- Global voice and especially global data roaming remain expensive and confusing to consumers and business travelers in spite of recent EU caps and launches by global operators and alliances (such as FreeMove) that offer more reasonable zoned and pay-per-use tariff options.
- While WiFi provides some relief, coverage is still spotty and unpredictable. WiFi aggregation leader iPass has come out with a new report that helps companies price out various roaming scenarios for their traveling employees and offers suggestions about how to use iPass WiFi services to take out some of the pain and uncertainty.
T-Mobile USA’s new unlimited global data roaming packages, announced in October, were an exciting move that should be appealing to its business customers, but the carrier is not completely alone in its vision. Other operators such as Telefonica and Vodafone, and operator alliances such as FreeMove, have also helped their business customers with zoned and usage-based roaming options which make the cellular costs less expensive and more predictable. Voice over WiFi is often free and readily available in Europe. However, although WiFi continues to be used as a way to eliminate or greatly reduce the cost of global roaming, it remains unpredictable, with security and performance issues added to the spotty nature of WiFi coverage, making it a less than perfect solution.
iPass has long been at the forefront of finding ways to leverage its large aggregated WiFi network (with over a million access points). Its report outlines two different travel scenarios in which a U.S.-based employee who’s traveling internationally and a European-based employee who’s traveling both within the EU and internationally are on a four-day business trip. The employees use both WiFi when available as well as cellular for data access and carry a smartphone and a tablet; the European traveler also carries a laptop. The U.S. employee ends up spending about $180 for data (regardless of whether he travels in Europe or Asia), while the European traveler spends $224. Not surprisingly, iPass notes that its approach is better, as it can consolidate data roaming costs into a single monthly charge and help reduce dependence on 3G/4G for data. Its options include a per-minute, usage-based cost model and a flat-rate plan that includes inflight WiFi. When the traveling scenarios change to include iPass services, the organizations can save between 50% and 73% on their mobility costs per trip. While the report was of course designed to help sell iPass services, it appears to use a realistic and well-researched set of options, costs and usage scenarios. What stands out is the fact that the industry has not really progressed very far when it comes to global roaming, remaining inconsistent across carriers and regions, and companies that are worried about wireless cost containment need to take this into account and look for alternatives.
It is possible that the European roaming issues will be moot very soon, as the EU is trying to abolish them; there are also a number of European tariffs that allow you to use your own data and voice plans while roaming for about GBP 5/month on top of the standard tariff – or even for free if you are on the most expensive tariffs. In the meantime, business travelers still struggle with the high price and uncertainty of connectivity; iPass can smooth out these bumps and help hold costs down.