Sprint is taking another page from T-Mobile's playbook by offering its customers free international data roaming at 2G speeds in 15 countries.
New and existing Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) customers can add the International Value Roaming plans to their domestic plans at no charge. Sprint says they will get "up to 2G" data speeds, unlimited text messaging and 20 cent per minute calls in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Russia, South Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Sprint is advertising the plans as an improvement over AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s $30 international add-on plan and Verizon Wireless 's $40 offer, but they're really a direct response to T-Mobile US Inc. , which also made international roaming free for its customers in October. (See Bills Don't Lie: T-Mobile Drops International Roaming Charges and AT&T LTE Roams to 13 More Countries.)
T-Mobile's international roaming extends to 115 countries, but like Sprint, it is only offering 2G speeds for international roaming. Drew Kelton, T-Mobile's executive vice president of B2B, said last year that fewer than 1% of the 2 million people who have used a Simple Global Plan have opted to upgrade to a higher-speed option. Most are used to seeking out WiFi for heavy data use when they travel, so the speeds haven't been a deterrent, apparently. (See T-Mobile: 2G's Good Enough for Global Travel.)
For when they do need more, both carriers are offering similarly priced 3G network passes for 100MB of data for one day ($15), 200MB of data for seven days ($25) or 500MB of data for 14 days ($50), after which time travelers revert back to 2G speeds.
Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure made a promise to respond quickly to competitors' moves in the wireless market, and he's made good on that. In this week alone, Sprint also began offering free Samsung Galaxy S6 phones for those customers who sign up for its Unlimited Plus plan, and announced it's extending WiFi calling to the iPhone, which T-Mobile has offered since the iPhone 6 was announced in September. Sprint says the WiFi calling will also work internationally. (See Sprint Extends WiFi Calling to the iPhone, Apple's New iPhones Have 20 LTE Bands, VoLTE and Sprint CEO: Price Cuts First, Best Network Next .)
Internationally roaming is a big pain point for consumers as anyone who has come home to a $1,000-plus roaming bill can tell you. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is reportedly also considering making this free to consumers if (or when?) it launches wireless service as an MVNO. (See Report: Google Planning Overseas Roaming Shake-Up and Google Confirms Scaled-Down MVNO Plans.)
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading