Telstra has started trialling a system to warn mobile customers overseas when they are running up a considerable bill for internet usage in global roaming mode.
Choice Spokesperson, Ingrid Just, said people travelling overseas are regularly run up unexpectedly large global roaming bills due to the internet connectivity of smartphones.
"Roaming is a huge cost for users and it's very easy to have that blow out," she said.
"ACMA statistics show that 58% of people went their cap once in the last year, so that's an indication too of how easy it is for charges (even within Australia) to go out of control," she said.
Complaints over global roaming charges shot up over 80% last year, as penetration of smartphones increased, according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
Telstra's new system will send customers SMS alerts worldwide, when their international data usage reaches 20MB ($300 at casual rates), and then a second alert again at 60MB ($900).
"We are currently building a system to give customers more control and certainty over their mobile phone usage," Telstra spokesman Craig Middleton told Australian Business Traveller.
"It’s a complex and comprehensive undertaking and we believe it will be one of the first of its kind on this scale anywhere in the world. We’re working hard to introduce this capability as soon as we can," he said.
Telstra recently introduced a similar system for customers in Australia to get a read-out on how much data they've used on their phone or mobile broadband service -- they just have to SMS the word "use" to the number 176.
The telco also now allows customers to sign up for a feature that will send them SMSes to warn them when they near their "free" data usage limit and are about to start running up costly excess usage fees. People just have to sms the word "notice.on" to 176.
As we covered earlier today, using Visual Voicemail on an iPhone can also reduce roaming costs for Telstra customers, because it's cheaper to receive a Visual Voicemail message than it is to call back to Australia to pick up voicemail.
Another option that many people aren't aware of is the option to pre-buy global roaming data before they set off on a trip. Instead of paying the casual rate of $15 per MB, the packs bring the per MB cost down to less than $3. For example, a 60MB allowance purchased in advance costs $160 rather than $900.
However, with a single smartphone photo sent in an email able to use up 1MB, even Telstra's pre-purchased global roaming packs represent an expensive option for staying connected while travelling.
Many companies are springing up to provide cheaper global roaming options for smartphone users while travelling. We looked at Xcom Global this morning, which provides a MiFi personal Wi-Fi hotspot to keep in your pocket for each country you travel to, with unlimited internet usage for a flat daily fee.
We also recently covered Tru SIM -- a SIM card that provides both cheap voice and data rates in both the UK and US and Bridge AsiaRoam - a SIM that provides cheap roaming data in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand or India.