Posted : 2013-03-03 16:24
Updated : 2013-03-03 16:24

Mobile carriers offer more affordable mobile roaming

A model, right, holds a smartphone at a KT's Show Global Roaming Center at the Incheon International Airport in this undated photo. / Korea Times file

By Kim Da-ye

Getting or making a phone call abroad has been a dreadful experience for most of us who travel on budget, until recently.

When you take your phone abroad, you are charged hundreds of won to receive a call and to make one locally and thousands of won to make a call abroad or to Korea. The story of naive consumers being charged thousands of dollars for watching YouTube videos abroad is not uncommon. Even if your company pays for the phone bill, you wouldn't want to go through the hassle of filing a massive expense report.

For savvy travelers with smartphones, however, there are now various ways to save a lot on telecommunication costs as mobile carriers are diversifying their roaming products, especially for data usage.

The winning product is the unlimited 3G data access offered by all three mobile carriers. KT provides the service for 11,000 won inclusive of tax per 24 hours. Users can sign up for the service on the phone or at KT's outlets at the airports and set the time when it will be activated. Once the paid period ends, data roaming will be automatically blocked, saving users from huge costs of unnecessary data usage. KT's unlimited data access is available in 69 countries and is supported by 98 foreign mobile carriers.

Unlimited data access allows you to freely surf the Internet without worrying about the cost and even make voice calls either freely or cheaply, using various VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) apps. For example, users of texting app Kakao Talk can exchange messages and photos and make free calls among themselves regardless of where they are. Text messaging among iPhone users will also be free if the senders are connected to the data network.

The one disadvantage is that you have to choose from one or two designated mobile carriers manually and that those mobile carriers may not provide consistent service throughout the country you travel to.

The 3G data access in many countries also tend to be much slower than that in Korea, so be ready to be patient. The 4G or LTE service is a luxury in Korea, and in case of KT and SK Telecom, the only areas that support LTE data roaming are Singapore and Hong Kong.

KT warns that data access with smartphones other than Apple's iPhones or Google's Nexus phones may be slow in the U.S., Canada, Thailand, Guam and Saipan because their frequency bands may not match those of the phones.

LG Uplus provides a similar service in 85 countries for the same amount at 11,000 won for 24 hours.

SK Telecom does provide an unlimited data access for 9,900 won per day in 88 countries. With SK, however, users cannot choose the time when the service will be activated. The service starts from midnight and lasts for 24 hours, in local time. The carrier provides the same service in 10 Asian countries including Hong Kong, Australia and India for 9,900 won a day, 27,500 won for three days and 44,000 for five days.

KT seems to be heavily investing into roaming products. Another winning product comes from KT, and that is Olleh Roaming Vodafone Passport.

KT has partnered with global mobile carrier Vodafone to provide unlimited data access and discounted rates on phone calls for a 24-hour charge of 16,500 won inclusive of tax.

Once you subscribe to the service, all kinds of calls you receive and make locally and internationally will be charged 500 won per minute, which is a big bargain. A phone call made from Italy and the U.K to Korea costs 2,900 won per minute while that from New Zealand costs a whopping 3,680 won.

The service is available in 15 countries where Vodafone operates _ many European countries, Australia and New Zealand. To get the discount and free data access, you need to make sure you manually select Vodafone as your carrier. KT recently had a promotion of giving a 5,500 won discount of the 24-hour rate.

If you do not need to use a lot of Internet, get a prepaid limited data access. KT offers 10 megabytes of data usage over the period of 14 days for 11,000 won and 50 megabytes for 33,000 won in 63 countries while SK does 5.4 megabytes over a week for 11,000 won in 10 Asian countries and 10 megabytes over 10 days for 22,000 won in 20 European nations.

If you travel to usual destinations including China, Japan, the U.S., and Southeast Asian countries, check with your mobile carrier if there are any discount packages on voice calls and data access. In case of KT, for instance, those who travel to Japan or China for a long period of time can buy a Japanese or Chinese number for 11,000 won and a monthly charge of 1,100 won, and get 40 percent discounts on calls made to Korea and 50 percent on calls within Japan.

Useful tips for mobile roaming

1. Ask your mobile operator to activate a ringtone that notify the caller that you are abroad. You won't waste money on receiving unnecessary or unwanted phone calls.

2. If you are going to spend most of time indoor with WiFi access ― think of a conference or a workshop in a hotel, you won't need 3G data access and pay for it. Simply switch off data roaming and activate WiFi. You will be surprised that many hotels around the world offer a free WiFi service with decent speed. This reporter enjoyed one at a four-star hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last year.

3. If you have paid for unlimited data access, make the most out of your smartphones. Text messaging will be free among iPhone users, and you can make a free phone call with Kakao Talk. There are many VoIP apps that charge very little money for making international calls on both landline and mobile numbers.

4. Are you really nervous that things may go wrong and you might end up with a huge bill? In case of KT, you can ask the operator to cap your usage at 100,000 won.

5. If you go abroad but do not want to tell others, ask your operators to keep the domestic ringtone, not the "doo-doo-doo" sound that they put on when your phones are on roaming.

6. Turn off automatic updates for software, applications and email to minimize unnecessary use of data.

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