Vodafone’s Red roaming launched a few months back, promising $5 a day roaming packages to select countries. How well does it actually work?
Vodafone Red Roaming: On the plus side
The basics of Vodafone’s deal are quite simple; you take your existing plan with you in the UK, New Zealand or the US, and for $5 a day, you get whatever your plan entitles you to get, whether that’s unlimited calling and texts, and, most importantly, data. Data costs when roaming can easily ramp up into the thousands without you particularly realising it, which is why historically, whenever I’ve travelled overseas, I’ve left my phone in strict GSM-no-data-I-don’t-want-to-go-broke mode. I’ve even investigated how feasible it is to survive simply on free public Wi-Fi on occasion.
On my trip last week to the states, Vodafone supplied me with a trial SIM to see how well the service works when overseas, because it’s a different prospect to sniffing around for a touch of free (and sometimes highly suspect for security) Wi-Fi.
The big advantage of having this kind of access if you were an existing Vodafone customer (Optus has a slightly different deal; Telstra is notably quiet on the whole prospect of not gouging customers for roaming rates) is that there’s continuity in your communications.
This was something that only dawned on me after a day or two of access, because I dropped my usual alarmed state when it came to data roaming, and just used it as normally as I might were I in Australia; I could tether it to a laptop, hook it up to the phone running my everyday SIM, and so on.
As with Australian networks, coverage can be patchy — more on that shortly — but that’s not exactly Vodafone’s fault. If you’re an existing customer, you’re already paying $65/$80/$100 per month for a Red plan, and as such the data, calls and texts are already “paid for” — you’re simply paying an access fee.
Vodafone Red Roaming: On the minus side
When I first landed in the US, I couldn’t get my SIM to work. Now, I’ve got to wrap that in some context, because mine was a trial SIM, not a contract one, and as such the provisioning and user access tools open to me were different to those of an everyday customer. If you’re a Vodafone customer upon landing in a roaming country, you should (I’m told) get the following message:
Welcome to the USA. Warning, you have activated your mobile device overseas. This means there may be delays in receiving Vodafone Alerts. Luckily as a Red customer you can now use your Australian plan allowance while you’re here for just $5 extra a day. We’ll only charge you this on the days you make/receive calls, send TXT/PXT, or use data. For more info or to opt out, free call +61414141414 from your Vodafone mobile. Don’t forget you now need to dial +61 instead of 0 when calling Aussie numbers. Happy travels!
I didn’t, and that entailed a few quick emails to get sorted. The key thing for existing customers is to ensure that roaming is enabled before you travel, because if your phone is your only form of communication and it won’t authorise on the network, you could be a bit stymied.
As a side note, having been blocked, my SIM persisted in telling me that the networks I could see (AT&T and T-Mobile, respectively) were “forbidden”, despite actually working. One of those quirks of the system, I suppose.
There’s also something of a speed issue. It’s tempting to moan about Australian networks, but the simply reality is that there are a lot of places where access and speeds are far worse. Despite being in a heavily populated city that should be blanketed in coverage, I never hit a speed test above around 1Mbps either down or up for my entire testing period. AT&T offers what should be compatible 4G LTE on its network, but that too was out of reach for whatever reason. In other words, you’re paying a $5/day access fee for what could well amount to a slow service. That’s not Vodafone’s fault — they don’t control the external network — but it’s a catch worth bearing in mind.
Then there’s the costings issue.
Vodafone Red Roaming: Pricing
Vodafone charges a flat $5/day for access to Red Roaming, which isn’t terribly expensive against the charges per MB that roaming services usually entail. In that context, it’s reasonably priced for short visits, but as I discovered, there are other alternatives worth pursuing if you’re more of a data-centric user.
Vodafone will charge you the $5 for access even if you’re only a calls user, but if you can handle having a different number (or have a spare unlocked handset), T-Mobile was advertising its roaming SIM offer very heavily in San Francisco while I was there.
The base SIM costs $10 (so that’d be two days of Vodafone charges upfront), and then $50/month for unlimited calling, texts and data within the US, or $3 per day for talk and text and 200MB of data. There are catches there too — the calling is for US numbers only — but for a longer trip, the $50/unlimited data would outrun Vodafone’s offer after only twelve days. US networks certainly used to be terribly insular creatures, but it looks as though they’re shifting their attitudes.
The same is true in other compatible countries, with Three in the UK, for example, offering some decent deals if you don’t mind SIM switching. It’s worth bearing in mind that if you do have a contract phone, you’ll need to check with Vodafone (or any other provider) if it’s actually still locked before dropping in another SIM.
Vodafone Red Roaming: Fat Duck Verdict
Vodafone’s Red Roaming does, as they say, what it says on the tin, and there’s undeniably a convenience factor in having your own number and your own plan to fall back on, especially as even the cheapest Red plan includes unlimited calls and texts. There is a slight tail away if you’re overseas for a longer period if you don’t mind switching numbers temporarily, however.