Don't get burned by iPhone data fees

Protect your wallet!

Yesterday we picked out the best plans on offer from Vodafone, Telstra and Optus for the iPhone 3G, but there's another issue with pricing — how much your new phone is going to cost to use while travelling overseas.

Owners of the original iPhone were shocked last year when they were forced to pay exorbitant international data roaming fees to AT&T. Although the sole US carrier was only charging 1c per KB, this quickly translated to bloated phone bills whenever iPhone owners tried to access Web services overseas. The carrier solved this in November when it introduced flat-rate international data fees.

Will there be similar problems in Australia? Unfortunately, it is likely that there will be. Apple claims that 98 per cent of the people who have an original iPhone use the device for Web browsing; this is much higher than typical owners of 3G mobiles. It offers an indication of how many Australians are likely to want to access the Web on the iPhone 3G. Most iPhone plans offered in Australia offer better value in terms of data compared to standard mobile plans, but international data roaming charges fall under standard mobile rates. We foraged through the fine print from Vodafone, Telstra and Optus to see what they offer, and found some potentially unnerving results.

Optus, regarded as the provider of the best value Australian iPhone plans, is actually the most expensive for international data roaming. The telco currently charges 2c per KB downloaded while overseas, which translates to $20 per MB. This figure surpasses AT&T's old rate, and could be a problem for those keen on using their new iPhone 3G for browsing while travelling.

Telstra falls in the middle, charging 1.5c per KB with a 50c flagfall charge per data session, translating to $15 per MB. The real danger here is Telstra's flagfall charges — a single Web session will only attract one flagfall charge, but heavy e-mail use could lead to subsequent flagfall charges, and add up to a small fortune.

Vodafone offers the cheapest data plans, at 1c per KB, or $10 per MB. Each data session requires a minimum download of 10KB under Vodafone's terms and conditions, so expect to pay upwards of 10c per session. It still isn't cheap in terms of real world data usage, but it does prove a good alternative to Optus and Telstra.

When charging in kilobyte increments, a 1c charge seems almost appealing. However, the amount of data downloaded during average use ranges from 10-20KB for the average email, to 300-400KB for a standard Web site with pictures. YouTube videos can easily be 5MB.

Just as the release of the iPhone revealed the weaknesses in AT&T's international data roaming pricing, it is likely that the iPhone 3G will do the same here. This might be more than just a rude awakening — it could be a massive hit to the pockets of iPhone 3G owners.

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James Hutchinson

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