How do I keep my mobile internet expenses under control?

a) On your device you can deactivate the mobile Internet option. In this case you will be charged no data roaming fees, but you will not be able to surf, send e-mails, etc. with your own device from abroad.

b) However, if you do want to use the Internet on your own mobile device (laptop, smartphone, …) abroad, your operator will have to provide you, in and outside the EU, with a blocking mechanism, allowing you to keep your data roaming fees under control: your operator must automatically interrupt the Internet services when the international roaming bill of data services reaches the € 50 upper limit (VAT included: € 60.50).

Your operator mustn't take you by surprise, however: when you have reached 80% of the limit, your operator has to send you an SMS, e-mail or a pop-up to warn you.

If there is a risk of you exceeding the amount of € 60.50 (VAT included), the operator again has to send you an SMS, e-mail or pop-up to explain how to avoid the interruption of the data services. He also has to inform you about the fees per megabyte (MB) of the data services.

If you do not react to this message your operator will interrupt the Internet services.

When your operator has interrupted the Internet service, you can contact him to restore the service. This is an opportunity to set a new limit.

You can always contact your provider to ask him to lower or increase the € 60.50 (VAT included) limit for data roaming services. He has to do this for free and at the latest by the following working day.

c) However, some operators do not always observe the obligations for setting the blocking mechanisms very strictly. Therefore it is advisable to keep a vigilant eye on your data consumption. You can download apps that do this for you. You can indeed download free applications such as 3G Watchdog and Netcounter, which keep track of your MB consumption. That way you can regularly check how many MBs you have consumed and see how much it costs. Although these applications are not always 100% accurate, they can still give you an idea of the consumption.

Some smartphones include a function to check the data consumption on the device itself. When an operator does not fulfil his obligations, it is always possible to submit a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman for Telecommunications. The mail address is http://www.ombudsmantelecom.be/en/home.html?IDC=101

Mind you: the Ombudsman will not handle your complaint unless you have first submitted your problem to your operator and the latter has not offered you a satisfactory solution.

Good to knowthe limit on your bill and the service interruption only concern the data services. The costs of your phone calls and text messages are not taken into account.

This alert system and the limit also apply in principle in countries outside Europe, where the national tariff does not apply to roaming. However, it is possible that the network used abroad does not enable your operator to monitor the consumption on a real-time basis. If so, he has to immediately send you a free SMS stating that no information about the total consumption is available and that therefore he cannot guarantee that the maximum amount agreed on will not be exceeded.

Good to know: It is possible that certain programmes are active on your mobile device that automatically connect to the Internet, for instance to get updates. Such programmes mostly do so without you noticing it. A few well-known examples are Windows or iTunes updates or additions to your virus scanner. As soon as your mobile device 'picks up' an Internet connection, such a programme ensures that you automatically use the most recent version of the software. Remember that when abroad you have to pay for it! That is why you should deactivate automatic updates before travelling abroad. Your operator has to clearly explain how those automatic functions can be deactivated.

To give you an idea:

One MB of information corresponds to about:

  • A few hundred e-mails (if you limit yourself to written text).
  • A compressed digital storage of 5 minutes of audio in telephone quality or 1 minute in CD quality.
  • A compressed digital storage of 6 seconds of video in television quality.
  • About 10 pictures or less, depending on resolution, number of pixels, etc. If you can enlarge your pictures on your computer screen above the A4 format without loss of quality, you can assume that such a picture takes up more than half a megabyte in capacity.
  • Visiting 3 normal web pages.
  • Visiting 20 mobile web pages.

Or also:

  • 1 hour of Internet radio corresponds to ± 25 MB with reasonable quality of sound.
  • Downloading 3 MP3 files corresponds to about 10 MB.
  • 100 minutes of video streaming corresponds to about 250 MB.

Note that when you are travelling within the EU, Iceland, Norway or Liechtenstein, the tariffs applicable to mobile internet are equivalent to the domestic tariffs.