Reducing data bills when roaming - 2012 Edition

Richard Benson28 March 2012Consumerscomments

Following on from the 2 year old Reducing data bills when roamingarticle which focused mainly on Windows Mobile devices (how things change in such a short time..), it's about time there was a more recent update focusing on iPhone and Android devices.

Once again, the EU are stepping in to reduce the cost of roaming, and as of July, using roaming data in the EU will cost a maximum of £0.70 per MB.  This doesn't help you outside of the EU and even those costs could add up if you're not careful.

What uses data?

As in the previous article, this still holds true:
The easiest way to sum this up is "anything that a normal mobile phone doesn't do", so everything except phone calls and text messages.  This does, of course, include checking for your e-mails, which is something that still needs to be done when roaming but it needs to be managed to avoid large bills.  Users of both the iPhone and PDAs have a number of applications installed out of the box that will check the internet from time to time without warning, so even if you haven't added to your phone, you need to be aware of these programs.

Easy option

The easiest option to save money on data roaming bills is to disable it entirely and use only wi-fi networks.  However, there is still not a culture of providing free wi-fi in all hotels, and using a little bit of data usually comes out cheaper than hotel prices.  In the following sections will be how to disable roaming data entirely as well as how to stop specific services so you can pick and choose what is allowed to send data.


Google's Android OS has simultaneously the easiest and most frustrating way of disabling data whilst roaming.  It's simple to stop all data whilst roaming, and it's simple to disable data being downloaded in the background, without you requesting it.  However some apps won't allow you to use them "on-demand" when background data is disabled, so you have to be careful how you re-enable things so your phone doesn't end up syncing everything at once.

Fully disabling roaming data


Disabling Sync and Background Data

If you intend to use mobile data at all whilst you are roaming, you will also want to disable auto-sync and Background data so that when you switch roaming data back on, it doesn't then try and sync all your accounts at once.  It is important to note the order of these instructions; if you disable background data before auto-sync, as soon as you re-enable it your phone will try and catch-up with missed syncs.
Most apps will still allow you to open them and use data whilst they are open, including mail.  If an application claims that it won't work without background data on, simply re-enable this checkbox only and retry the app.  Remember to turn it off again when you are finished.
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