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Travel may broaden the mind but it can also pump up your cellphone bill

MONTREAL - Travel may broaden the mind and rejuvenate the spirit but it can also pump up your smartphone bill to pretty unhealthy levels.

MONTREAL - Travel may broaden the mind and rejuvenate the spirit but it can also pump up your smartphone bill to pretty unhealthy levels.

Watching video on the beach, downloading documents at foreign airports or emailing friends about all the fun you're having at exotic locales can mean huge charges on your bill, unless your plan specifically covers out-of-country use.

"Everybody has a story of somebody who had an iPhone, crossed the border and forgot to turn off the data and came home to a $10,000 phone bill," said PCMag Mobile analyst Sascha Segan.

The transfer of data rather than making simple phone calls is usually the big ticket item for roaming charges.

"Data roaming fees are out of control," Segan said, adding they can cost up to $20 a megabyte in some countries.

iPhone user Joelle Carpentier said she just shuts off her device when she's outside Canada.

"I don't think I am alone," Carpentier, a sales rep in the pharmaceutical industry, said of her new habit.

Carpentier said she will only surf the Net in the United States when she's in a Wi-Fi hot spot with free access to a wireless network. She also limits her phone calls.

Her iPhone service plan already costs about $100 a month and Carpentier wasn't thrilled about paying more for a rate plan that would reduce or eliminate her international roaming charges.

"It never ends," she said of the cost.

Mobile phone users who send email, texts and web surf can easily gobble up 10 to 20 megabytes of data use per day.

Segan said consumers should consider making voice calls, which can be cheaper.

"The new frontier is data roaming and that is still kind of a wild west experience," said Segan, managing editor of the New York-based magazine.

But wireless carriers are starting to take note that consumers and business people travel with their mobile phones, especially their smartphones, and use them just like they do at home for work and pleasure.

Rogers Wireless (TSX:RCI.B) recently announced that it has new rate plans allowing what it calls "borderless" data roaming between Canada and the United States for software apps, email and the Internet.

Rogers customers can pay anywhere from $20 to $55 a month for specific kinds of data plans, without roaming charges, that are geared to BlackBerrys, iPhones and other smartphones.

"From a communications perspective, it extends the Canadian border into the U.S.," said Gord Stein, vice-president of Rogers business segment.

Rogers also lets travelling customers pay an extra fee for data use for one month.

Bell spokeswoman Julie Smithers said customers travelling to the United States can spend an extra $10 per month on top of their plans to save on data roaming charges. Data costs customers $1 per megabyte. Bell also has pay-per-use charges for travellers.

Telus offers customers 30-day temporary plans with set wireless voice and data rates, regardless of where they're travelling in the world, said spokesman Shawn Hall. Prices are based on the rates and discounts Telus has been able to negotiate with wireless carriers in a specific continent, which it then passes on to customers, Hall said.

Deloitte Canada analyst Duncan Stewart said a large, established carrier like Rogers can strike better roaming deals than new cellphone companies.

But Stewart said the price of data on monthly service plans is coming down worldwide due to competition and new technology.

Wireless carriers are pushing consumers towards "no surprise, no penalty" plans, because it gives them steady revenue instead of "wildly" fluctuating bills, said Stewart, director of technology, media and telecommunications.

Wind Mobile CEO Ken Campbell suggests more competition will mean prices for data roaming will drop.

"You hear these horror stories about going down to the States, downloading a movie and being billed $5,000," he said from Toronto.

Wind, operating right now only in Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton, plans to offer competitive roaming rates, he said.

Segan said cellphone users need to do their homework and if they're unsure about costs, just turn the phone off and, above all, "do not surf unless you are in Wi-Fi."

 
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