Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sustainable Roaming - A Product Concept For Wireless Carriers

The era of the unlimited international roaming plan has come to an end.  That's too bad, but I personally suspect it'll be back.  Nobody can really remember how much a Gigabyte is how much they're using when they listen to a song.  For the moment, wireless carriers are far too strong in the US market to offer reasonable plans and prices, though that will change soon enough.

Roaming Bill Shock - Bills in the thousands of dollars are not uncommon for short trips overseas.  Photo by "Me And The Sysop"

In the meantime, I'd like to suggest a product idea: roaming controls.  Right now, carriers offer very crude roaming controls: on or off.  And when it's on, maybe you can be notified before you use your life savings downloading that email.

It's hilarious reading carrier web sites saying that 1 megabyte is equivalent to 1,000 text pages.  Yes, that's true, but one HTML e-mail can be between 1 kilobyte and 25 megabytes, depending on what crap is embedded in the message.  With that kind of variability, it's very deceptive to suggest to a reader that buying 1-2 megabytes of data in advance for roaming should do them just fine.  It won't.

But it doesn't have to be this way.  When we're on the road, we can live with less if it's controlled well.  I, for one, could do with a stripped down offering to control bandwidth:

  • Text mail only, no HTML
  • Calendar, text messaging, memos and to-do lists, all in text
  • No automatic downloading of pictures
  • Basic maps and GPS
Much of this could be controlled at the carrier level with an offering for controlled roaming, doing transcoding of e-mail and blocking non-core functions like streaming audio.  When you do it that way, you can indeed manage a trip on 1-2 megabyte a day for roaming - just $1-5 dollars from most carriers per day, if you buy a package in advance.

Wireless carriers can and should deploy these products, making it easy for users to roam worldwide and encouraging them to take their phones, not leave them at home.  Is there a way to make this work without the carriers offering a solution?  Yes - at least on some phones.  I explain tomorrow.

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