Google will reportedly offer free international mobile roaming

Not hating your phone on the road would be a big deal.
Not hating your phone on the road would be a big deal.
Image: AP Photo/Jacques Brinon
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Google, which is developing its own wireless service, will reportedly offer its future phone customers international roaming at no additional cost to their plans, according to The Telegraph.

Citing “industry sources,” The Telegraph reports that Google is in talks to partner with Hutchison Whampoa, the owner of British wireless carrier Three, to provide Americans with free roaming wherever there is a Three network, which includes the UK, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Australia, and a number of other countries. It’s unclear if Google would strike similar deals with other companies to offer truly global coverage.

Three declined to comment on the report. Google did not respond to Quartz’s request for comment.

Google’s reported plan could potentially solve one of the biggest headaches of traveling abroad. Under most standard wireless plans, when you travel outside the range of your home network, your phone picks up a foreign network, at the extreme detriment of your wallet (unless you have airplane mode enabled).

And in many cases, wireless plans are not all that clear about what services they provide and where. Travelers, especially those who don’t often venture outside their home country, can return home to find inordinate charges on their cellular bill because their phones picked up a new network while abroad. It’s an avoidable problem, to be sure, but one that could be revamped to make the user experience more intuitive, seamless, and affordable. Most mobile carriers in the US offer packages that include international roaming, but they’re usually quite expensive.

No doubt Google’s mobile service will be—at least initially—a small project. Sundar Pinchai, head of Android at Google, said in March that Google doesn’t intend to be a “carrier at scale.” Instead, Google will be a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO, meaning it will buy wholesale access to an existing carrier’s network (like Sprint or T-Mobile) and sell it back to customers.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the upcoming wireless plan, at least at first, will only work with Google’s Nexus phone (paywall). But the company could be well-positioned to expand its wireless plans to a larger scale if it wanted to, since it’s already in the business of connecting people around the world. Project Loon is bringing wireless internet to remote areas via giant balloons, and Google Fiber is taking its internet and cable TV offerings to more and more cities in the US.