Three makes USA roaming fully inclusive (data, calls, texts)

I wondered how long it would take for the wheels to come off the standard mobile model that we’ve all known for the last few years.

Today I think you’ll be able to plot a turning point for the mobile industry, at least in Europe and the UK in particular.

The challenger network here in the UK, Three, has taken the ultra-bold move of making USA roaming free. Or at least, no additional cost.

“Feel at Home” is the Three’s term for their inclusive roaming service, whereby you can use your domestic minutes, texts and data allowance in other countries. Previously this has been limited to the network’s own sister countries (e.g. Italy). That all changes today.

It’s quite a staggering piece of news. America has been an absolute arse for anyone in the UK who values connectivity. It’s been such a screw up. The prices we in Britain have to pay to roam in the States are ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.

It’s been patently stupid for so many years that I most recently I couldn’t be bothered to write about my frustration. I just wore it. Like everyone else. 125 pence a minute to call back home. Five pounds a megabyte. Or thereabouts. Or some kind of shite deal that got you an inclusive allotment of 25mb for £10, £15 or similar. The actual prices vary by network. When just firing up the Facebook app burns through 5 meg, the pricing structures for American roaming have forced legions of us to search for rubbish WiFi or rush back into the hotel’s WiFi zone to send a tweet.

If you’d like a reminder of how crazy it has been, here’s a quote from a Vodafone update text I received back in late 2011 when I was in New York:

Just to let you know, you’ve used over 3MB of data which has cost you £3 per MB so far. Once you use more than 5MB in a day, the charge becomes £15 inc VAT for each 5MB.

I’m focusing on Vodafone for a moment because they OWNED — they FLIPPING OWNED — a huge chunk of Verizon. They could surely have done a deal for their British customers roaming in America. Some how. Surely someone at Verizon would have been able to work out a method of dealing with AT&T to get a reasonable roaming deal?

Anyway. It’s obviously not just Brits having an arse roaming in America. Everyone has an arse, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. And it goes both ways — Americans roaming in the UK have a shocking time with pricing.

The winds of change are blowing through the industry now though.

So back to the Three deal. Here’s a quote from their release today:

Feel At Home will be available in the USA, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Macau from 4th December 2013. Feel At Home is already available in the Republic of Ireland, Australia, Italy, Austria, Hong Kong, Sweden and Denmark.

Customers can use their UK price plan to use text, call the UK, receive calls from the UK and use data in these countries. It makes roaming simpler for customers, encourages them to enjoy the mobile internet while they’re abroad and will stop bill shock from roaming charges.

Three is the only operator in the UK to offer the same in-country mobile phone and mobile broadband rates for no extra charge while abroad. Customers can roam on to any available networks in these destinations – not just Three operations.

If customers exceed the limits of their current price plan then they will still benefit from special roaming rates that are lower than Three’s standard roaming rates.

If you travel to America often, I think it’s safe to say you would do VERY well to consider swapping to Three, or taking out a Three contract/SIM.

Add to the fact that Three’s just about to switch on its 4G network, it might be time to look over the fence!

I expect the other networks to try their level best to avoid matching this feature for as long as possible. The amount of enterprise revenue earned from American roaming alone will be enough to force fake smiles around the industry today. And if you’re one of the people in charge of the enterprise mobility budget you might want to make a call to your very uncomfortable O2 or Vodafone sales rep and ask them about this news.

I think it’s an excellent move for Three.

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