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December 13, 2007



I'm not the hugest fan of Windows Mobile, but not only does it default to no data sync when roaming, but it also alerts you if you trigger a manual sync. (cue the "cancel or allow" jokes)

Mark Harrison

One thing I've always wondered is how the sums work. (This is based on UK numbers, since that's where I live.)

- It costs me about 3p per minute to call from my UK mobile to a UK mobile

- It costs me about 2p per minute to call a French number from my UK office (we have some call direction service, with no minimum contract)

Add them up... suppose I were to route the call via my office with some clever widget.... 2p + 4p = 6p.

So why does it cost about 75p per minute to make the call DIRECTLY via my mobile network?

And why does it cost a similar sum for me to make the call while I'm in France? The data overhead of registering a phone with a network can't be of the order of 10 times the data requirements for a voice call itself (let alone data.)

Mark in Sussex, England


You should have picked up one while in China.

Simon Owens

One thing you could try is informing the person you're talking to that you're the editor of one of the most influential technology magazines in the U.S. Those companies will jump through hoops to avoid bad PR. For instance, one of the producers for This American Life spent 10 months battling with her phone company to get a $1,000 bill removed because of the phone company's mistake. Finally, she called with Ira Glass (the host of This American Life) who explained to the customer service person that he was recording the conversation for a national radio program. Lo and behold, the problem was fixed within the hour.

Transplanted Lawyer

Simon, that would work well for Chris. But it wouldn't work well for most consumers. And Chris shouldn't have to play the "Do You Know Who I Am" card in order to get decent customer service -- and kudos to him for not doing it.

Martin Little

I find this a strange post to understand, unless taken from the point of view of someone being annoyed with themselves for being hit with a big bill through their own (in)actions and needing an audience to bitch at.

Surely an 'editor of one of the most influential technology magazines in the U.S.' [and outside the US, I'd reckon], should have been smart enough to notice their phone collecting mail every ten minutes during a ten day trip, and realised it wasn't only using wifi.

Large phone bills whilst roaming are hardly a recent phenomenon, and I struggle to believe that Chris has never used data abroad before and come back to an unpleasant surprise.

Perhaps a better answer to the post's question, Q: what's The worst thing you can do with an iphone?, would be: not read the manual.

Mark in Surrey: as we are all aware, costs are based on what a market will sustain. Until VOIP starts hitting the bottom line of mobile operators, international calls will remain a cash cow.

Alexandre Linhares

What's worse about the whole thing is that AT&T & everyone is using IP packets, for free, basically. So basically they are stealing you; making a monumentally huge profit when their own costs haven't been raised proportionally.

Like low-cost low-frills airlines, it is high time for a low-cost carrier that will use TCPIP and change according to cost. That is a huge open space out there.

Thanks for throwing your weight around this issue, Chris. I hope it makes a splash.


Actually, I appreciated your post, because this sounds like something I would do accidentally... only I wouldn't even realize the phone was with me. :)

Pope Ratzo

Let's be honest: Some AT&T reps are high-fiving each other. They got you to pay $2000 for getting, basically, nothing. AT&T's cost for providing you with that nothing was approximately, nothing. They made $2000 of pure gravy just because they could. And best of all, they've set it up so that you are actually telling yourself that you're partly to blame! Like a battered spouse, you think it's your own fault.

Big Corporations, generally, have gone way beyond just being "uncaring" of their customers. They have entered the area known as "outright hostility". It keeps us humble, and reminds us who's in charge.

We have become the consumables in their engine of profit and power.


I don't have an iPhone, but I've run into an issue with our phones that if it happened with an iPhone might be an especially tricky case of this problem. My parents live close enough to Canada that our Verizon phones usually grab a Canadian cell tower rather than a US one, leading to fun international prices for calls. If iPhones do the same thing, that would be a great way to rack up huge bills without ever leaving the country...


Honestly, I think that in this case AT&T acted correctly and they're being more than generous offering the international data roaming plan retroactively.

Paul Arterburn

The iPhone defaults to having "data roaming" turned off (at least for 1.1.1 & up). Under Settings | Network you can switch it on/off.

I'm not saying ATT customer service is a out of control...my last two months bills were $1500 & $1000 because of a "known issue" regarding the World Connect feature. They overcharged me nearly $750 each bill for international calls (USA to Europe). That was Oct/Nov bills...it's Dec 14 and still no resolution. You might try using the option "thinking about canceling your service" when you call support - it seemed to get me the most helpful person.


You are not alone and neither is AT&T.
Here in Brazil, phone operators have the largest amount of consumer complaints of all companies.
If you try to ring them for support, to request a service or place a complaint, you take at least 10 minutes to get to talk to an operator.
After all this time, you certainly expect to talk to a person who would solve every single problem you have, but that is not what happens.
These phone companies hire third part companies, which are specialised in call center. These third part companies pay an average of US$ 75/week as salary for these operators, to work an average of 30 hours a week. What happens then?
These people they hired for such a low wage are not prepared to solve customer's problems, and have no autonomy, since they need autorisations from the phone company to approve requests.
Result: EVERY SINGLE phone company here has a very bad support service.
Their market is very competitive, and they focus on who has the cheapest fee, by an average difference of $ 0,01.
If they want to lead the market, why don't they start offering a better support instead of meaningless discounts?


Ow. This is the first I've heard about that kind of problem. I am really sorry to hear it. It could bankrupt someone.

Niall Cook

Maybe AT&T's PR people tried to warn you, but you'd already blacklisted their email addresses ;-)


How can AT&T be smart enough to offer a revolutionary device like the iPhone, which is all about delightful user experience, and yet let their own customer communications be a chilling reminder how little phone companies care about their users?

I'd rephrase this question. How can Apple make something as great as the iPhone but only offer it exclusively through a terrible mobile company like AT&T?


I had this happen with Sprint using a landline and making International calls. I "didn't have an international calling plan," yet I could make international calls at some crazy cost per minute. The only notification I got was my monthly bill. It took me 2 hours to get them to retroactively "put me on a calling plan" to get the costs down.

There is something to be said for government regulation of certain things. Toilet paper quality should be another...


Let's see, you didn't know how to use your phone properly, AT&T offers to retroactively switch you to a plan that will save you $1700, and you're still complaining AT&T did something wrong?! Come on...I know we like to bash big telcos but sometimes, it's the user's fault.

I think you return the phone and go back to the string and tin can.

Bob Calder

I am amazed that so many posts will blame a consumer for not knowing "how to use the phone" which is a bizarre statement on its face. I'll bet they don't know how to use the footnote and citations system on their word processing application! As so many other people point out, the issue is with AT&T's business practices. The overseas charges border on predatory when you compare them with the prepaid phone card charges and stop to think that AT&T is probably not paying higher rates than them.

Finally, when my credit card hits a predetermined amount, they don't have a hard time calling me to check. Why should AT&T? For two thousand dollars they can afford a five dollar call.

David R

Just how foolish are you?

Presumably you would be the first to complain if roaming or data services were not automatically available.

Consider the level of cost and technology required to deliver IP services over GSM. not to mention dealing wiht a state owned incumbent and then real time rating of data services so they catch your large bill.

Given that you did use the phone- you left it on and open to recieve email, which it did, exactly as it was set to do - I think you are getting th ebetter end of the deal to AT&T.


Alexandre Linhares pointed out that: "it is high time for a low-cost carrier that will use TCPIP and change according to cost. That is a huge open space out there."

The only problem is that the huge open space is currently an illusion. There is no available spectrum through which a start-up telco could broadcast their services. Want to do it on GSM? CDMA? You'll have to lease the spectrum through AT&T or Verizon. They control the towers. In order to piggy-back on their "lines" you'll need to pay them off something.

No company is going to be able to pay off AT&T and remain competitive in a $10 / month flat rate data-only world. It's kind of amazing that Metro PCS exists, at all, since they don't seem to be ripping every body off (maybe they're subtly ripping off poor people, I don't know).

Anyway, until the 700MHz spectrum opens up, or White Space TV spectrum is freed, the current rip-off situation will exist. Or, we can all give up cell phones until the companies change their tune.

Somehow, I don't think the latter is going to happen.


This happened to me over a year ago when I went overseas with a Sharp 770SH. So this phenomenon isn't iPhone specific.....


Unfortunately, AT&T and most of the American wireless service providers are some of the worst in the world when it comes to client-friendly service. For example, no wireless service in Europe charges you for incoming calls. European customers protested at the very outset when wireless companies tried to charge for receiving calls. Now why isn't the US consumer smart enough to do the same 'en masse'?


Thank you for making me feel more confident in my decision to unlock the iPhone.


In Europe the roaming rates of abroad data and sms services were under investigation by the European Union (EU Telecom Commissioner Viviane Reding) and ruled unfair. The EU published a legislation that will become binding law in all 27 Member States on 30 June. Apparently, in Europe they are able to do something about this problem. @Chris: when travelling abroad, go to Europe and just stay there. Amsterdam seems a good option ;-)


I'd love to have an iPhone, but after having worked for one of ATT's various incarnations and watching them screw over a couple of friends who worked there up until last year, I'll never give ATT a dime under any circumstances.

That said, it's a consumer's responsibility to keep themselves informed about the costs of using services they subscribe to. I wouldn't think about roaming internationally with my cell phone without finding out what it was going to cost first. Anybody at this point in time who doesn't think a telco will stick it to the customer isn't very bright.


I don't see how anyone can be expected to anticipate charges that high -- which are obviously meant to make a very nice profit from short data connections, but which can build up to catastrophe-size under conditions which AT&T DID NOT ANTICIPATE. Or ... DID they?

I don't own a cellphone, and the insanity of the rate structure against what you actually get is a primary reason. The Telcos have enjoyed a *huge* windfall from cells, in part because the technology has moved far beyond the ability of most consumers to understand. - I don't think that's an accident -


Chicago. jazz. in case you missed it: https://www.patriciabarber.com/music/main.html

Pat Barber shares a few pages.


A similar thing happened to me on my most recent tip to Italy. In all fairness to At&T they texted me and gave me a toll free number. They suggested I shut off my Data Roamimg and they put me on an International plan. I still left it in my pocket the duration of the trip.


It's sad that one does not take their own contracts and read them. Or at least investigate future charges with the anticipation of travel. I recently left the states on vacation and I had two teenagers at home. Before I left, I called AT&T to find out EXACTLY what my plan covered while I was at my destination. I found out my plan didn't cover this. I needed to be in contact with my children, as well as needing to be available to them. I called the resort I was staying at, found out my options for internet access, as well as phone packages. And amazingly enough I avoided any outrageous, huge, outlandish fees/charges on my cell phone due to finding out my options for data/voice coverage while I was out of the country. And I returned home with peace of mind that my internet access and phone package totalled $45.00 vs. thousands of dollars on an assumption that I could use my cell phone. Gee... two phone calls to prevent months of agony, as well as peace of mind and a great vacation... A brain would help some of you!


well i hear all these stories and i totally agree with all this, i use to work at one of the third party call centers for AT&T, and as someone previously said yes they only pay a small amount of dollars per hour for such a large amount of customer service work, as a customer service representative for such a large corporation you would think that AT&T would want you to know more about there products and services so that you can better assist their millions of customers when they call in about such isssues but most call centers put you through training process that has nothing to do with the issues that you're actually going to experience when you reach the production process, and with such high expectations for the representatives that the turn over is such a subtantial high rate that its just truly outrageously ridiculous, in most cases when the customers call in about issues or concerns and expect to get them resolved, the company's main concern is what other services and products can we offer you to go along with the already poor service that you are already recieving, and if the representatives don't reach a certain quota for selling thier bomb services then they are repreminded accordingly, so i would just blame the customer service reps for the defectiveness of service but the big large corporation of a company that could care less about the issues and concerns of their most valuable customers but the amount of money that they can put on their bottom line and into the pockets of their big wheels, so to boil it all down AT&T could actually care less and will do everything they can to get around all this drama and is more concern with the next person that is buying this same whacked out expensive service.....

Linda Benson

This happened to me last week when I took a cruise. I had my I Phone in my purse, which I put in the closet when I got to my cabin and didn't take out till I disenbarked.
When I got home I saw a message that I had a large roaming bill. I called customers service and, after ample time to hear a recorded message extolling AT&T's wonderful service and being transferred to three departments, I was told I owed $525. I asked how that could be when my phone had been in the closet for the last five days. It was subtly indicated that I had too been using the phone since my SIM card had the goods on me and instructed that the I phone was not just a phone but a computer as well. I was finally told that nothing could be done until the charges appeared on my bill, at which time I could again call customer service and try to resolve the issue. I was also told that the retroactive international plan was not an option for me because cruise ships are not covered under such a plan.
I don't know if I turned off whatever it was I was supposed to leave on to avoid such charges. I guess that makes me even more ignorant than everyone else.
I now it's no consolation to you, but it does make me feel better to know that the editor of Wired got caught in the same situation I did.


The bottom line is, if they can email you, text you, mail you and call you to SELL YOU EVERY PRODUCT. Why wouldnt they be able to text you, the minute you go into international roaming and explain "your in international roaming at a cost of $xx.xx per min?" I am sorry. They could do this, they choose NOT to do this. the text cost them NOTHING.


How come those of you who feel they must have the latest and greatest new technology when first comes out always seem to be so surprised that it cost a lot when it first comes out? Don't you know that is the way pricing works? First they get all the money they can out of you suckers before they reduce the price enough to get the rest of us to buy. And if you are going to buy a new technology, don't you think you should learn how it works before you start using it and get charged an outrageous amount to link into the network.

As Seen On TV

Thank you for making me feel more confident in my decision to unlock the iPhone.



jeux ds

I can do so much of worst things in iphone but i never do that.. In Iphone there is an one worst thing that Tethering and MMS delayed.. I like to use an iphone because its very nice & an unique mobile..

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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