There's a lot to be said for paying a few bucks a day to make the fear of data roaming charges go away.
For the past week, rather than being in my usual Sydney haunt, I've been fighting jet-lag in Los Angeles. In amongst the usual baffling and amusing cultural differences that occur whenever I am on the west coast of North America, there's something different in my technology this time: A phone armed with a Vodafone SIM on a Red plan.
Introduced in August last year, Vodafone's Red plans arrive with infinite call minutes and texts, which is all fine and dandy if you still use your handset like it is 2002, but the differentiation at the moment is the data plans available.
As I write this piece, thanks to a recent doubling of data quotas, the choice of plans gives 3GB of data for AU$50 a month, AU$65 per month allows 5GB of data, and AU$85 per months gets a thumping 10GB of data. By comparison, Telstra offers 1.5GB on a AU$55 plan, and 3GB for AU$95 per month.
However, the icing on the cake for Vodafone is its AU$5 a day roaming option, which allow its customers to use their call and data quotas in the country they are in as though they were still in Australia.
The option is available in 47 countries, and really does change the way that you use your phone overseas.
As someone that is tied to Australia's dominant carrier, on previous trips to the US I would forgo any of the expensive international roaming packages and excess charges offered by Telstra, and would instead make use of the extensive public Wi-Fi network deployed across the United States — this network also happens to serve coffee and usually goes by the name of Starbucks.
I've also bought and borrowed a US pre-paid SIM to use data while in America, but it involves adding a month's worth of charges and for users who are overseas for a week or less, it's not the most cost-effective way to get a data connection with a decent amount of data.
During this trip though, all those old habits are suddenly quite quaint.
The previous stress and paranoia of making sure that mobile data is turned off, and friends and family are asked to stop sending MMS and copious amounts of text messages to prevent high excess charges is consigned to history.
For the past week, my mobile data usage has been exactly the same as it has been in Sydney — it's a much better and more civilised way to stay up to date overseas.
In a recent briefing, Vodafone made it clear that they wanted to target high data users and bring them onto their network. There's no doubt that the theory is sound, but there are a few caveats to keep in mind.
While back in Sydney one can enjoy the telco's new 4G network, in the United States, I do wish I could connect to an LTE network. In my time here, I've bounced between AT&T and T-Mobile networks, and ironically, I have yet to connect to Verizon which Vodafone used to own a share of. Performance-wise, always been restricted to 3G and HSDPA connectivity and never LTE — the issue I have with HSDPA is that in my experience, it is a battery hog and after experiencing 4G speeds for some time, always a let down.
Although Vodafone looks to have the edge on roaming, domestically, there is no doubt that Telstra has the edge in coverage — and you don't have to travel into regional areas to find this out. Last weekend back in Sydney, I took the SIM for a spin, and while the 4G network works well, it does fall down an area that Vodafone is targeting, in-building coverage. Sitting in a major shopping centre, my Telstra connected phone was zipping along on 4G, while the Vodafone handset bounced between each the performance layers from LTE all the way down to EDGE.
As someone who is regularly expected visit family in regional Australia, and wants coverage on as often as possible, I am tied to the incumbent. But there is definitely some attractive options offered by Vodafone.
If you are a data pig who is able to cope with less than stellar domestic coverage, and/or a frequent traveller that spends only a week or so when in the US, Japan, China, Singapore, or Europe, then a Vodafone Red package could be for you.
Red has certainly changed the way I use the phone overseas — making the use of a phone the same internationally as it is domestically is such a simple idea, but like most things in Australian telecommunications, it has taken us a very long time to get there.
It's nice to use the phone in a modern, convenient fashion rather than being one of those guys who hang outside coffee shops leeching free Wi-Fi.