Yesterday, as I landed in a foreign country, I did my normal routine: switched off airplane mode on my phone, waited for signal to kick in, repeat, repeat, repeat.1 Once I connected, in poured the push notifications, the first of which is usually a text from the foreign carrier I just connected to warning me that I’m roaming and threatening to take my first child for every MB of data used. Yesterday, the message was a little different.
It was actually a text message from my U.S. carrier, Verizon, notifying me to turn data services off or use WiFi to avoid data charges. I thought nothing of this since I had the global data plan already enabled on my phone. Next, in came the foreign carrier text telling me the current take-your-first-child rates: $20.48 per MB of data used. Not even one minute later (I checked the time stamps), a third message came in, this time from Verizon again, alerting me that I’ve “exceeded $50 in global data charges.”
Again, I didn’t think too much of this because I knew my global data plan was enabled. That plan allows you to pay $25 for each 100MB of data usage when traveling abroad — still a rip-off, yes, but a relative steal compared to the aforementioned take-your-first-child rates normally associated with international data roaming. Because I had been in another country a few weeks prior, I thought such a message might just be a residual warning from data usage on that trip.
I went on with my just-landed business: checking into the airport on Foursquare, checking Twitter, checking Techmeme, and finally, seeing how many lumps of coal Email Santa had deposited into my inbox during my flight. Then — BAM — another text message from Verizon:
VZW FREE MSG: As of 12/27/2013, Mobile Number 1-XXX-XXX-XXXX has exceeded $150 in global data charges.
This was six minutes after the $50 message. What the hell was going on?
Turns out, Verizon’s “Global Data” plan isn’t actually all that global. It’s really more random. Some countries are included, some aren’t. As you may have guessed, the one I just landed in was not covered. It is on any standard globe, I can assure you, but it’s not on Verizon’s globe. And that’s what matters.
Obviously, I put my phone right back on airplane mode when I figured all this out. And it was off to find a local SIM card — which I did, though it required some MacGuyer-level work to get it to fit in the iPhone 5s. So, all good.
Except not really.
What the hell is wrong with Verizon? They’re offering a Global Data plan — it’s actually called this — that isn’t actually global by any stretch of the word? And in general, what is up with almost every carrier in the U.S. being greedy bastards when it comes to these international data packages?
I used to assume it had something to do with some fees associated with inner-carrier operability between different countries. But then T-Mobile came out recently and started offering free international roaming. Yes, it’s at a crippled speed, but honestly, all that matters is the connection, any connection. It’s such a savvy move by T-Mobile, continuing that trend for them.2
I’m sure I can call Verizon and bitch and get my fee waved — I became a pro at doing that when I was still stuck on AT&T. But to me, this is another great example of why the U.S. carriers are the devil. Worse than Email Santa, really.
This always takes longer than it seems like it should — particularly with the Verizon variant of the iPhone 5s. I know a few folks with the AT&T version and they always seem to connect to carriers in foreign lands quicker than I do. I assume it has something to do with the CDMA variant of the iPhone (which at least now can roam internationally). ↩
And yes, I realize T-Mobile is only doing any of this because they’re a distant fourth in the U.S. carrier race and will undoubtedly be scooped up by another player sooner rather than later. And that other player probably won’t be as freewheeling with the good deals for consumers. ↩