The End of Mobile Roaming: What it Means for You

by Brandon Ackroyd - , Last Updated on December 9, 2015, Industry News

A recent European Union directive has declared the end of mobile roaming charges for customers travelling inside the EU. But is this all it’s cracked up to be? We’re taking a look at what the end of mobile roaming will mean for you, and how you might not end up avoiding charges altogether…

What is Mobile Roaming?

Starting with the basics, mobile roaming is basically a set of extra fees that you pay to use your mobile outside of the UK. In some cases (if you’re a savvy shopper) you might buy a special roaming package from an operator. If you don’t do this then you’ll be charged your normal UK rates plus a surcharge for using your phone outside of the country. Either way, you’ll be spending a lot more for using your phone than you do when you’re at home.

Obviously, this is a pretty good way to get a huge mobile bill when you get home from holiday. In fact, a recent study has shown that on average British holidaymakers spend £61 more on a monthly bill when returning from abroad, amounting to an extra £573 million for mobile operators each year. But this is about to end…

What No Mobile Roaming Means

The EU directive has two phases. Firstly, as of April 2016 mobile roaming charges will be significantly lower. Right now prices are capped at 19 Euro cents per minute for calling, 6 cents per text message, and 20 cents per megabyte of data used. However, from April 30th those prices will go down to just 5 cents per minute for calling, 2 cents per text message, and 5 cents per megabyte of data. Already that’s a pretty big difference.

But from the 15th of June, 2017, mobile operators will no longer be able to charge any extra fees for roaming at all. In essence, that means that you will pay the exact same price on holiday as you do at home. If your UK calling plan says that calls are 2p per minute, then you’ll pay 2p per minute, whether you’re in London, Paris, Rome or Prague. Not bad. But wait a second…

The Limits of the No Roaming Plan

There is a loophole here. And that’s that mobile operators will not be able to charge extra fees for “fair use” of a mobile abroad. What does that mean? Well, it means that if you call a lot, text a lot, or go online a lot (especially if that’s more than you do when you’re at home) then you might end up paying roaming charges anyway, since you’ll be using more than your operator considers “fair.”

Actually, this limit was set up to prevent abuses of the system. For example, if mobile calling prices are cheaper in Belgium than in France then what the EU doesn’t want is someone just going to Belgium, getting a mobile plan and then going back to France to use it. The no roaming plan is supposed to be for “periodic travel” only, meaning that it’s for when you go on holiday. So if you plan on moving to Germany, you’re going to need to get a German mobile plan, you won’t be able to keep your UK plan.

The problem is that these terms of “fair use” and “periodic travel” haven’t yet been defined by the EU. So we have no idea just how much you’ll be able to use your phone, nor how often you’ll be able to travel with it. What we do know is that there’s a chance that mobile roaming won’t be completely free, depending on how much you call and how often you vacation.

An Added Bonus

As an added bonus, in the same session the EU declared that certain internet services will no longer be able to discriminate by country within the EU. What does that mean for you? It means that if you like watching BBC iPlayer, for example, then you should be free to watch wherever you are in the EU. As opposed to now when you can only watch from inside the UK. Got a Netflix account? You’ll be able to watch that even when you’re on holiday, which is pretty sweet.

But…

There is another concern here though. With UK holidaymakers giving around £573 million to mobile operators in roaming fees each year, will the loss of this mean that domestic operators hike their prices up? This could well be a result of no roaming: you end up paying more at home.

According to the EU there are measures being taken against this happening, but it’s unclear how exactly these are supposed to work. And why wouldn’t mobile operators raise prices to compensate for losing money from roaming charges?

So is This Good or Bad?

Despite some lack of clarity in certain parts of the directive, this is obviously good news for most of us. The days of needing to leave your phone at home when you go on holiday are almost over, and so are those of carefully monitoring your usage to make sure you don’t get a huge bill.

Since the directive doesn’t go into effect in full for another 18 months, there’s plenty of time to clarify the little details. And chances are that we’ll get better, more complete information in the near future. In the mean time though, it looks like your mobile bills are going to be going down if you’re a frequent traveller, which has to be good news, right?