by Bill Snyder

T-Mobile’s Free International Data Plan Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Nov 01, 20133 mins
CarriersMobileSmall and Medium Business

T-Mobile’s new international roaming plans go into effect today, and on the surface they sound like a great deal. Unfortunately, they're not all they're cracked up to be, according to blogger Bill Snyder. Here's why.

Chances are you’ve probably heard of T-Mobile’s new international roaming plan, which goes into effect today. I’m glad to see the feisty, number-four carrier present some real competition to the big guys, but T-Mobile’s plan has some big holes that you won’t hear about in its commercials or see in most media coverage.

The international data plan reduces your connectivity to dog-slow EDGE networks. And having just returned from a trip to Europe, I can tell you that the things you really want to do with your phone while traveling will be painful, if not altogether impossible, on EDGE.

The plan works like this: Customers who subscribe to T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan automatically get free mobile data, free messaging and low-cost voice calls in 115 countries around the world. T-Mobile says the plan covers 98 percent of the destinations to which Americans travel, including all of North America, most of Central and South America, all of Europe, various Asian/Pacific countries and a handful of countries in Africa and the Middle East. China, India, Japan, and Russia are also covered.

But in nearly all cases, users only get EDGE connectivity, which is not much faster than old-fashioned dial-up; between 120Kbps and 384Kbps. Contrast that with the 4G/LTE speeds that are increasingly the norm in the United States; depending on the carrier they can hit 20Mbps or even 50Mbps, although average speeds are more like 7Mbps, according to RootMetrics, which tests wireless network performance. Even 3G speeds average around 1.5 Mbps. (I wrote a fairly detailed piece explaining all this in March.)


T-Mobile CEO John John Legere introduced the carrier’s new roaming plan.

If you’re a T-Mobile customer roaming abroad, using GPS, making hotel reservations or checking timetables – the things I did the most in Europe – will be really, really difficult.

T-Mobile is, of course, willing to sell you a much faster international roaming plan: The carrier offers Speed Passes that can be used to access faster data. It charges $15 for a daily pass that gives customers up to 100MB of 4G data, where available. The weekly pass costs $25 and includes up to 200MB of 4G data, and the monthly pass costs $50 and includes up to 500MB of 4G data.

During my recent trip to Spain, I paid 10 Euros ($13.50) for a Vodaphone SIM card and 400MB of data, as I wrote last week when I returned.

T-Mobile has been shaking up the wireless world with contract-free, unsubsidized phone offerings and wait-free trade-up plans. In my opinion, the new international roaming offer on its own is not a good reason to switch to T-Mobile, even if you’re a frequent international traveler. But it could very well motivate the competition to start offering better deals for travelers.