Put your smart phone on a holiday diet and save cash
They fought it tooth and nail but mobile operators have been forced to cut their roaming charges in Europe this summer. Even so, using your phone when travelling still costs a fortune, writes Roisin Burke
LET the longing and envy begin. The iPhone 4 is to arrive here in a matter of weeks. Antennae issues aside, it will probably inspire the same adoration here as it has elsewhere.
Apple claims to have shifted 1.7 million of its newest love object in the first three days of its launch in the US and UK.
The fun these fancy phones provide comes at a price, though, especially when you're travelling. Keep smartphone and general mobile bill shocks to a minimum by reading on.
Euro roaming drops
Regulating the bend in bananas and the colour of red lemonade gives EU bureaucrats a bad name. But your holiday mobile bill may be down a bit this year, thanks to the EU Telecoms Commissioner, of all people.
Viviane Reding's office has been strong-arming mobile networks into putting a stop to what she termed "rip-off" roaming charges that were five times the cost of service and skimming profits of up to 400 per cent in some cases.
Since last Thursday, surfing the web on your mobile while travelling cost 20 per cent less in all EU countries. And the price of downloading music, emailing snaps and other web activity was capped at 80c per mb, down from €1 (plus VAT, naturally).
Mobile call charges dropped 10 per cent, while the cost of calls received fell by 20 per cent.
With O2, for example, a call that would have cost you €5.20 a minute now costs €4.70. Accessing your voicemail, which was as much as 50c a minute, is now free in the EU.
The commission's "anti-billshock" measure also kicked in recently. Remember that German tourist who unwittingly racked up a €46,000 bill while downloading an episode of Lost to her mobile while on holiday in France? It can't happen anymore in the eurozone.
From now on, once your data roaming bill hits €50, you'll automatically be cut off, unless you've chosen a higher limit.
The mobile operators didn't agree to all of this without a fight. Vodafone, O2 and others took a case to the European Court to fight the new price limits.
Happily, the court came down on the side of mobile-using holidaymakers. It threw out the operators' challenge and ruled in June that putting a limit on the roaming charges was "appropriate and necessary for the purpose of protecting consumers against high charges".
Bill shocks haven't gone away, however -- not by a long chalk.
Buy before you fly
"I got carried away on Facebook, putting up photos and chatting while I was away and now I'm dreading my next mobile bill," says regretful iPhone addict Matthew Carswell, who recently holidayed in Turkey.
The new price drops apply to EU countries only. Sadly, international roaming costs remain pretty unhinged with all providers.
Let's say you happen to be in sunny Johannesburg for next Sunday's World Cup Final. You make a few calls home on your iPhone, check the GAA results, send maybe a dozen texts, suss out a nice restaurant location on Google maps and look up the Lonely Planet App.
British body Consumer Focus has calculated that even such moderate usage as this could ramp your roaming mobile bill up to €100 with some providers -- setting you back more than the cost of your match ticket for the final.
It is highly likely that Irish punters are being charged along the same lines.
The cost to upload just 10 photos could run close to €100 for one day, Consumer Focus found. Uploading photos or video and using social-networking sites such as Facebook incurred some of the worst charges.
Buying a roaming bundle from your provider before you go on holidays is one of the best ways to keep charges down.
It's likely to save you up to 70 per cent on calls and other phone fees.
Check out O2's Travel bundle, Vodafone's Passport and the 3 Mobile package on the web. Meteor doesn't have a specific travel package but roaming-charge details are on its site.
Customers of 3 Mobile have the advantage of paying the local domestic rate in countries where 3 has a sister network.
None of the other networks that operate internationally do this. So if you're a 3 customer on holiday in the UK, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Australia or Hong Kong, you'll pay the local prices for calls and texts, instead of roaming rates.
If you need a phone for mostly local use while you're away, get your phone unlocked and buy a local SIM card. It will cost €30 or so in most cases and could still be cheaper than using your own phone on roaming. Your incoming calls will be free for a start, instead of up to 50c a minute. The downside, of course, is that you'll have a different phone number.
Telecom watchdog Comreg has a roaming charge price-check option at Callcosts.ie. You can check international roaming charges that apply to your network package in all Eurozone countries as well as the US, Australia, Croatia and Turkey. It's expanding its country range details soon and updating its roaming information in coming weeks.
Stick with Skype
If your mobile is enabled for it, using Skype for your calls and instead of texting could save you a fortune. It is six times cheaper than the least expensive travel bundle with one of the mobile operators -- which still sets you back about 30c a minute -- whereas using Skype costs as little as 2c a minute on average.
If you use Skype's new iPhone 3G App to call other Skype users, it's completely free at the moment and the discount call operator says it will stay that way at least until the end of 2010.
You can make calls to landlines and mobiles while travelling for tiny rates.
The free instant-messaging facility for mobiles means your text costs are reduced, too.
You need to sign up as a member on Skype.com and lodge credit using a credit card. Though mostly associated with video calls, you can use it in the same way you would for a normal call and only include the video option if you're feeling particularly gorgeous.
Don't roam wild
You could eliminate the temptation to rack up a €100 bill while on holidays by just knocking off the data-roaming option on your mobile altogether.
The iPhone's roaming should already be switched to 'off' by default. If you need to switch it off, go to settings, tap 'general', then 'network option' and slide 'data roaming' to 'off'.
Instead of expensive data roaming, use free Wi-Fi hot spots where you find them at hotels, cafes and on trains. You could also switch off your voicemail while you're away. Receiving voicemail messages while abroad (outside of EU countries) can set you back more than €1 a minute, so half-a-dozen of these swiftly start to add up.
Using your holiday resort's PCs for internet access, instead of your phone, could be a better option than data roaming. It typically costs about €2 an hour -- but at least it controls your spend.
Matthew Carswell likens cutting back on indulging in smartphone fun and avoiding the whopping bills that it can mean to dieting.
"At the end of the day, the only way to lose weight is to stop stuffing your face. The only way to reduce your smartphone costs is to stop gorging on data -- so just put down the fork."
Or in this case, the handset.