This Is the Difference Between Data Roaming and Mobile Data

You probably have a pretty good idea of how much mobile data your phone plan gives you every month. But, when you were playing around with your phone’s settings, you saw an option for data roaming as well.

So, what is the difference between data roaming and mobile data? Mobile data is what your smartphone uses when you are connected to your provider’s network in your home country. When you are traveling abroad, data roaming will take over. This allows you to access the internet in other countries. Keep in mind that data roaming will cost you extra.

Understanding the difference between data roaming and mobile data can save you a ton of money and help you to figure out the settings you should apply on your phone. So, let’s go over the details of data roaming and mobile data below.

Everything You Need to Know About Mobile Data

Your smartphone will connect to WIFI to give you internet access whenever possible. But, sometimes, you are far enough off the grid where there are not any routers available to you. That is where your phone’s mobile data will kick in.

To use mobile data, your smartphone needs to have a current cell signal. This allows you to have access to the internet and all of your favorite apps, even when you are not connected to WIFI. However, some charges apply when it comes to mobile data.

Data Plans

Every time you use mobile data, you are eating into your smartphone’s mobile data plan. And just about anything you do on your phone will rack up data unless you turn your mobile data off in your phone’s settings. That includes browsing the web, sending emails, receiving text messages, and using apps.

For reference, 1 gigabyte (GB) of mobile data has 1024 megabytes (MB). To save costs on your mobile data usage, you will have to invest in a data plan. For the most part, you will probably be spending between $11 and $17 per gigabyteOpens in a new tab., but there are also unlimited data plans available from many providers around the world.

In 2016, the average American used about 1.7 GB of mobile data per monthOpens in a new tab., though these statistics are steadily rising. Just remember that you will be charged for going over your allotted data plan, so you should choose your plan wisely.

How Much Mobile Data We Use

What you might not realize is just how much mobile data you are using during the course of your day. Just about anything you do on your phone that forces your smartphone to send or receive data will begin to add up.

Here is a look at how much data you will be using for a few different activities:

  • Browsing the web: Usually, about 10+ MB an hour, but this can be much greater if these websites include pop-up ads and videos.
  • Social media: Usually, 150+ MB an hour, but this once again depends on the apps you are using and how much video and audio playback there is.
  • Streaming audio or music: Usually, 150+ MB an hour.
  • Streaming videos: Usually, 700+ MB an hour, but higher-quality videos might be racking up over 7 GB of data per hour.

The good news is that you do not have to worry too much about data if you control your data usage or invest in an unlimited data plan. But, keep in mind that unlimited data plans will not provide you with consistent speed if you are using a ton of data. The more data you use, the slower the speeds you will experience.

Everything You Need to Know About Data Roaming

When you are unable to connect to your own cell network, your phone will look for data elsewhere. In fact, your cell provider has made agreements with other providers over the world to provide data coverage and signal just about anywhere you go.

This is known as data roaming and usually occurs when you are outside of your home country. But, there are also instances where you might experience domestic roaming in your home nation. This is, however, not common anymore. However, countries like Canada, India, Russia, and the United States still use domestic roaming to some extent.

For example, India uses a telecom circle system that incorporates domestic roaming. Just keep in mind that you might experience additional charges when your phone uses data roaming.

Where It Is Used

In the United States, you have the Big 4 Operators, which are VerizonOpens in a new tab., AT&TOpens in a new tab., T-MobileOpens in a new tab., and SprintOpens in a new tab.. When you go to other countries in the world, there is a minimal chance that these countries also host these same providers (the probability is basically 0%). That means your phone will have to use data roaming to provide you with a consistent connection while abroad.

But, there are also some scenarios where you cannot connect to your own network in your home country. This is usually the case if you live on the border of two countries or if you live in an area where the cell signal is weak. This would be considered “domestic data roaming” and usually will not cost you any additional money from your provider.

Keep in mind that data roaming is only used when you allow it to be used. There is a toggle switch in your phone’s settings that will enable you to turn this feature on and off as you need it.

Considering Added Costs

Though data roaming will give you internet access wherever you go in the world, you will also be racking up charges along the way. This is especially concerning if you do not even realize that your phone is sending and receiving data practically 24/7.

Plus, the costs that come with data roaming are not exactly cheap, especially when it comes to casual internet use. For just a simple phone call, you might be accumulating costs of over $1.50 per minute. Or you might be spending about $0.50 for every text message that you send and receive.

The good news is that some providers will provide discounts or deals for data roaming. For example, providers like Verizon Wireless will give you the chance to purchase or redeem a day passOpens in a new tab. for unlimited data roaming for a day while traveling abroad.

Should You Keep It On or Off?

Unless you are traveling abroad and need constant access to mobile data, there is no need for you to have data roaming turned on. It is in your best interest to work your way over to the settings option in your phone and toggle this feature off.

Here is why.

Nearly everything you do on your phone requires data. But, you probably do not realize how much you are using if you have an unlimited data plan.

If you are used to unlocking your phone and downloading a movie in your home country whenever you want, doing this while you are abroad will send you quite the shock. You might be on the hook for thousands of dollars for your next phone bill!

Even if you are traveling abroad, you might want to keep this feature turned off unless you really need it. This can guarantee that you save money in the long run and do not rack up charges that you did not really need to spend in the first place.

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Mobile data and data roaming are very similar in the sense that they provide you with immediate internet access.

You will rely on mobile data when you are in your own country and able to connect your cell provider’s network. If you do not have coverage in your own country, you will be able to access domestic data roaming at no cost to you (usually).

When you travel abroad, you will be using data roaming instead. That is because your cell provider likely does not provide coverage in other nations. So, you will have to use a foreign provider and rack up charges in the meantime.

What is next?

Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!

Book Your Flight

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Book Your Accommodation

I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a hotel.

Get Your Travel Insurance

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Get a Travel Debit Card

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Enjoy your trip!

Ernest Adu

Ernest Adu, going by just Adu, is the founder and editor at Phone Travel Wiz. He has been a traveler for 6 years. Although from Europe, the Netherlands, Adu's favorite region is Asia. In particular, East and Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Tainan, Taiwan.

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