Three is first network with holiday data roaming deal

Ahead of next month's roaming charge caps, mobile users have several options to cut costs, says Chiara Cavaglieri

With the summer so far a washout, your thoughts are probably turning to sunnier climes. Flights, hotels and cash are the usual preoccupations but if you don't take care to get the best mobile deal, you could return home to a nasty bill.

With smartphones that do almost anything at the touch of a button, the cost of a few calls and texts abroad is now the least of our worries. If you're not careful, it is all too easy to run up a bill in the hundreds, or even thousands. But to make life a little easier, Three Mobile has launched a deal enabling travellers to use their mobiles abroad for a fixed £5 per day.

If you're already with Three, the new Euro Internet Pass can be bought in any of the supported countries, allowing you to surf, tweet, email, browse, upload and download as much data as you want, knowing that you only pay a fiver daily.

"Three was the first to bring unlimited data to UK customers, and now is leading the way in bringing affordable unlimited data to UK customers using their phones in the EU. The Euro Internet Pass should prove a sure-fire hit with holidaymakers, particularly for those who aren't going to be holidaying anywhere near a Wi-Fi hotspot," says Ernest Doku, a telecoms expert at uSwitch.com.

This move follows regulation from Europe designed to promote competition and prevent some of the horror stories that mobile users have faced when travelling. The changes, which take force on 1 July, mean you can sign up to a second provider for EU roaming services if your home provider charges too much. There will also be price ceilings which will see outgoing calls reduced to €0.29 a minute, incoming calls to €0.08, text messages capped at €0.09 and data roaming limited to €0.70 per megabyte. By 2014, further reductions will lower the caps again.

Other providers are expected to launch similar EU data deals to Three's but in the meantime, if you plan to use your mobile phone abroad at all, do a little legwork to avoid running up a big bill.

"You need to contact your network provider to let them know your plans to travel. You should then be offered the best options for roaming so you can keep charges to a minimum," says Kate Murphy, a mobile spokesperson at MoneySupermarket.

You can play it safe in terms of calls and texts with a local SIM card. For data, O2 and Vodafone are currently the only networks that place an automatic cap on data usage worldwide for their contract customers. O2, Orange and Vodafone send text alerts so customers can keep track of their data spend but otherwise an add-on is your best bet. The Vodafone EuroTraveller, for example, costs £3 a day and lets clients use their existing UK price plan abroad, as well as receive any calls and texts for free. Even within this type of plan, however, things could get tricky.

"All the packages have their pros and cons, but the most likely problem will be exceeding the limits of the packages," says Mike Odysseas, the managing director of telecommunications provider Odyssey Systems.

If your current domestic plan has a small data allowance, you could end up paying over the odds in roaming charges with Vodafone. Similarly with O2 Travel, although you are only charged £1.99 a day for a daily limit of 25MB, once you go above this you will revert to standard pricing charged at £3.07 per MB.

Do your research and get an idea of how much data you typically use. The average smartphone owner may only consume 10MB a day, but a 25MB daily allowance won't go far if you are downloading music or streaming videos. If you travel abroad regularly or at length, it may pay to look beyond the network providers.

"My personal solution is never to use the mobile network except for receiving texts. Do not even reply if not in a Wi-Fi area and only use hotels with free Wi-Fi. Phone calls can be made and received over Wi-Fi using various packages including Odyssey SIP clients or Skype, for example. This way you can ensure you don't get hung by your provider," says Mr Odysseas.

There are even apps that claim to save money such as Onavo Extend, available for iPhone, which will compress the data received. TEP Wireless offers a rental service – you hire a phone "local" to your holiday exchange for unlimited data and calls charged at local rates.

In Spain, for example, TEP offers a 15-day deal for £42 with free internet and incoming calls, local calls at 6p a minute and UK calls for 4p a minute. You can also hire a TEP pocket 3G Wi-Fi modem which connects to your phone or laptop and costs from £1.40 a day if you hire for 30 days.

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