Sunday 21 January 2018

Heading away for your holidays? Beware, there's still no prospect of free roaming around Europe

phone charges

Surfing in Morocco
Surfing in Morocco
Daffodil Day launch

Holidaymakers were dealt a huge blow this month after the EU kicked to touch on plans to abolish mobile roaming rates.

The 'Net Neutrality' strategy, which has already seen caps placed on charges for roaming, was to have been completed by December this year. However, under pressure from some member states the EU bottled it, putting it back to 2018 when it will be "reviewed".

The strategy would have meant that tourists and business people travelling within the EU could use their phone or tablet for the same cost of as they would at home. In other words, no surcharges would apply for data download, which is the one that generally causes the massive bills when you arrive home.

The decision is a sop to massive telecoms companies like Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile and Telefonica who have shored up the mobile data business across Europe.

They claim that they have to 'rent' lines off each other across the EU as people travel between countries and this costs money, along with developing new networks.

They have a point, but this is precisely why they were given four years to streamline the process.

Now, they'll have another three. Given the speed with which they can hike charges when they want to, it seems generous to say the least.

The 'interim' arrangement, according to the EU, is for it to agree a daily allowance of charges for data download across all providers and set fees for use thereafter. I'm not holding my breath.

What it all means for customers now is that while costs have come down somewhat, especially for calls and texts, data downloads can still be prohibitively expensive and really scare people off doing normal things like updating Facebook or downloading Maps while abroad.

Some companies in Ireland offer bundles for roaming (see table) and these are excellent value. It's just as well, as Irish people use their mobiles 12pc more than the EU average.

So, just by taking the time to plan before you travel, you can access limited data while on holidays.

Bear in mind though, it can be very hard to know what a megabyte gets you, so you have to be careful.

It's the equivalent of around 20 emails (without attachments), which might sound okay, but downloading an episode of 'House of Cards' is around 200MB resulting in a phone bill that would shock even President Underwood. As a minimum it would be €40.

In terms of EU tariff limits, these currently stand at:

- 19c per minute for calls made/5c per minute for calls received,

- 6c per text sent/0c per text received

- 20c per MB of data.

However, many companies charge less than this, notably Meteor which adds no extra fee for calls and texts while abroad.

In addition there is a mandated cut off limit once your bill exceeds €50 and a warning when it gets to 80pc of your agreed allowance, unless you specifically opt out of the cap.

A huge warning here for parents - children are uncommonly good at 'opting out' on your behalf, so don't give them your phone to play with while you try and enjoy dinner!

Keep your costs down by:

- Configuring your handset to work abroad. If it's on 'manual' setting, it will find the cheapest network; if it's on 'automatic', it will find the strongest, which may cost more.

- Use free wi-fi hotspots where you can, or check if your hotel sells a daily usage voucher which may be cheaper.

- Ensure you disable auto-video plays on applications like Facebook.

- Other than that, the best advice remains to shop around.

Study best offers for Easter grinds

While most of us are looking forward to Easter, pity the thousands of Junior and Leaving Cert students who will spend the fortnight off school studying. 

Many will also be considering grinds. While grind schools abound, and there's no doubting their value, they are expensive, so many turn online to find a solution.

Quite a number of websites offering grinds have closed in the last year, so it's worth making sure that your money isn't wasted.

A few that come recommended include:

- Themathstutor.ie offers grinds on the dreaded Project Maths course. It costs €49 until September with a free trial to check it out. Video based tutorials are available for smartphone and tablet.

- Examsupport.ie offers hundreds of study packs across all subjects. Eircom customers can avail for free via StudyHub, otherwise it costs €28-a-month, or €245 until June for full access to 400 courses.

- Digitalgrinds.ie is a DVD-based tutorial system with 30 hours of interactive videos and test. It costs €33.75 + p&p.

Don't forget that your school's teachers may be the best source for grinds - many will give them during the holidays .

Also consider hiring a good past pupil. Someone who got an 'A' in their Leaving Cert last year may relate better to your child than a formal teacher and cost less too!


Plant a paper daffodil this Friday and help in the fight against cancer

A SOBERING Irish Life report proves cancer is still the biggest trigger of health insurance claims, accounting for a €218m payout by the insurer in 2014. Some 44pc of deaths and 61pc of illnesses were cancer-related.

This Friday, the Irish Cancer Society launches its Daffodil Day 'Garden of Hope' in the Iveagh Gardens, where people can join the likes of Daithi O Se (left) in planting a paper daffodil or leaving a message.

To support, go to cancer.ie/gardenofhope or call 1850 606060.

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