Before I get into it, I get that Telco infrastructure is expensive. All those towers and cables and spectrum licenses and staying ahead of the technology curve doesn't come cheap. However a lot of that is their own fault. Refusing to share infrastructure and trying to push proprietary technology to create customer lock-in and creating more and more complex plans to lock consumers in just makes the problems worse.
T-Mobile's "Uncarrier" initiative and some of the newer post-paid plans in the EU are starting to make life less painful for customers... as long as they stay in their own country. "Uncarrier" has even made a smart move to allow texting and (very limited speed) data available for roamers which is good... in theory. In practice it just highlights what's possible and how the carriers continue to screw their audience.
When you are T-Mobile or Vodaphone and you have branded franchises in many countries where is the harm in letting my same plan roam with me. You can trade off the extra costs of an American roaming in the UK against a German visiting Texas. "unlimited" data at 128kbps doesn't make me want to upgrade to a new data package... it makes me want to buy a local SIM where for 12-15 pounds I can get 1000 minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB of data.
Problem is ... because I only use those SIMs for 2-3 weeks at a time and then throw them away it ties up phone numbers - which are a finite resource. Why do I throw them away? Simply because if I'm only in (say) the UK for 2 weeks every 180 days by the time I get back on my second trip the SIM has expired and I can't reactive it and top it up. And with the first month deals they use to get you on-board it's actually a really great plan to burn the SIM each time just for the bonus.
Sure... it means I'm forever getting a new number but guess what... I don't care. If I use something like Whatsapp for messaging people don't text me anyway. If I really cared about a phone number I'd use Skype and buy a number in whatever country I was in (for $30 a year it's really no big deal. Shame Skype isn't a better all-round client) - and it would always find me. Though to be honest my friends don't seem that bothered about my number changing each trip.
There are carriers like Maxroam, and they do an okay job, but their pricing plans are a nightmare to navigate if you're hopping around all over the place.
It's a global economy, but a price conscious one. The first carrier to realize that folks travel and want to stay in touch and actually come up with a good solution would have my business in a heartbeat...