Telecoms regulators in the Gulf should consider imposing a cap on data roaming charges, following cases of consumers being surprised by sky-high bills, analysts have said.
Limitations on internet usage while abroad could help reduce the number of “bill shock” cases, and also avoid a flow of negative PR for Middle East telcos, experts believe.
“There could be a case for a cap like there is in Europe,” said Matthew Reed, telecoms analyst and head of mobile research at Informa Telecoms and Media in the region.
“There have been lots of reported cases of ‘bill shock’, where people get very high bills, and data is one of the areas where this can happen because the rates can be quite high.
“The other problem is that people don’t really realise how they are using these services, or even that they are using these services. Often they will have a smartphone with them when they travel and not actively use the internet, but if they have their data roaming switched on, the phone will automatically make a connection and check for updates and download emails.
“If they don’t have a data roaming plan that covers them, they can find that they have extremely high bills.”
One UAE resident, who received an invoice from UAE telco du last month for almost AED6,000 (US$1,630), said they were extremely surprised at the price for using the internet, and had not realised how much they were spending.
While visiting France for a period of 10 days, the customer accessed the internet on several occasions to check work emails.
The bill, seen by Arabian Business, totalled AED5,978.64, with more than 60 percent of the total amount (AED3,847) charged for using the internet.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got the bill, I felt sick,” said the resident, who asked not to be named.
“I expected it to be high because I made some calls to my family and checked some of my work emails, but I never realised it would cost this much.
“There are no updates to tell you how much it is costing you, and there is no cap to stop you from overspending. It’s ridiculous.”
Telecoms provider du was not immediately available for comment.
Other analysts agree that a cap would be beneficial to avoid these kinds of situations.
In 2010, the European Commission placed a monthly limit of €50 on roaming fees in a bid to protect travellers from suffering bill shock.
Under the new rules, mobile phone users in Europe are now prevented from accessing the web once they hit the €50 cap, unless they specifically request for it to be lifted.
Prior to the move, research by price comparison website uSwitch.com found that one in three people had been shocked by a high mobile phone bill when they got back from holiday.
“Data roaming charges are generally very high across the globe,” said Hasan Sandila, a telecoms analyst for IDC Middle East, Turkey and Africa.
“In the Middle East, operators are already offering soft capping profiles for data roaming whereby the data services will be disabled after crossing the threshold limit. However, going forward, a cap on data roaming charges might become a useful attribute of data packages as consumers might not want to be surprised by high telephone bills.”