Data Roaming: How to set up and what you should know

You might have heard about it but don't really know what data roaming is. Even though it has been around for a while, it's surprising to know that most people aren't familiar with this term.

Well, it's not mandatory that you know something like this. However, keeping abreast of most of the terms and concepts of this internet age is a good practice.

Data roaming

On the other hand, if you travel a lot, especially outside your country of residence, then it's important you know about it. Similarly, you might help a friend out with what you know.

The internet plays a crucial role in our daily activities. And the availability of data - irrespective of where you are - is an important requirement. Because with data, you can access your email boxes, stream videos, view feeds on social media, and do many other things.

In this post, I have described:

  • What data roaming is,
  • Who should use it,
  • How to set it up, and
  • Managing your data

What is Data Roaming?

Data Roaming or Roaming Data is a term used to describe a situation in which one uses data from a network different from his/her registered network while away from the coverage area.

Don't get confused! 

It's a very simple term to understand, and I'll explain with a case study.
Let's assume your internet service provider (Network provider) is Airtel. Now, you desire to move out (maybe to have fun) to another location. On getting to this location, you discover that Airtel (your network) aren’t operational.

You will be left with no option with which to access the internet, send/receive messages. One temporary fix will be to purchase a new SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) of a network that is operational in that location.

But what if your phone is a network-customized phone you haven't unlocked? Say, for instance, an Airtel mobile phone. What will you do? You might feel it's over here and the unavailable network has ruined the day.

Well, you don't need to sweat too much. There's a solution by using the data roaming service available.

So, you simply turn on this service on your phone to use both data and network services.
But how is that possible?

You will be able to use other networks in the area because your Network Service provider (NSP), Airtel, in this case, has agreements with other NSPs in the location to allow you to use their services. Basically, an NSP in that location provides you with network services based on the deal it has with your NSPs, Airtel.

Summarily, it involves you using the services of another network on your phone without purchasing their SIM.

International and Local Data Roaming

Roaming services take two different forms of local and international. However, international roaming remains the most recognised.

Local roaming services allow you to enjoy network services of another service provider within the same geographical location. Say, for example, you're in the city and because of an activity, you move to a remote location within the same country temporarily.

In this remote location, your NSP is not yet available. But there is another NSP there. So, you can easily use the services of this service provider without getting a new SIM.
It is local because it is within the country's geographical boundary.

International data roaming involves using the networks services of another Network Service Provider (NSP) in a different country. So, if you were on a one-week holiday to Germany, you can use the service of another provider in Germany that has an affiliation with your local provider.

Though you can purchase a new SIM and avoid using roaming service, it, however, eradicates the need to purchase and register multiple SIMs each time you visit a different country. Given that you might not return to such country for a long time, it becomes unnecessary to keep purchasing SIMs every now and then.

Therefore, using data roaming services become better option to consider.

Is Data Roaming Free?

Well, this a question that most people keep asking. But the truth is that data roam is not free. Maybe your service provider might offer you bonuses or a promo to provide free services at some points. However, it's a paid service if you must use it.

In fact, it's cost-intensive than the usual local service provided directly by your Network Service Provider.

Should you use Data Roaming?

Using this is a matter of choice and your plans. Some factors such as your regularity to a particular location can influence the choices you make.

For instance, if you visit a particular place frequently, you might need to purchase and register a SIM rather than roaming data always. That will reduce the cost.

However, if you rarely visit a particular location or it's just a one-time visit, then it's okay to use a data roaming service. With that, you will not need to register with another NSP.

Overall, you should consider factors such as:
  • How long you intend to stay in the location
  • The frequency of your visit
  • Cost of using the available roaming services, and
  • Availability/unavailability of alternatives.

How to use Data Roaming

Now, if you have decided that it's best to use one of these roaming services in your new location (international or local), then you need to activate the feature.

To activate this service on your phone, follow the steps I have provided below. Note, however, that interfaces may differ, but the approach is the same.

Step 1: 
On your phone, access the Settings and tap More under the Wireless and networks section.

Tap more and then Mobile networks

Step 2: 
Tap on Mobile networks and turn on the Data Roaming option.

Turn on Data roaming and search for networks

Step 3: 
Next, tap Network operators and wait for your phone to search for the available Network Service Providers. Tap on the options available to activate this service and enjoy data and network services from a different provider.

For classic phones, you might need to follow this path:


Then wait for networks and select. Equally, note that the path might be slightly different depending on the type and model of phone. Also, phones with dual or more SIMs will require that you select one first before searching for a network, either manually or automatically.

How to reduce Data Roaming Cost

One major concern with this service is the cost of data you use. Unlike the cost of using services from your default provider, the cost of data roaming is usually high. As a result, you need to keep an eye on your data to manage cost. Nevertheless, there are a few tips to help you reduce cost.

First, you need to cut a few unnecessary services and processes you rarely use. Though you can use an app such as Datally from Google to manage your data, there are manual steps you can take. You might equally need to apply as many data management tips as possible to keep cost low.

So, here are a few things you can do:

  • Stream videos at the lowest possible resolution. If you're a YouTube or Vimeo fan, it will be nice to reduce the resolution of the videos to 280 pixels. Except you actually need a higher resolution. However, the higher the resolution, the more data you use. If possible, avoid streaming videos.
  • Avoid downloading files. This includes apps, pictures, videos, audios, documents, among others.
  • When surfing the internet and social media platforms, turn off auto video play feature. This will ensure that videos don't start playing immediately you load a page. Doing so, allows you to manage data and set the display parameters.
  • Only extremely important attachments should be downloaded
  • Use Wi-Fi networks where available and permissible
  • Turn off Apps' update
  • Track the amount of data you use
  • Avoid sharing mobile data with PC

Data Roaming Plans

Different Network providers such as Verizon, T-Mobile, Airtel, MTN, Glo, AT&T, among others have several plans to suit their customers. Therefore, contacting your provider is the best way to get the available roaming plans. That is because these plans are not completely fixed.

There are times when your NSP might change these. Sometimes, they can offer a promo, a free service and something interesting.

Hence, keep taps with them to catch the latest deals. You can equally visit their website to get more information and the available offer.


Data roaming is a solution to geographical barriers in accessing data services from your provider. Hence, it's a vital way of managing resources depending on the factors I discussed earlier.

However, it is cost intensive if you do not understand how it works. Similarly, if you fail to manage your data, the cost can increase speedily.

Overall, the choice of using roaming data services is yours to make.

Choose wisely!

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