Telecom News

Expensive Roaming with Budget Mobile Services

July 11, 2018 - Ralf Beyeler

Cheap in Switzerland, expensive abroad: Swiss budget brands like Wingo, M-Budget or CoopMobile often charge high roaming rates. The online comparison service moneyland.ch examines the roaming rates of Swiss budget mobile service brands.

Budget mobile plans from Wingo, Simply Mobile and Yallo add to the options available to Swiss mobile phone users. These brands are powered by major Swiss telecom services providers Swisscom, Sunrise and Salt. Along with products sold under the Swisscom brand, Swisscom also sells services under the M-Budget, Wingo and SimplyMobile brands. Sunrise, Switzerland’s second-largest mobile service provider, also sells services under the ALDI SUISSE mobile, Era, Lebara, Ortel and Yallo brands. Salt powers the CoopMobile, Das ABO/Le ABO and Das Prepay/Le Prepay brands in addition to its own brand.

The budget brands generally deliver more affordable service within Switzerland than their parent brands. But the cost-saving benefits typically end when users travel outside of Switzerland. moneyland.ch conducted a detailed analysis of the costs of all service providers based on a user profile with 120 minutes of telephone calls and 1000 megabytes of data use within a 14-day period (you can find the exact basis of the analysis here).

Differences between Swisscom and its sub-brands

The moneyland.ch analysis clearly shows major differences between the different Swisscom brands. Based on the profile used for the analysis, a Swisscom user roaming in Spain would pay 64.90 Swiss francs – significantly less than they would pay for the same service from one of Swisscom’s “budget” brands. M-Budget mobile plan users would pay 90 francs for the same service, Wingo plan holders would pay 95 francs and SimplyMobile plan users would pay 118.50 francs – a markup of 83 percent on the standard Swisscom rate.

Swisscom also charges users of its sub-branded products high markups for roaming outside of Europe. Based on the analyzed user profile, Swisscom customers roaming in the United States would pay 104.90 francs. That is notably less than the charges applicable to users of M-Budget plans (150 francs), SimplyMobile (360 francs) and Wingo (395 francs). The highest markup on the standard Swisscom rates in this case is 277 percent. In other words, Wingo customers pay almost four times as much as Swisscom customers pay for the same service.

Similar markups apply to roaming in other countries included in the analysis, including South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam. Swisscom customers using its sub-branded products pay up to 354 percent more than customers using Swisscom-branded plans.

There is one exception: With a few exceptions, M-Budget prepaid users are charged the same rates as Swisscom users.

Differences between Sunrise and its sub-brands

Sunrise employs a very different strategy to Swisscom’s. Users of its sub-branded services pay less for roaming in Europe and the United States than users of Sunrise-branded services. Based on the user profile used for the analysis, a Sunrise user would pay 69 francs, as would users of the Ortel prepaid service. Era (63.85 francs), Lebara (50 francs) and Yallo (50 francs) users pay less for the same service. Sunrise prepaid users would pay 94 francs, while ALDI SUISSE mobile users would pay 87.80 francs.

Roaming in the rest of the world is a whole other ballgame. Sunrise-branded services are the only realistically affordable option for roaming in South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam. However, even Sunrise users would pay between 313 and 420,50 francs (depending on the country). Based on published rates, users of Sunrise sub-brands would pay 5-figure amounts for the same roaming. The only exceptions are Yallo (880 francs) and Era (3325 francs) in South Africa and Thailand. Note that these are theoretical amounts which would be charged based on the user profile used in the analysis. In practice, mobile service providers typically block data roaming before charges this high can be incurred.

Differences between Salt and its sub-brands

The budget brands Das ABO/Le ABO and Das PREPAY/Le PREPAY sold at Swiss post offices generally use the same roaming rates applicable to Salt-branded products.

That is not true for CoopMobile: A Salt plan user matching the profile used for the analysis would pay 58.95 francs for roaming within Europe. CoopMobile plan users would pay 78.95 francs for the same service – a markup of 34 percent on standard Salt rates. The opposite applies to prepaid users: CoopMobile prepaid users would pay 78.95 francs while Salt prepaid customers would pay 273.95 francs.

Verdict by telecom expert Ralf Beyeler

Many telecom service providers rip their customers off with inflated roaming fees for sub-branded services. Customers who sign up for a budget plan are clearly looking for an affordable way to use their smartphones both in Switzerland and abroad. That does not sit well with some service providers. Swisscom is particularly exaggerative in this regard. It is also surprising that Migros tolerates high markups on its co-branded M-Budget mobile brand.

Unfortunately, competition has not had a significant impact on roaming charges. Ralf Beyeler strongly suggests that “Swisscom and its counterparts apply fair pricing to their sub-brands as well.”

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Expert Ralf Beyeler
Ralf Beyeler is the telecom expert at moneyland.ch and also covers other areas of personal finance.