The Verizon International Blues

by Dave Michels

Verizon changed its Travel Pass rules. I learned this the hard way while traveling in India. The new plan limited me to 0.5 GB of data per day (about my average). To go over this limit requires paying a fee that worked out to about $50-$100 a gigabyte. Or, settle for 28 kbps speeds — about the speed of a 1998 modem.

I used Verizon’s Travel Pass in past trips and it has worked well. But on this trip to rural India I was so was surprised, disappointed, inconvenienced, and outraged to discover this subtle change. By “discover”, what I meant to say to say is one day my service stopped.

Let me paint for you this picture: I am in rural India and my phone quit talking to any tower. I had no data service, and no voice service. I am approximately 1 zillion miles from anywhere. YET, I have 5 bars of service.

As a savvy telecommunications professional with experience calling first-level customer support, I took the usual steps of power cycling the and removing/reinstalling the SIM, etc.

But there was just no working service: no data and no calls. My calls dead-ended with a message telling me (in Hindi) that I had no outgoing voice service, and that I should contact my carrier.

I made my way to a small nearby city and found a shop that offered overseas calling for 10 Rupee per minute. Fortunately, as an experienced traveler, I carry with me a list of Verizon’s 24 hour global roaming numbers. The next four surprises were:

  1. Verizon’s local toll-free numbers don’t work — at least not in India. Every number I had was disconnected.
  2. Verizon no longer staffs its 24 hour international roaming hotlines 24 hours a day. This means waiting until they open overseas…which is coincidentally/inconveniently the same time that the local telephone shop closes for the day.
  3. When I did get through, it took over an hour to get transferred to anybody that knew something about international roaming. Until that point I was transferred from one person to the next with each offering a suggestion to power cycle my phone.
  4. One Verizon representative actually transferred me to the FIOS support group. Of course, Verizon doesn’t offer FIOS in India, so the gesture wasn’t appreciated. Perhaps I will consider that at another time. The FIOS people simply instructed me to start over by redialing the original Verizon number.

I ended up spending about 5 hours getting my Verizon service to work again in India. However, to their credit, they were sympathetic, and thanked me for my persistence. The representative even made a policy exception in order to credit me the daily $10 charge. However, that charge was for data services they didn’t provide so it’s debatable if we are even.

The problem ended up being that Verizon was incorrectly provisioning its customers roaming on the India Airtel network. Verizon has several roaming partners and if you roamed to Vodafone things were (supposedly) dandy. But users that roamed over to AirTel get stranded. Verizon controls who you roam to, and at first they assigned me to Vodafone but then switched me to AirTel.

The representative thanked me as evidently this was a network issue impacting all Verizon users that roamed to AirTel. How many users could that be? It’s only one of the most populated regions in the world. That’s a lot of $10 fees collected and unlikely refunded.

I’m glad it was resolved. In addition to all of the hassles above, I paid 5 hours of my life and $20 in toll charges.

I consider myself well prepared for international roaming challenges, but this one was extreme. Don’t count on international roaming to work in all countries. And note that US carriers like Verizon (and T-Mobile) are changing their rules and pricing continually and are neither grandfathering their customers nor announcing the changes.