Checking her phone bill, a woman surnamed Li was caught off guard after finding she had to pay more than 640 yuan (US$103) for the month after she traveled to Germany and Switzerland using roaming services provided by her telecom firm, according to the Chinese-language Economic Information Daily. The bill was more than three times what she normally paid, the report said.
She was unhappy with the bill since she was asked to pay more than 10 yuan (US$1.61) for a single phone conversation lasting only seconds and the signal was very poor, the report added.
Li is not only Chinese user to have complained about high roaming charges. According to the Economic Information Daily, Chinese telecom operators now post more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.61 billion) in roaming services revenue per year. As early as 2012, roaming services revenue had hit 71.85 billion yuan (US$11.58 billion), accounting for 8%-10% of the total mobile services revenue in China.
While the cost of providing roaming services in China has fallen to near zero, operators still charge their customers. Roaming services charged to Chinese customers when they travel overseas have hit 30-40 yuan (US$5-US$6.40) per minute.
Based on the phone charging principles released by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in 1994, mobile telecom service providers are allowed to charge customers 0.60 yuan (US$0.09) per minute for roaming services.
In 2008, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) issued another set of billing principles, repeating that telecom operators can charge their customers no more than 0.60 yuan (US$0.09) per minute in the domestic market.
However, the Economic Information Daily said that the billing principles were made based on the operations of 2G services. Now, services in China have migrated to the 3G network and even to the 4G network, roaming service costs in the domestic market have fallen a lot and even dropped to near zero.
The report cited a customer services representative for China Unicom, one of the major telecom operators in China, as saying that the company still charges its 4G users 0.60 yuan (US$0.09) per a minute by providing roaming services in China.
As for roaming services to customers travelling overseas, Chinese telecom services providers demand more. The Economic Information Daily said for example that China Unicom charges its customers who call from the Maldives to China 13 yuan (US$2.10) per minute, and 20 yuan (US$3.20) from India to China.
China Mobile, the largest telecom operator in China, even charges 40 yuan (US$6.43) per minute for phone calls from Russia back to China.
Scholars in the telecommunications arena said that judging from their service costs, the high charges for roaming services are not reasonable. Zhang Yi, chief executive officer of market advisory firm iiMedia Research, said that telecom operators should remove charges for roaming services in the domestic market and lower charges for international roaming services.