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A Midsummer night’s nightmare

By Leslie Shannon on Tue 17 June, 2014

This blog is by Leslie Shannon from the Networks business of Nokia.
Twitter: @lshannon45

The Finnish holiday of Midsummer is coming up, kicking off the northern hemisphere season of happy summer travel. In this world of global outlook and affordable airfares, any of us could end up going on holidays anywhere, which I personally find to be wonderful. With one major exception….


As I type this, I’m sitting in the Bangkok airport, gazing with melancholy at a text message from my home operator that I received upon landing: “Welcome to Thailand.  Data roaming costs = 11.16€ per MB.” This means that if I wanted to spend 11,427.84€ as quickly as possible, all I would need to do is turn on my data and download 1 GB. I could fly around in the world in first class for less!

So what do I do?  Turn off my data as quickly as I possibly can. I recently racked up a bill of £200 in a day in the UK by – I know, call me crazy – using the maps on my phone while traveling. What was I thinking, map apps are only for locals, right…?! ARGH! The phone call explaining myself and my stupidity to my manager is not something I want to repeat.

The agony of this is that smartphones and their services are the perfect pack-along travel gear! If I could turn on my data, I could check my email. (Wi-Fi in the airport is out of service today, just my luck, so I can’t download my mail before getting on the plane.) I could have quickly checked a local map when I got turned around in the city last night and suddenly didn’t like the look of the neighborhood. I could be looking for restaurant recommendations. I could be posting that picture of me with orchids in my hair on Facebook. But in the absence of mobile data while traveling, I’m driven to prioritize restaurants that advertise free Wi-Fi and to download and upload like a fiend whenever I do get a connection.

I’m painfully aware that good 2G or 3G connections (all I need for everything I just mentioned – let’s worry about LTE roaming later) are just right there, and it’s only the fee that’s keeping me from information nirvana. I find this situation appallingly and unnecessarily frustrating.

Roam, roam, roam we don’t


I know that those super-high data roaming charges are a cash cow for some operators, and they’re, of course, reluctant to let them go. But consider Mobile World Congress this year: Nokia advised all of its employees to turn off data as soon as we landed and to rely on local Wi-Fi for connectivity. Given that 80,000 people came to Barcelona for just that one fair – and presumably the majority turned off its data while in Spain – it sounds like a lost opportunity to me.

I haven’t run the business case, but surely gaining a one-off, whopping roaming charge win from someone who will never turn on his or her data overseas again is a bad business model compared to earning a few dollars/euros a day from everyone who travels. If I had access to the internet right now, I’d calculate just how many millions of people and travel days that would mean globally, but since I don’t, let’s just assume it’s a LOT.

I heartily applaud the moves by operators such as T-Mobile US and the Vodafone Group, which (among others) have started including affordable data roaming in everyday plans. (These are not to be confused with the half-hearted attempts by other operator plans that offer something like 100 roaming MB for $50. Let’s get serious here. There’s much, much more work to be done.) Only when I can travel the world without ever having to adjust the roam/don’t roam switch in my phone settings will I consider this problem solved.

Read other recent blogs by Leslie here:

Why aren’t all the 4G handsets in your network using 4G?

Where do you use LTE?

Making customers happy is the real end game

Please share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – and join the Twitter discussion with @NSNtweets using #dataroaming  #mobilebroadband #LTE.


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  1. Maria Isabel Tue 17 June, 2014

    wow! amazing insight!!

  2. Leslie Shannon Wed 18 June, 2014

    Thanks! My goal as a Nokia employee is to make the whole industry more successful, even if it involves areas that don’t involve us or our products directly. :-)

  3. Natarajan Krishnamurthy Tue 24 June, 2014

    Leslie, Excellent article. Absolutely spot on.