The end of roaming charges within Europe

Published 2017-08-10 16:56:57

Mobile phone - Fotolia.

You've been on holiday in Europe this summer and for the first time your were able to enjoy mobile phone roaming rates at the same price as within your own country (assuming you live in Europe). For that, you have to thank the European Union commission which has been battling for more than a decade against EU mobile firms in order to force them to reduce their astronomical extra charges on roaming.

From 15 June 2017 call time, text and data allowances bought as part of a deal or monthly contract at home are usable anywhere in the EU at no extra charge. Similarly, pay-as-you-go customers pay the same rate regardless of what EU country they are in. So for EU members, reading at home will be the same price as accessing it while on holiday in another EU country.

Under the leadership of the European Commission, the roaming prices have melted by ...100% since 2007! Back then, receiving a call while roaming in Europe was a an extra €0.30/minute and €0.80/minute to call home.

Since Summer 2017, calls and text-messages cost no more that at home, usually included within your mobile phone package. The last little hitch is that if you call from home to another EU country, it might still be priced separately and much more expensive. Other than that, all roaming costs have been abolished across the EU and a host of other destinations and you can use your phone at no extra cost when you are abroad in Europe.

Of course the Telecom operators lobbies (including Orange, Deutsche Telekom and British Telecom) went to Brussels complaining that the coercive measures that the European Commission were adopting were leading to their ruin! The Commission remained committed but  decided to limit the ban to roaming charges when abroad initially.

Therefore, with the exception of calls from home to other countries, EU customers can now enjoy a sort of United States of digital Europe with same-cost mobile calls and data downloads irrespective of which EU country they are in. Other non EU countries such as Switzerland, Norway, Andorra, Monaco  and even the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have not been included yet by all the mobile phone operators, so you better check before travelling. As it depends on the operator and the deals, sometime even Iceland, Turkey and Morocco, have been included amongst popular holiday destinations. The UK operator Three, for example, now offers free roaming to 60 destinations including most of Europe, and even Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the US.

All 28 EU member states are subject to the ban on roaming charges. This currently includes the UK, though its position may be negotiated once it leaves the EU. Things might change after the Brexit, but politically it might be difficult for UK operators to re-introduce charges. It will be a matter for the government and regulator Ofcom to discuss what would happen post-Brexit.

Customers who exceed the limits of their contract or allowance while roaming will also not be charged any more than the wholesale caps (the prices operators charge each other when their customers use other networks when roaming in the EU):

  • 3.2 cents per minute of voice call, as of 15 June 2017
  • 1 cent per SMS, as of 15 June 2017
  • A step by step reduction over 5 years for data caps decreasing from €7.7 per GB (as of 15 June 2017) to €6 per GB (as of 1 January 2018), €4.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2019), €3.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2020), €3 per GB (as of 1 January 2021) and €2.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2022).

Reviews of the caps will be made by the end of 2019.

Last but not least, in order to prevent consumers all moving en masse to the cheapest EU provider, it says that customers have to be “normally resident” or have “stable links entailing a frequent and substantial presence” in the member state of that roaming provider. Therefore, if you spend several months using roaming in another country you may find your service is suspended.

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