What’s the Difference Between Data Roaming and Mobile Data

Data Roaming and Mobile Data

Data roaming for travelers

Data roaming allows you stay connected with family and friends while away on a foreign trip. There might be other alternatives to data roaming, but they might require buying or renting a new smartphone and SIM card at the travel destination, and that rules out using your old number that everyone already knows.

The choice between roaming and other alternatives border on answers to questions like, “What’s the difference between data roaming and mobile data?” “Does my service provider support data roaming in my travel destination?” And, “How much data allowance do I need on this trip?”

In this article, we discuss the importance of data roaming and how it had changed over the years, the difference between data roaming and mobile data, and how to use your roaming option.

The importance of data roaming and how it has changed over the past 5 years

Data roaming is basically the use of mobile data on a network outside its base country. This comes in handy when you travel abroad and still expect to get mobile data coverage from your home country’s service provider. In such instances, your phone ‘roams’ into some other network, but you still remain connected and pay charges to your home network, though the charges will be significantly higher than what you pay back at home.

Thankfully, over the years, those data roaming charges have dropped significantly across the globe. This dramatic decrease in charges results from technological advancements. Leading service providers now focus more on “fair usage”, a term that implies limits on a customer’s daily data usage. For instance, you may be allowed to pay moderate fees for data consumption up to 10GB (for example), after which the cost is significantly increased.

The top Australian telcos — Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone — all offer daily plans that come with these fair usage limits, to remain the go-to service providers that save customers from exorbitant data expenses on their foreign trips.

How is data roaming different from mobile data bought in Australia?

The major difference between data roaming and mobile data is that with data roaming, you gain access to the internet using a network that’s different from your SIM card’s original network, making the data usage charges significantly higher. That implies that you can basically avoid data roaming costs. by choosing to make use of local SIMs of the host network or W-Fi services at your destination.

This is something you really need to get a good grasp of before switching on your smartphone’s cellular data as a visitor in Australia or any other country. Once you switch on that mobile data away from home without a well-thought-out plan, you should expect to use roaming data subjected to much different rates than your domestic mobile data usage.

How to Use Data Roaming?

It’s easy to turn your data roaming settings on or off, whether on an Android or iOS phone. Just follow these steps.

For Android phones:

  • Go to your Settings App, scroll down to the “Network & Internet” settings, and then select the “Mobile Networks” option.
  • This will bring up a screen where you’ll find a “Roaming” option with a toggle beside that you need to turn on.

Note that this setting differs from one device to the next, but this layout is quite common. If you can’t carry out this sequence, then look up the proper steps on your manufacturer’s website.


For iOS devices:

  • Go to Settings > mobile data > turn off iPhone data roaming.
  • If you’re using a U.S. device, look for “cellular” instead of “mobile data”App, scroll down to the “Network & Internet” settings, and then select the “Mobile Networks” option.

Final words — The future of data roaming

As technological advancement trends continue to unfold, we can expect data roaming to gradually cheapen down to pocket-friendly levels. Data roaming charges have already been scraped completely across 28 countries in the European Union. Some top telcos looking to shore up their profits to minimize the dent in revenue from abrupt roaming cost reductions have put forward highly competitive roaming plans.

As noted earlier, Vodafone, Telstra, and Optus all have daily roaming plans that offer generous data allowances with daily caps. Vodafone is setting the bar even higher by forgoing data roaming charges for its customers in some 40 countries, beyond which they charge a £5 per day flat rate in other countries. In the future, expect the other giants to step up their offers to similar levels across a wide reach, and eventually for roaming charges to drop to levels equivalent to home mobile data cost across most parts of the globe.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.