Optus has emerged as by far the worst Australian mobile network for data roaming pricing, in an analysis of global roaming pricing by Australian Business Traveller.
Optus charges a flat $20 per megabyte worldwide, while Telstra charges $15 and Vodafone $10.
At Optus' rates, the simple act of snapping a photo with your iPhone and sending it via email to friends or family back home would cost $40.
At first glance, Three is nearly as bad as Optus, charging $20 in most countries. However, Three has the advantage of offering dramatically discounted data roaming at 50c per megabyte in the UK, Hong Kong, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Ireland – provided customers manually select the 3 network in those countries.
Here's how Australia's four mobile phone networks compare on their basic data roaming pricing:
Optus offers a 20% discount if customers select particular mobile networks in 11 Asian countries, but even at those rates, it's still more expensive than Telstra's normal data roaming rates.
Discounts for prepaid data roaming
Like other telcos, Optus does offer discounted roaming plans if travellers think to ring up and arrange it before they travel.
However, the cheapest rate Optus will offer on data roaming is $9.09 per megabyte, unless you're prepared to limit your travels to 11 Asian countries.
Here's how the four networks compare on their prepaid data roaming plans:
Note: Optus quotes its prepaid business roaming packs in terms of dollar value, rather than megabytes included. We have therefore listed the dollar amount in the "value" column, because that's how they state it, but we've divided this amount by $20.00 which is how much each megabyte costs on Optus, to derive how many megabytes are included in each roaming pack, and hence the per-megabyte cost.
Three doesn't offer prepaid data roaming packs - instead offers cut-price roaming at 50c/MB in the UK, Hong Kong, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Ireland.
Optus' DataRoam packs only work in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand.
Telstra's prepaid international roaming data packs only work in Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, United Kingdom, UAE, USA.
Vodafone's prepaid data roaming bundles work in 50 countries, which are listed here. It also provides 1GB and 2GB roaming packs, with price available on application.
Dragging its heels?
Optus appears to be delaying introducing a new plan called DataRoam Unlimited, which provides unlimited internet access while roaming in 11 Asian countries.
As a member of the Bridge Alliance group of telcos Optus is obligated to do so. The Bridge Alliance has already announced Optus will be offering unlimited roaming internet access, which Optus has confirmed to Australian Business Traveller.
An Optus customer service operator has even related how the plan is even available in Optus' billing system -- with a note that no customer is to be assigned it.
Meanwhile, Optus customers are having to continue paying a minimum of $9.09 per megabyte of data used, and up to $20/MB for casual, non-prepaid usage.
Australian Business Traveller requested comment from Optus but the company was not able to comment within a business day.
How to beat the telcos
With the huge amounts of money at stake with global roaming, it is well worth doing a little pre-thinking about your strategy for using data roaming while overseas, rather than simply accepting the convenience of using your telco's default roaming rates.
For example, 200MB of usage on Optus' casual data roaming rates would result in a bill of $4,000. On Vodafone's 200MB prepaid roaming pack, that'd cost only $329. On Three's "3 Like Home" rates, it'd cost only $100.
Although neither Vodafone nor Three are particularly good networks in Australia from a coverage perspective, you can still make use of their global roaming pricing.
If you were an Optus customer travelling to UK, Hong Kong, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Denmark or Ireland, it'd actually be worth getting a 3 SIM card to use in global roaming mode, and simply forwarding your Optus mobile to the 3 number.
Vodafone's data roaming price is the lowest of all the telcos for across-the-board usage, with its prepaid packs reducing pricing to below $2/MB in 50 countries.
Even better than roaming...
Of course, a prepaid SIM card purchased at your destination is a cheaper option than any form of global roaming. Check out our latest international SIM card coverage.
Coming next: how the big four telcos compare for roaming phone calls