Since When Did Roaming Agreements Become News?

Data Roaming on iPhone

On Monday Mobile Syrup posted about a new reciprocal LTE roaming agreement between AT&T and Rogers. There’s a thread about it here on the forums, with one member specifically calling out “Canada’s fantastic LTE networks”.

Thanks, we pay through the nose for them. But I digress…

Not to single Mobile Syrup out, but if you search their site for the phrase “roaming agreement” you’ll get a whopping 7 pages of results. Some items are mildly interesting — it’s nice to know, for example, that I could get my Rogers 2600MHz LTE hotspot unlocked and use it on 3 in Hong Kong. But for the most part, I don’t really see this type of thing as news at all.

Do we chalk it up to the insatiable appetite of the tech press, or do people not realize that there are other available options? I expect my phone to roam on other networks, but the only time I really need it is for that hopefully short block of time between when I arrive in another city and when I can get to a carrier shop for a local SIM card.

The Past

In days of old I racked up my fair share of roaming fees —$90 CAD to call my mom from South Africa, $300 to check my email a couple of times in England, and so on. Sometimes my phone of the moment was locked to a carrier, but most often I had to roam because there was no available option for a local SIM. I got a lot better at managing my data use when smartphones started shipping with WiFi, but I would still expect a healthy dose of bill shock upon my return from some far-off place.

It wasn’t until 2009 and a points-burning trip around the world that I came across a deal on a local SIM card in Singapore — unlimited 3G data for an entire week for something like twenty bucks. International travel was never the same for me again.

The Present

I’ve had the distinct pleasure (and foresight) of using local SIM cards in Bermuda, Kenya, Malaysia, Russia, plus a travel SIM in Barcelona. And when my girlfriend and I pay our annual visit to Hong Kong to see family, grabbing a local SIM at the airport is one of the first things we do after we land.

So when I hear stories about outrageous roaming bills I have to wonder, did these travellers consider local SIM cards? Were they even aware that such things exist?

Carriers and phone manufacturers certainly don’t do much to help. When you purchase iPhone at your local Apple Store the activation is done for you on the spot — the user might not ever even see the SIM card in their device. And as I wrote here previously, scumbag Samsung has hobbled their Note 3 with both SIM and region locks.

The Future

Rogers has hit a new low in producing this incredibly misleading video, meant to “debunk myths” about their egregious roaming fees:

Notice how dynamic maps are described as static downloads, and how there’s no mention whatsoever of photo sharing? If this is the future that Rogers is peddling, I’ll pass.

KnowRoaming has received a bit of press in this country as an affordable alternative to roaming in the States. But if you’re going to dig out your SIM card to attach something to it, why not visit your local T-Mobile store instead for a much cheaper prepaid plan? And has no one considered the major privacy issues in permanently attaching a parasite to your SIM card?

Nope, this ain’t the future, either.

The future is the EU capping roaming fees — or even better, T-Mobile USA eradicating them altogether. And until that future arrives in Canada, an unlocked phone and a local SIM will be this traveller’s best friends.

And roaming agreements? That’s not news, that’s a basic requirement of service.