Even though mobile roaming is now 40 years old (first started in Scandinavia in 1982), roaming is currently not straightforward and almost certainly not cheap.
Roaming requires the complex organisation of mobile operators, phone manufacturers, masts, and regulatory bodies all working seamlessly, making it one of the greatest technical achievements of the mobile sector – there are more than 750 mobile networks. Roaming is one of the great liberations of the mobile age.
However, customers travelling to the US and some European countries might have already experienced challenges spreading fast to other destinations. For many, their phone might not work abroad, even in perfectly covered areas, and bills are not worry-free everywhere.
No more phone calls, SMS, or even data for some with specific operators and certain devices. Things are getting complicated, and there is plenty to concern customers.
Frankly, more work from mobile operators is needed to protect one of the true successes of the mobile revolution.
Many mobile operators are decommissioning their older networks, known as 2G and 3G, in favour of more efficient 4G and 5G networks. These new networks are not yet fully supported for roaming by all operators.
Mobile operators are letting roaming fall to pieces, and our travel is getting less seamless. They need to pull their socks up, but until they do, here is a roaming survival list:
Is your phone 4G ready?
Check if your phone shows a 4G or LTE sign; if your phone is 5G ready, you are ready to travel. But see the next steps.
Is your phone older than 2015?
Even some of the 4G devices might not work well. It is mostly the earlier models sold before 2015 that do not support ‘Voice over LTE’ (or VoLTE). Time to buy a new device if you want to roam freely in the US and other places. If you are an Apple fan, they are all compatible from the iPhone 8 onwards. If your phone is good, it is time to check your operator.
Is your mobile operator supporting VoLTE for roaming?
Not all operators have “turned on” the Voice over LTE function for roaming. About 700 networks have launched VoLTE in their market domestically, but in 2021 only 50 operators globally support roaming on 4G. A check on the operator’s website or a visit to the shop might help, but often you might have to call customer service to get a proper answer.
Get the pricing right
The choice of roaming package is still important. A regulation made roaming in the European Union simpler to understand, but if you are travelling outside the EU or are arriving from another country, prices might still be complex and often disproportionally high.
Many operators have built international packages and options that make it easier to budget for international travelling but not all.
Dario Betti is the CEO of Mobile Ecosystem Forum.