A year ago my life changed. I had arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area a couple of months earlier and when T-Mobile USA launched its new mobile plans including free data roaming in more than 100 countries, I managed to secure one of these plans through another person (since I do not possess a social security number). I had planned a couple of trips for 2014 already and figured that the convenience of not needing to worry about how to get mobile Internet access during travel would be worth the slightly higher costs of the plans compared to a prepaid plan (the cheapest is $50 a month plus tax, mine costs $70 a month plus tax). And boy how I was right!
During the past 12 months I have extensively made use of the free roaming offer which today covers “more than 120″ countries. Almost everywhere it worked fine: From Chile to Mexico, from Thailand to South Korea, from the Czech Republic to Germany. Only one time I had to make different arrangements: When visiting a friend in Belarus. The rather isolated Eastern European country is not covered by T-Mobile’s free roaming initiative. During those days I had to annoy my friend to create a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot with his phone to get my occasional online fix. But other than that, I could not be more satisfied with my choice and the overall international performance of the carrier.
I had one concern though: Would T-Mobile be fine with my heavy roaming usage? From mid August to early January I did not stay in the U.S. at all. One requirement of the T-Mobile plan is that major parts of the usage are happening domestic. By being outside the country for five months in a row, constantly using foreign operators’ mobile networks through my T-Mobile SIM, I was concerned that I one day would receive a call from the customer service letting me know that they would force me out of my contract or in other ways limit my international roaming capabilities.
But fortunately I never received that call. Apparently T-Mobile’s cost calculation allows for a couple of heavy users as long as the majority of its customers just occasionally sends a data packet through foreign networks. It is a typical mix calculation. Also, what I might take away in margins from the company, I give back in positive word of mouth (like with this post). Unlike its more conservative parent company Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile USA has been positioning itself as the underdog and innovative rebel in the U.S. market – with big success.
Some might find the speed limitation of up to 128 kbps for data roaming problematic. But after a year of active “testing” I can state that while data-heavy activities such as video streaming or VoIP calls in sufficient quality won’t work – this is what Wi-Fi is for -, most of the typical online tasks that people do on their phones during travel can be accomplished. Sometimes a bit patience might be needed, but I find that to be an acceptable sacrifice for what I get: real freedom and lots of saved time and energy that I’would otherwise have to invest in figuring out which local SIM card to get and how to buy it.
Highspeed passes can be bought and those are also activated for tethering which is not supported by the free roaming option. I have never made use of this offer though, since I find it to be too pricey.
Going back to a state where I can use a SIM card only in one country if I do not want to worry about costs will be extremely difficult for me. My big hope is that even in Europe, at least selected carriers will release the benefits of removing all the existing barriers to worry-free mobile data usage abroad. Despite recent interventions of the European Union and slowly improving roaming rates, the existing options are still way too complicated, expensive and limiting. There is a real case to be made for launching plans with free roaming around the world: I have never paid more for my monthly mobile connection than I do now with T-Mobile USA. And oddly enough, I am totally ok with this. Because possibly for the first time ever, I actually feel completely happy with my mobile operator. You do not hear people saying this often, do you?