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What is Data Roaming?

If you’re a frequent traveller, then you know that having access to your personal and work-related information when you’re miles away from your desk is essential.

Smartphones help make this all possible with data roaming. This article explains what data roaming is, how it works and potential pitfalls you’ll want to avoid when using it.

What is data roaming?

Data roaming is the ability to use your wireless service provider’s internet and other network features when you’re outside your wireless carrier’s coverage area. In some cases, your wireless provider may charge you extra for this feature.

This can be especially helpful if you’re staying in a hotel or some other place that has a weak or nonexistent internet connection. Data roaming is also useful if you’re traveling outside your carrier’s coverage area but want to use your phone to access the internet. You can do this by switching on “data roaming” in your phone’s settings.

Why use data roaming?

Data roaming can let you access the internet when you’re in a place with weak or no wireless signal (like most hotels or in an airplane). It can also let you access the internet when traveling internationally, which can be especially helpful for international business travelers.

How does data roaming work?

Data roaming is often enabled by your phone’s carrier or mobile internet provider and is managed through their network. This means your phone’s wireless carrier needs to have a “backhaul” connection to the internet so that it can send and receive data packets.

Your phone’s connection to the wireless carrier’s network is often asynchronous, meaning it’s not always “on” or “off.” Your phone is “off” while you’re roaming, but a wireless carrier will “reach out” and then “pull in” your phone’s connection, allowing it to send and receive data packets.

The specific network that’s pulled through when you’re traveling will depend on the region and which deals your regular, home, network provider has in place with international carriers.

Is data roaming safe?

Data roaming is generally safe, provided you choose your carrier carefully, follow their restrictions, and only use the internet when roaming. However, data roaming comes with a few risks. If you’re not careful, you might inadvertently incur expensive overage charges by using a lot of data while out of your home wireless carrier’s coverage area. You can protect yourself from incurring overage charges by using your phone’s mobile data settings to limit your data usage. You may also want to enable automatic data throttling on your phone so that it temporarily slows down your data when you’re not using it.

When traveling abroad you also need to consider the countries’ privacy laws. Some countries’ data protection laws are a lot weaker than the UK’s, meaning it could be collected and stored by the government, or one of its agencies when roaming. That’s why we recommend people invest in a reliable VPN whenever they are concerned about their digital privacy. You can see a selection of the most reliable we’ve tested in our best VPN guide.

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