Update – Sun 2 Nov 2014. National Roaming plans are likely to progress this week with Culture Secretary Sajid Javid set to make an announcement. It’s likely he’ll propose the big four mobile operators will be forced to share mobile phone masts in rural areas where there is poor coverage so customers’ phones can find the strongest signal. See Telegraph story for more.
This sounds like a good move, with the caveats that we don’t yet know if it’s truly practical, how it can be enforced, how long it’ll take, and whether it’ll add to general costs. So for the moment read my original blog below on how to do it right now.
The Prime Minister’s rightfully badgering the UK mobile phone networks to share masts in rural areas to prevent mobile blackspots. He has complained of having to go to the top of a hill in Cornwall when on holiday in order to speak to world leaders, and thinks this problem of poor rural coverage needs fixing via a UK roaming rule.
Well, Mr Cameron, there’s already a way you can access all signals from your mobile, so to help you (and others), I thought I’d bash this note out.
In the UK, each of our mobiles is locked to one network’s signal – after all, that’s what we buy when we sign up. Yet if you travel abroad, and your phone is roaming, it can often connect with any signal from the overseas operators, so in fact, you may get more coverage there.
1. Use a foreign Sim in the UK
The trick to turn this on its head is to pop a foreign Sim card in your unlocked handset. Yet not every Sim will work, as it depends on their relationships with UK networks.
If you did try this, one piece of luck is that European Union roaming charges are regulated (interestingly, this doesn’t cover calls from UK networks to UK networks). So if you were to get a prepaid EU Sim and use it in the UK, the current maximum costs are…
|EU roaming caps|
|Making calls to UK/Europe||€0.19 (excl. VAT) / £0.19 (incl. VAT)|
|Receiving calls||€0.05 (excl. VAT) / £0.05 (incl. VAT)|
|Texts to UK/Europe||€0.06 (excl. VAT) / £0.06 (incl. VAT)|
|Data download, per MB||€0.20 (excl. VAT) / £0.20 (incl. VAT)|
2. More certainty using a global roaming Sim
The problem with foreign Sims is the uncertainty of their network connection in the UK and the fact you have to pay to receive calls. But global roaming Sims are designed to be relatively cheap wherever you go, and the big benefit is you usually don’t pay to receive (this generally applies in European and big Western countries, you can pay in some others) – so they’re perfect for people who regularly travel to different countries.
So I decided to check out their policies on when calls were made on them in the UK. The first one I tried, World Sim, wasn’t good for this. Its UK partner is O2, so you’d automatically be connected to that.
Yet the two providers below automatically connect to the strongest signal (and you can manually select a network if you choose).
Now technically, the underlying Sim used for these global Sims is a Jersey one. This means it isn’t governed by the EU cap, so prices vary. But crucially, if you receive calls via them in the UK, you won’t be charged.
Details on how to get these Sims in the Global Roaming review.
|Prices for global Sims on a UK network|
|Making calls to UK||12p/min (landline & mobiles)||15p/min landlines (25p to mobiles)|
|Texts to UK/Europe||9p||10p|
|Data download, per MB||21p||39p|
Who should be doing this?
On paper, this would work well for anyone who needs a constant connection and that’s more important than price (as far cheaper deals are available see Cheap Mobiles), so that’s likely to be a business user – or indeed the Prime Minister, when making emergency calls to international leaders.
One way to make this easier to use, though, would be to get a handset which takes a ‘dual-Sim’. This means you have your normal Sim in it, but if that’s not working you can seamlessly switch to a ‘strongest signal’ provider.
I should note at this point I’ve not actually tried this, it’s based on the companies’ notes on how they work. So I would love feedback below from anyone who’s done this.