Supa, an office worker, received a bill for over 165,000 baht for using a two-day data promotion package service in Singapore. Charoen, a government official, was charged more than 100,000 baht by a telecom provider after he came back from a trip to Vietnam. Warin, a student, was charged over 13,000 baht for data services when she travelled to England.
Whether you have experienced such a shock or not, you've probably been reluctant to use your phone while travelling abroad. With a "push mail" feature on smart phones, the BlackBerry in particular, the handset can connect to the internet automatically, while Android-based phones are also connected to Google all the time.
Every day, more and more consumers complain to the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Institute (TCI) about overbilling of international roaming services.
The problem of overcharging automatic international roaming is on the increase because more Thais travel overseas and they are likely to stay online all the time.
To some extent, Thai people today are familiar with the high price of data services.
"We've become used to the unlimited service priced at 699 baht, while in the past the average calling service of 200-300 baht was considered high," TCI director Prawit Leesatapornwongsa said.
According to Prawit, problems relating to roaming services vary. Some apply for Wi-Fi, but have to pay for 3G service; some apply for a promotion package, yet the bill is up to 100,000 baht; others don't even know that they've used roaming service. A number of people have complained that they have to pay double when they use a phone card with their mobile.
Consumers often use a mobile phone service in one country, but are charged for services in another country. Thanachai (not his real name) once used his phone in Nakhon Phanom, but the signal was roaming on a Laotian network even though he had not applied for roaming. Similarly, another consumer used his phone in Macau, but was charged the China roaming rate.
"In many cases consumers eventually have to pay, if the bills were not too much for them, because some don't want to lose face, especially senior government officials," Prawit said.
Similar problems occur in European countries too. In 2009, a German man was charged 46,000 euros after he watched TV on his mobile phone in France. The case triggered alarm, resulting in a decision by the European Commission to stipulate that data roaming charges must not exceed 50 euros per month. Operators are also required to issue a mandatory warning when subscribers use up to 80% of the service.
Telecommunication Research and Industrial Development Institute (TRIDI) director Supot Tiarawut noted that the EU has set a ceiling on wholesale charges by destination networks and retail charges by domestic networks. The EU has regulations to control prices because it overs most European countries. Thailand, however, does not have control over the networks of other countries.
Roaming fees for prepaid users are more complicated, involving real time credit. "Any time we use our phone abroad, the system will calculate the charges on sending and receiving signals all the time, so the service charge for prepaid is higher than postpaid," Supot said.
Wholesale prices charged by destination networks are usually high, resulting in steep roaming fees. For example, a traveller to Hong Kong is charged the service fee of the home network (Thailand), the international network and the destination network (Hong Kong).
Thai consumers usually face high roaming charges everywhere. Unintentional charging is due to increasing uses of smart phones, not turning off the data connection and roaming into Wi-Fi but unintentionally turning on data roaming.
To prevent "bill shock", Supot said that domestic providers should not charge unless and until customers accept the provision of the service. In addition they should provide personalised tariff information, give examples of data roaming applications indicating approximate size and give notification when the limit is approached as well as provide options if continuation of services is specifically requested.
It's better for users to study roaming plans extensively, and choose packages according to intended periods of stay and pattern of usages (volume-based or duration-based for data). Users should also remember network setups, familiarise themselves with the operating procedures of the handsets and set-up prior to landing, select the right network for connections, as well as make sure the procedures are completed. "Or it might be better to stay off the net for a while," Supot said.
Supadej Sutthiphongkanasai, a networking expert, suggested people use the data-monitoring applications such as the "Dataman" for iPhone and "3G Watchdog" for Android-based devices. These apps allow them to find out how much data has been sent and received and will alert them when 40% or 50% of their data allowance has been used.
Many users prefer to consult a call centre about promotion packages before travelling, but they aren't aware that if they contact the call centre three times, the suggestions may differ each time. So, don't immediately trust the call centre about the package. Consumers should ask the operator about the network carriers of the destination country, the service rates for calling Thailand and the mode to off data roaming.
It's also helpful if the operators inform subscribers via SMS or email to make sure that users receive the relevant information.
bush fire: a fire in a large area of rough open ground, especially one that spreads quickly - ไฟไหม้ป่าโปร่งหรือป่าละเมาะ
commentary: a newspaper article that discusses a subject and gives opinions about it - บทความแสดงข้อคิดเห็น, คำวิจารณ์
disqualification: a decision not to allow someone to do something because they have done something wrong - การตัดสิทธิ
reach: the limit to which somebody/something has the power or influence to do something or communicate with someone - การเข้าถึง, การเอื้อมถึง, การไปถึง
reappoint: to choose someone officially for a job or responsibility a second time after they have left the position temporarily - แต่งตั้งใหม่
replace: to put a new person or thing in the place of someone or something - แทน
scream: to cry or say something loudly and usually on a high note, especially because of strong emotions such as fear, excitement or anger - กรีดร้อง
unwitting: without knowing or planning - ไม่รู้ตัว
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