Vodafone shows the way on how to roam the world
Global roaming fees are fast becoming the new battleground for mobile customers, and is one area where Vodafone claims to have an advantage over Optus and Telstra.
Vodafone has been lagging behind its competitors since its network collapsed in late 2010 under the weight of too many smartphones requesting data on a network that suffered from under-investment.
It went from 7.4 million customer accounts in 2010 to 6 million last June.
Now Vodafone's chief executive, Bill Morrow, says the network has been improved, customer service is changing and global roaming is the new advantage it has over other network operators.
"It is more difficult for them to do [roaming] than us. We don't have the fixed networks. What do we have that we can fight with?
"We have two shareholders that have the largest networks in the world," he said, referring to owners Vodafone Plc and Hutchison Telecommunications, which operates the Three brand.
Until now Australian mobile companies have fought on network coverage, data speeds and bundles and prices, but in recent weeks both Vodafone and Optus have announced competitive new global roaming plans. Telstra, which prides itself on network coverage and performance, has been left hanging.
Australians make about 8 million trips overseas every year, the Bureau of Statistics reported last June, and have become increasingly irate at the extortionate cost of using a mobile device overseas.
Vodafone recently announced roaming plans for $5 a day in New Zealand, Britain and the United States, but pricing details were not expected until later this week.
Last week, Optus announced it would soon offer a $10 a day "travel pack", giving travellers to New Zealand, the Pacific islands, Europe, Britain, the US, Canada and Asia unlimited calls, texts and 30 megabytes of data.
Mr Morrow, who previously ran Vodafone's Europe, UK and Japan businesses, said he asked fellow Vodafone executives to give Australian customers better prices.
"We said, 'We need you guys to get this at your cost'. There was nothing I had to convince them of.
"They recognise that this whole roaming issue is more than an Australian issue.
"By the time I came into it they said, 'Oh, Bill is having trouble down there in Australia' [and offered to help]."
He was assisted by the global chief executive, Vittorio Colao, who wants Vodafone's global subsidiaries to work closer.
"[Colao] has zero tolerance for protecting one market in favour of another," Mr Morrow said.
Mr Morrow has been in the job for 17 months and has the difficult task of rebuilding Vodafone Hutchison Australia into a trusted and desirable brand.
About 45 per cent of the workforce has gone and more than half the company's top executives have changed since the end of 2011.
Mr Morrow said Vodafone was one year into a three-year turnaround plan and expected customer numbers to stop falling in the first quarter of 2014.
At present it has about 6 million active services on its network, compared with Telstra's 15 million active services and Optus' 9.6 million.