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Case Study: Digital Roaming and Cell Costs

I was in Niagara Falls (Canada) this past weekend, and I think I may have done myself financial damage without actually knowing it. I forgot about Digital Roaming fees.

For those of you who do not know, Digital Roaming is what your phone will do, if it does not find a strong radio signal from your Cell Phone company (in my case Bell Mobility), it will try to contact other carriers in the area, which may or may not have agreements with your Cell Phone Provider, and if they don’t typically calls made while roaming can be expensive.

I had not noticed until Sunday that my phone was telling me it was Roaming (not that there were any Buffalos around, but we weren’t far from Buffalo, but I digress). Why? Niagara Falls Canada and Niagara Falls, New York State are side by each and in fact I was less than a mile from the U.S. border, which meant I was most likely less than 2 miles from American Cellular Radio towers. What was happening was, most likely, the area I was in was part of the directional beam of one of the U.S. towers, and thus it’s signal was more robust than the Bell Mobility tower signal.

What does this mean? More likely than not, my cell phone bill next month is going to be a whopper in terms of charges. Any incoming calls I took, should be at the normal Bell Mobility rate, as they had to come in using the Bell network. However, any outgoing calls I made might well have gone through whomever’s network I was connected to at the time, and that might rack up a large number of charges.

How can you not have this happen?

  1. Know where you are going especially if it is near the U.S. border, this is where this is going to happen, since all the Canadian Cell providers have interoperability deals already.
  2. If you are going to be in an area, where you suspect you might roam, see if you can turn Roaming off on your phone itself. If you don’t know how, go to your cell phone providers store and ask.
  3. Look at your phone BEFORE you make calls, to make sure you aren’t roaming at the time either.

I’ll keep you posted about how badly I get dinged with next month’s bill.


Since this post, the CRTC has introduced caps for these fees, after horror stories from many folks of $1000 monthly phone bills.

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