I remember in the late 90s touching down in Delhi to find the passenger in front of me removing a local Delhi SIM from a SIM case (yes, they used to make these) and exchanging it for his Mumbai SIM. Business travellers in those days had a SIM for each circle or city they travelled in frequently.
Domestic roaming ceased to be an issue gradually over the next decade and today, because of seamless connectivity and reasonably low rates, this is something we rarely bother about.
International roaming though has always been a different kettle. Both voice and data have typically been horrendously expensive and the charges can keep adding up and reach the mid to high five figures, if we are not careful.
In the early part of the last decade, this was a big problem. Then third party SIM providers (TPSPs) like Matrix started offering local foreign SIMs in India itself, relatively reducing the costs of calling within the foreign country as well as to India.
For short visits though, TPSP SIMS can be quite inconvenient, especially if you are a business traveller or on a short vacation and need to be in touch with the office, customers and family on an ongoing basis. To disseminate a foreign SIM number is a pain and all we really do is to pass on the cost of calling us to those in India. Some people buy a local SIM when they touch down in a foreign country (and I know people whose only aim when they reach a foreign country initially is to source a local SIM), but even that just about helps with data to some extent, without really being cheaper for calls back to India. Some people switch to Skype but this also needs WIFI access, which may not always be available while traveling.
A couple of months ago, David Pogue in The New York Times (which he has since left) wrote about T-Mobile’s drastic slashing of international roaming rates by up to 80% for those in the US traveling abroad. He was told that international roaming rates have traditionally been kept inflated because of the huge profit margins and T-Mobile was aiming to be a game changer. It seems to have worked!
Yesterday I was to fly out of India. I checked with my relationship manager, Sharad Somaiya at Vodafone, who pointed me to a new scheme for international roaming. As long as you use the provider that Vodafone has tied up with in that particular country, roaming rates are down by a significant amount. An outgoing call to India from virtually any country in the world listed on the Vodafone site is just Rs. 30 / min and an SMS Rs. 15. This is less than the best rate offered by a local SIM provided by a TPSP (India to US is about Rs. 50 and SMS about Rs. 20 with a Matrix SIM).
For the first time, for the most part, the plan provided by an Indian cell provider is cheaper than buying a local SIM or sourcing one from a TPSP…which means you can keep using your India cell all the time when traveling abroad…which is so damn convenient!
I am assuming this is the T-Mobile snowballing effect. It also means that roaming rates are likely to go down even more with the passage of time, and hopefully, as with domestic roaming, we will reach a stage when we will no longer have to spend time and energy thinking about the cost of international roaming.
We then truly will be a OneTalkWorld.