Consumer groups are calling for new Australian laws to force mobile phone companies to limit consumers' exposure to global roaming internet fees.
Smartphones such as Apple's iPhone and Google Android-based phones use the mobile network constantly, accessing the internet to update apps, receive email and so on, causing many users to run up huge global roaming bills overseas without making a single phone call.
Global roaming charges internet access at $10 - $20 per MB, with a single smartphone photo sent to a family member, or a short session using Google Maps on a smartphone able to use 1 MB.
The Singapore government is currently introducing similar legislation, which would compel phone companies to allow consumers to set a spending limit on global roaming internet access.
For example, a Singapore mobile phone user travelling abroad could tell their phone company that they didn't authorise charges for internet data usage beyond $100 in any month.
It would then be the mobile phone company's responsibility to cut the user's internet access off once fees reached $100.
Singapore government-owned Optus said it would need time to study the legislation and consider the merits of something similar being introduced in Australia.
"Optus would like to review this proposal in more detail before making any further comment," an Optus spokesperson said.
Optus is the most expensive network in Australia for internet usage while global roaming, charging $20 per MB. Telstra charges $15 per MB for casual usage, and Vodafone charges $10 per MB.
As Australian Business Traveller reported last week, Telstra announced it was introducing a system to send warning SMSes to travellers when they passed $300 worth of data usage while overseas.
Vodafone Australia did not respond to requests for comment.
Rosemary Sinclair, Managing Director of the Australian Telecommunications User Group, said, "We support this initiative from the Singapore Government and encourage the Australian Government to consider taking similar action."
"Data roaming fees are a problem and we have seen cases of customers getting bills on their return of some thousands of dollars.
"Some customers have argued that the extension of such large amounts of credit without prior specific approval brings into question the ability of the carriers to demand payment. These cases have been "settled" in favour of the customers.
"Carriers say they are not big enough to negotiate better data roaming prices - however ATUG and INTUG note that every carrier claims to be too small to negotiate competitive roaming prices.
"Customers are left with inexplicably large data roaming prices, which is why ATUG sees a role for government and regulators in intervening in this market to produce fair prices for customers."
The European Union has moved to create a "single market" for roaming charges across all EU countries, which has seen dramatically reduced roaming rates across Europe for users of European telcos.
Sinclair said a good starting point for Australia would be to involve Asia Pacific countries in creating a multi-country roaming pricing scheme.
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.