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Will Telstra change its global roaming charges?

Both Vodafone and Optus have changed the way they charge for global roaming, so can Telstra be far behind?

commentary Global roaming is one of the biggest causes of "bill shock", with countless Aussies experiencing the horror of grossly inflated phone bills after an overseas trip.

(Credit: Telstra)

In fact, Australia has been quite notable for the exorbitance of its roaming fees. Back in 2011, an OECD report found that Australia had the third-highest roaming charges in the world, with only Japan and (oddly) Chile ahead of us.

And people haven't been happy about it. Complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) about global roaming charges increased by 70 per cent for the 2011-12 period. More frighteningly, over 10 per cent of those complaints involved amounts of AU$5000 or more.

But there's been a recent breath of change over the telco landscape. Late last month, Vodafone announced a big shift in the way it would be charging for global roaming in certain countries.

Vodafone customers visiting the UK, the US and New Zealand (which is the most popular overseas destination for Aussies) can now pay AU$5 per day to use their phones exactly as they would at home. The same call, text and data allowances will be available in any of those countries. Well, some customers can; you'll need to be on one of the approved plans to take advantage of the offer.

For Optus, it's a little different. Just this week, it announced a big restructure in its global roaming, as well as the introduction of "travel packs".

Optus has essentially divided the world into two zones, as opposed to the five it used to have. If you're travelling to zone one — which includes NZ, Europe, the US, the UK and more — you'll pay AU$0.50 for a text, AU$1 for 1 minute of calls and AU$0.50 per 1MB of data. You can double those for zone two areas.

So can Telstra be far away? Well, the big issue is that Telstra doesn't have the international relationships in place that the other two do. Vodafone is an existing brand in a number of countries — 28, according to CEO Bill Morrow. Similarly, Optus' work was, rumour has it, the result of a over a year of renegotiating hundreds of separate contracts.

Telstra, meanwhile, has positioned itself as a premium brand. A premium Australian brand with a large, robust, fast network. Global roaming hasn't been a big factor for its "brand identity".

There's also the money; Telstra has a lot of business clients who pay the kind of roaming fees it asks. Changing the charging structure will be a hit in the pocket for both Vodafone and Optus. Will Telstra take that hit?

For my money, Testra will follow suit, but in its own time. Telstra probably won't rush and look like it's following, nor will any changes it makes be groundbreaking. Yes, cheaper roaming will be on the way, but whether it's a big enough deal to coax over new customers — as opposed to just placating current ones — remains to be seen.