadband modem you stick into the USB port on your computer – and you’re travelling abroad, you’ll not be able to go online by default unless you’re on a 3 partner network.
An extraordinary step indeed yet very much in tune with consumer concerns about steep costs for mobile data use where it’s difficult to fully understand the charges or know when you’re racking up a huge bill.
ZDNet UK reports 3’s CEO Kevin Russell as saying:
Because of the huge disparity between what we charge on our own networks and the costs charged by many networks for wholesale roaming across Europe, which we are forced to pass on to the customer, we have decided to make a data-roaming bar the default for our contract mobile broadband customers.
[…] We have seen customers on other networks run up bills of more than Â£4,000 just for downloading a couple of TV shows. We believe we have to draw attention to this issue as the use of dongles is growing rapidly and many more customers are in danger of being affected by bill shock this summer.
I like this idea which I see as being more than simply a PR stunt (and good PR is is, too). As I’ve written before, I think costs for data roaming are outrageous, and an area which the European Commission is investigating.
So perhaps 3’s move is the first among UK mobile operators to address mobile data costs (at least from the point of view of consumer education) ahead of any possible forced action from Brussels.
In any event, I’d not recommend anyone uses a cellular connection for data roaming whatever network you’re on unless you absolutely have to, ie, you can’t get a wifi signal. The simple reason is high costs so anything, even a paternalistic move like this, that helps the user control costs has to be good.
[Disclosure: I’ve been trialling a 3 broadband dongle for the past few months at no cost to me, including roaming when abroad from time to time, courtesy of 3 and 3mobilebuzz. That fact has no influence on anything I’ve written here.]