EU plans 10-year extension of free roaming as charges return for the UK

The European Union is discussing a 10-year extension of free mobile roaming for people travelling around the bloc, as the initiative is due to expire next year.

Since 2017, the EU’s ‘roam like at home’ regulation ensures people travelling in the European Economic Area can make calls, send text messages and use data for the same price as at home. 

The rules were introduced due to the high and often unexpected charges imposed by mobile operators to customers travelling temporarily in other EU countries and in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Under the regulation, people can use their regular plan to call, send SMS and use data. If they reach the limit, the roaming fee is capped (€3 + VAT per gigabyte in 2021 and €2.5 + VAT in 2022). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is also limited.

Thanks to these measures, roaming prices in Europe have been cut by up to 90% compared to 2007, according to business consultancy Deloitte, and the use of data roaming increased 17 times in the summer of 2019 compared to the summer before the abolition of roaming charges, the European Commission said.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on 30 June 2022. But the European Commission found that “the conditions on the mobile telecoms market are still not conducive to sustainable ‘roam like at home’ for all businesses and customers while travelling in the EU”. Therefore, the Commission proposed to continue the scheme for another 10 years. 

The regulation also aims to ensure that people travelling in the EU are given information about the European emergency number, 112, or its alternatives, as well as non-voice options for users with disabilities. 

In addition, EU member states asked to protect consumers from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes. 

The details of the new regulation are currently being discussed and have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council. 

Pedro Nuno Santos, Minister for Infrastructure and Housing in Portugal, the country holding the rotating presidency of the EU Council in the first semester of 2021, said: “Getting rid of roaming fees in 2017 was without a doubt one of the most eagerly awaited and popular decisions the EU in the digital area – for that matter, in almost any area. It would be unthinkable for ‘roam like at home’ to come to an end”.

The return of roaming charges for the UK

Meanwhile, following the UK withdrawal from the EU, some mobile phone operators have started to reintroduce roaming charges. 

In the UK, EE will charge £2 per day when using the mobile in 47 European locations (except for Ireland). The new plan will only apply from 1 January 2022 to contracts signed or upgraded after 7 July 2021, otherwise current fees continue as normal. Alternatively, there is the option to pay £10 to roam abroad for a month. 

Another UK operator, O2, will put a 25 gigabyte cap (or less if the domestic data allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe as of 2 August 2021. The same threshold already applies to unlimited data plans. Above that limit customers will be charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

From 1 July 2021, Three UK has aligned EU roaming with the ‘Go Roam Around the World’ programme reducing the data cap from 20 to 12 gigabytes. Beyond that, customers are charged £3 per gigabyte.

The company also announced a £2 daily charge to use their phone in the EU for customers who get a new contract or upgrade an old one from 1 October 2021. Thesse charges will come into effect on May 23, 2022.

Vodafone UK was the latest British company announcing new fees. From 1 January 2022 new and upgrading customers will be charged up to £2 per day to use their monthly allowance while travelling in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for the most expensive plans and for customers travelling to Ireland.

In the EU, the first operator to bring back roaming charges for people travelling in the UK is A1 Telekom Austria. Since June, customers have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they travel to the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

Calling and sending text messages to Great Britain from Austria will also cost more: 99 cents instead of 22.8 per minute for calls, and 35 cents instead of 7.2 for an SMS.

New deal for Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein

While free roaming is not part of the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement signed in December 2020, the issue has been at least partly addressed in the post-Brexit deal signed with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein in July 2021.

“Under the deal it will be possible to cap the charges mobile operators are allowed to charge each other for international mobile roaming,” says a UK government statement.

How to avoid roaming fees

Where roaming is not free, charges can be avoided by switching off ‘mobile data’ in the phone settings and using only wi-fi hotspots. Another option is to buy a local pre-paid card. As a reference, a 5 minute video call on WhatsApp uses about 25MB of data. 

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved

The article was first published on 10 July 2021 and updated with new information about Vodafone UK and data roaming on 11 August 2021, and with additional information from Three on 13 September 2021. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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