I can understand that if you have two mobile phones, one from (say) the UK, and one from (say) India, then the price for roaming is likely to be very different between them when you're in a country near one and far from the other. It would seem to make sense that when in Nepal, roaming calls from an Indian mobile would be cheaper than from a UK mobile, as it's much closer to one than the other.

However... If you're a long way from "home" from both mobiles, one might naively assume that the roaming fees would be pretty similar.

On a recent trip from the UK to India, I was changing planes in the Middle East. While there, I turned on a UK mobile, and an Indian mobile, to check for travel updates. The Indian mobile had a basic pay-as-you-go deal, while the UK one had a package to offer lower-than-normal roaming rates. Despite this, and despite being a long way from both the UK and India, my UK phone wanted ~ USD $2/minute for calls and USD $8 for 10MB of data. On the other hand, the Indian mobile offered 100MB of data for free, and calls from USD $0.20/minute.

Why is it that the naive idea isn't right, and when a long way from home, mobile roaming prices vary so much by where you have come from?

  • 8
    Roaming charges depend on agreements between operators, not on distance. The real costs of roaming are close to zero but since the main roaming users are business people the companies prefer to charge as much as possible.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 22:22
  • @JonathanReez In the middle east case I had, there's also the likely amount of money that visiting westerns have to spend on phone calls, vs workers coming in from India, giving some pricing discrimination too. If you fancy writing up an answer with both in, I can accept it so we've got a canonical reference for the topic :)
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 22:28

1 Answer 1


The rates depend on the contracts between service and network providers. These will of course vary based on the companies involved and depend in part on the expected amount of traffic set down in the contracts.
It's like any other business deal, higher volume tends to make for lower prices per unit, especially as the overhead (administration cost etc.) per unit is lower for the contract partners.
Thus 2 large providers in countries with a lot of mutual traffic can negotiate lower roaming fees than 2 small ones from countries with a small amount of traffic.

Of course there can also be politics involved (like the EU forcing providers to charge below cost roaming rates for traffic generated inside the EU, with the result that rates for all other traffic generated by EU customers go up to compensate for the losses the networks incur from roaming customers).

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