Sprint to offer free international data roaming

Sprint hopes to attract new customers with a plan designed to give global travelers free data roaming in 15 countries. But will it be enough of an incentive?

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

The world is getting a little bit smaller, thanks to a new international plan from Sprint that lets customers roam in 15 countries.


With Sprint's new International Value Roaming plan, announced Friday, travelers can check email and Facebook, download pictures and stay connected on a wireless Internet connection at no additional cost in Latin America, Europe and Japan. Subscribers with devices that are internationally compatible will get free text messaging and unlimited data roaming up to 2G speeds. Phone calls will cost 20 cents per minute in countries included in the plan.

Sprint executives say these international perks are features that consumers want. "The continuous feedback from our customers indicates how important it is to travel without the fear of high roaming charges," Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said in a statement.

The new offer is similar to a plan T-Mobile introduced in October 2013 as part of its "Uncarrier" marketing strategy. Both companies hope these moves will make them more appealing than AT&T and Verizon, the two largest US carriers. That goal is especially important for Sprint, which loses subscribers each quarter. Rival T-Mobile, on the other hand, has added customers over the past few quarters and is poised to overtake Sprint as the third-largest wireless operator in the US.

It's unclear how customers will react to Sprint's new international plan. Like T-Mobile's offer, connection speeds for data downloads will be dramatically slower than on their home mobile networks. In the US, customers are used to speedy mobile downloads on 4G networks, but under the free international plans, speeds will be limited to the speed of a 2G network. For consumers it could feel the same as being downgraded from a broadband connection to dial-up Internet access.

Both plans will let customers pay extra for faster connections on 3G networks. Sprint customers can pay $15 for 100MB of data downloads on a one-day pass, $25 for 200MB on a seven-day pass and $50 for 500MB on a 14-day pass. The company doesn't charge for going over the data cap. Instead network speeds revert to 2G speeds when the data allotment is maxed out.

T-Mobile charges $15 for 100MB per day, $25 for 200MB per week, or $50 for 500MB for two weeks.

The biggest difference between the two offerings is that Sprint's service is limited to 15 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Russia, South Korea, Spain and the UK. T-Mobile's roaming plan offers free data service in more than 120 countries.

Sprint will also allow customers to make free calls using Wi-Fi hotspots while traveling overseas. This new Wi-Fi calling feature is available in more than 200 countries and territories for calls to the US, and it's offered with no additional charge for customers calling a US, US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico phone number. Wi-Fi calling is available on the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 5S, 5C and some Android devices.