Mobile roaming charges can be a huge problem for people who want to go on holiday, but for one reason or another still require internet access on their mobile device and aren’t able to get to a wifi hotpot. It is estimated that in total, mobile roaming charges cost British travellers £112m last year alone. Mobile operators charge a premium for using data services when you’re outside of the UK, this is mainly because you’re using a network that doesn’t belong to them and in most cases the charges are put in place as part of agreements between your home operator and the one that your phones connects to when you’re in another country. The initial ruling had been made at the beginning of April, with a 3 month leeway in place in order to give the telecoms operators time to prepare. From 1st July 2014, today in other words, the EU has forced European mobile operators to cut the costs that they charge for people with contracts wanting to make calls, send texts and use the internet when holidaying or travelling for business around Europe; there are plans to completely ban roaming charges by 15th December 2015.
Whilst mobile devices were for many years simply used for phone calls and SMS messages, they now form a central part of most people’s day-to-day lives, with business people relying on them to close deals and consumers utilising them to communicate with friends through services such as Facebook and WhatsApp. It’s safe to say that most people now feel lost without internet access on their mobile device, let alone without a device at all. Although many people go on holiday to relax, this doesn’t mean that they want to go all this time without being able to access social media services, and for some business people email access can be critical. It is for this reason that telecoms operators have been able to make so much from roaming charges; there have been many cases of people coming back from holiday none the wiser to roaming charges, resulting in large and unexpected mobile phone bills.
The European Union has been fighting for 10 years to reduce roaming charges, they have been looking to create a telecommunications network that is pan-European, rather than having networks individual to each country. One of the first measures taken was to introduce tough competition rules in order to prevent the merger of mobile operators across the region, in light of this we have seen increased competition and the result of this has been price wars which have of course led to reduction in roaming charges. It is expected that most consumers holidaying in a European country this summer stand to benefit from the changes, with most charges being cut by more than 50%; as an example, the cost of a single megabyte of data has fallen from 36p to 16p, before VAT that this – text messages have also been cut from 6p to 5p.
The plans to ban roaming charges completely by the end of next year are facing stiffer opposition on the other hand, both from telecoms and political groups. Mobile operations are arguing that banning these charges altogether will prevent them from investing in the network upgrades required to keep up with the latest technologies, and that local charges could go up as a result. With many telecoms operators already offering plans that give customers access to the internet across Europe without any extra charges, the chances of the price of the average local phone contract going up are small.
Overall a drop in roaming charges will receive a positive reception and now for the first time, EU citizens are able to holiday and use their mobile devices within the Union without having to worry about coming home to large and unexpected phone bills.