Asian groups slug it out on data roaming

Pan-Asian roaming groups are engaged in a battle over data plans - and consumers are the winners.

Regional roaming group Conexus Mobile Alliance will introduce a flat-rate data roaming tariff from early next year, it announced Tuesday.

The move is a direct response to a similar plan unveiled last week by SingTel-led rival Bridge Alliance.

The Conexus plan will allow customers to transmit email, surf on the internet or download a video at a fixed daily fee while they are roaming on partner networks in 11 markets.

The alliance, which was formed in 2006, includes seven operators - Hong Kong's Hutchison Telecom, Singapore's StarHub, Japan's NTT DoCoMo, South Korea's KT Freetel, Taiwan's Far EasTone, Indonesia's Indosat and the Philippines' Smart.

Two additional operators, India's BSNL and MTNL, joined the alliance on Tuesday, giving the alliance a full coverage of India. Together, with NTT DoCoMo's stake in carriers in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, the alliance now covers 11 territories and has a total subscriber base of over 160 million.

Conexus chairman Chan Kin Hung said member operators would introduce flat-price roaming in the first quarter of 2008.

He said the new tariff plan could deliver savings of 50-80% over existing charges. Each operator will interpret the scheme differently, he says. Some will put a cap on the amount of data that can be sent and received, while others may offer an all-you-can-use option.

Cha said one of the drivers for the flat-rate package is the launch of HSDPA by all member operators, which is driving adoption of mobile data services.

Bridge Alliance, which includes SingTel, Airtel, and Telkomsel, is offering two capped plans priced at $30 and $60 across 11 regional markets.