Rhodri Marsden: Don’t be this year’s data-roaming mug


There's a disconcertingly familiar news story that tends to crop up every summer, featuring an unsuspecting holidaymaker who makes an inadvisable decision to watch a stack of YouTube videos on their mobile phone while, say, backpacking around Machu Picchu.

Two weeks later they wake up to a crippling monthly bill in excess of £2,000 and proceed to give a forlorn interview warning others of the dangers of data roaming, while pondering how much it actually cost their mobile network to push this supposed £2,000-worth of data through the air.

Do we take much notice of these distressed people? Not really. Such cases still occur with depressing regularity and our current enthusiasm for messing about on our smartphones in idle moments is, if anything, making another summer of gargantuan bills more likely. Every time we fire up our email, Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or any number of other online services, we use precious bytes. At home, of course, we don't really need to worry about this. Even data-hogs like myself seem to come in well under our monthly limits (which are supposedly "unlimited", but hey, that's another story).

But dare to leave the country and the Oranges and Vodafones of this world begin to rub their hands with glee. A recent survey by Ofcom-approved service Billmonitor revealed that we spend £1.36bn a year on roaming charges – getting on for twice the amount on calling and texting premium rate services.

And while EU rules are in force to prevent colossal bills when holidaying in Europe (most networks simply cut our data facility off as soon as we spend around €50) no such safety net exists if we're moving between continents. T-Mobile customers, for example, will pay £7.50 per megabyte for any data they use while in the USA.

Maybe they'd be tempted to click on a link in an email to hear a song. After all, that's second nature to many of us these days. But if they do, that'll set them back £40. Ouch.

Traditionally, we've only had one weapon against this cosy arrangement between the mobile networks: finding the "mobile data" setting on our phones and turning it off.

But a new app launched last week called Onavo, which compresses email and web data to a fraction of its original size, giving you more bang for your buck. It's far from being a new idea; back in the days of wheezing 33.6k modems, similar services would filter all the data you received, compressing information and degrading picture quality to supposedly speed up your browsing to "broadband" levels. The mobile browser OperaMini works on a similar principle. But Onavo (currently free for iPhone and coming soon for iPad and Android) repositions that idea as a cash saver for jetsetting smartphone owners. It can compress emails by 80 per cent (and your data bill by a similar amount if you only use it for email.) It doesn't squash video traffic, however, or VoIP (like Skype), and there may well be questions to ask about the wisdom of allowing your browsing data to be collected and monitored by a third party we don't know much about. But while we continue the eternal wait for networks to stop being so mercenary, it's a handy app that will, with luck, cut the number of doleful interviews with people holding up their phone bill to the camera.


Just when you think that the Mac versus PC debate has finally run out of steam; that advocates of both platforms are now so bored with repeating themselves that they've taken voluntary retirement, someone manages to relight the fire.

The website hunch.com mined data from 700,000 users, and came up with some magnificently sweeping generalisations that succeeded in being both statistically dubious and highly inflammatory. Mac users tend, we're told, to be liberal city types who feel at home with technology, while PC users are more likely to sit unhappily in rural areas, consumed with loathing for their machines. While PC users love Pepsi, Mac users apparently prefer a San Pellegrino Limonata. Wonderfully, hunch.com managed to unite everyone against the study, with one glorious commenter saying: "100 per cent of people who judge others according to their preferred computing platform are douchebags."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

    £65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

    £70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A long-established, technology rich ...

    Recruitment Genius: Project and Resource Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing experience-led technology co...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Support / IT Sales / Graduate Sales / Trainee

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has now arisen for a Sale...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable