Take a deep breath: Vodafone’s new global roaming plans mark the beginning of the end for post-trip bill shock and the global roaming rort.
Available from tomorrow, Wednesday 28 August, Vodafone’s new Red plans all feature what the carrier dubs as ‘infinite talk and text’ plus $5 per day roaming to New Zealand, the USA and the UK.
Monthly data allowances kick off at 1.5GB and span to 5GB, with add-on data packs of 1GB and 2.5GB.
The nominal value of each plan includes a bundled smartphone while the SIM-only plans shave $15 off the monthly price.
Here’s what you need to know.
Vodafone's new Red plans explained
The Red $65 plan ($50 on a SIM-only basis) includes 1.5GB of data plus unlimited calls to all Australian mobile and landline numbers except for the usual set of 13, 1800 and ‘premium’ numbers.
Dialling those digits or calling overseas comes out of the $65 value. Texts to all Australian and international mobiles are free of charge, although as with all such unlimited deals you'll be subject to a fair use policy to prevent Red rorting.
The Red $80 plan ($65 on a SIM-only basis) gets you 2.5GB of data with the same deal on unlimited Australian calls and worldwide SMS messages.
The Red $100 plan ($85 on a SIM-only basis) raises the data roof to 5GB of data, again with the same infinite talk and text deal.
Add-on data packs are available at 1GB for an extra $10 per month and 2.5GB for $20 per month.
Note that bundling a data pack with a Red plan can deliver more data at a relatively lower cost: for example, the Red $65 plan plus a $10 data pack gives you the same 2.5GB of data as the Red $80 plan for $5 less per month.
This is how you can tailor your plan if you value data over the voice allowance, and it’s especially suited if you’ll be using your smartphone as a wi-fi hotspot or tethering via a USB cable.
However, data packs can be bought only on a 12-month contract, while the Red plans themselves are available on a month-by-month basis.
Australian support is part of the Red recipe, with all support calls answered by a support centre based in Hobart rather than being flung off to India or the Philippines.
Global roaming a go-go
Global roaming is where Vodafone’s Red plans come into their own. These new plans are geared for the globetrotter.
Subscribers can travel to New Zealand, the USA and the UK and for $5 per day, access the voice and data allowance of their home plan (there’s no need to worry about texts, as they’re always free to all mobiles worldwide).
For example, hop across the pond to NZ or take the Kangaroo Route all the way to London and you’ll be able to draw on the 2.5GB of your Red $80 plan for $5 per day.
Even more appealing is that all calls to mobiles and landlines in those countries will be free, as will calls back to Australian mobiles and landlines – that’s what Vodafone’s ‘Roam Like Home’ mantra means. It’s as if your mobile phone is just an extension of the Aussie service.
Only calls to other countries, pus those pesky premium numbers, will be tallied against the plan’s nominal voice value.
If you exceed your plan's monthly talk or data limits while overseas you'll be billed based on Australian pricing rather than standard global roaming rates.
Vodafone's $5 per day charge starts as soon as you switch on your smartphone in NZ, the USA or the UK – there’s no special setup or advance notice required – and each billing cycle lasts for 24 hours.
To pause the roaming surcharge, switch off your phone or disable the telephone network access and rely on wi-fi hotspots for the Internet.
Update: According to Vodafone's terms & conditions, which have gone live today, "Red Roaming may be used for a max 45 days in any calendar year". We have to say this is a bit of a bummer: six weeks out of 52 isn't much for the serious business traveller, especially for all those trans-Tasman hops.
Roam free, onto any network
Red subscribers will be automatically roamed onto a local partner network once they activate their phone overseas – in the UK and New Zealand this will be Vodafone, while the US partner is AT&T.
However, Vodafone CEO Bill Morrow assured Australian Business Traveller that even if you roam onto another network, Vodafone will honour the $5/day deal rather than hit you up for rapacious roaming fees.
“This was a fundamental principle, not to make it your problem when you can’t stay on the preferred network” Morrow said.
“So we will absorb the higher cost, because keeping it simple was a design criteria of the Red plans all the way through. You shouldn’t have to worry about the bill, no matter what.”
More countries to come...
Morrow says that New Zealand, the US and the UK were chosen for Red’s debut because “this is where 40% of our customers visit most frequently, making up some 50% of all data usage overseas.”
But there are plenty more counties to follow, Morrow told Australian Business Traveller.
“We’re in heaps of discussions right now and we’ll be making an announcement later this year which will add a lot more countries.”
Morrow is eager to leverage Vodafone’s strong global presence as a network operator in scores of countries, which he sees as a key differentiator to Optus and Telstra.
“In the end we’re all part of the same company, and it’s all about being a Vodafone customer” he says, which should obviate the need for overpriced cross-carrier charging.
Boosting Vodafone’s Australian network
Ironically, the Achilles heel to Vodafone’s globe-striding plans is its Australian network.
Infamously sledged as #Vodafail for poor coverage and worse speeds, plus plenty of drop-outs along the way, business travellers will be reluctant to embrace Red’s global roaming benefits if the network comes up short in their own backyard.
Kim Clarke, a former Telstra engineer turned Chief Marketing Officer for Vodafone Australia, says that Vodafone’s $1.7 billion upgrade is as much about overhauling its 3G networks and expanding 4G coverage as rebuilding its reputation.
“We have 40% more coverage across Australia on our 3G and 3G+ networks since June this year” Clarke told Australian Business Traveller. “Our 3G+ rollout is a three-year program and we have more than 20 upgrades taking place every week.”
“We’ve have also entered into a joint agreement with Optus to co-locate hardware on each other’s existing network sites” Clarke says. “This will greatly accelerate our 3G+ rollout, which offers fantastic indoor coverage."
4G cells with a 3G+ shoulder
Vodafone is also powering ahead with 4G, Clarke says, and is on track to reach “a thousand 4G sites by the end of the year.”
These will be overlaid onto 3G+ cells so that subscribers don’t suffer from that ‘falling off a cliff’ experience of dropping from superfast 4G to snails’ pace 2G.
“From a customer’s point of view, providing 4G coverage in certain areas without a healthy 3G+ underlay can make for an underwhelming experience” Clarke admits. “Vodafone’s 4G network plan encompasses our 3G+ network plan, where we drive 3G+ underlay for every 4G site.”
Clarke is also adamant that every 4G base station has sufficient data capacity or ‘backhaul’ to the network.
“If you don’t have enough backhaul, the experience is akin to going from a four-lane highway to a single-lane road” Clarke explains. “The experience of being on 4G without the right backhaul feels like being on a busy single-lane road.”
“In the case of our 4G sites, if sufficient backhaul doesn’t exist, Vodafone does not count that site as being ‘on’. It’s an important discipline our engineers are strict about, which ensures we deliver the right customer experience.”
What's your take on the new Vodafone roaming deals? Are they good enough to make you make the switch?
David Flynn travelled to Vodafone's launch of its new global roaming plans in New Zealand as a guest of Vodafone.
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