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EU Ends Roaming Charges, Starting from 2017

EU_flag_lLast week, European Union (EU) officials agreed to ban mobile operators from charging roaming fees for most cross-border traffic within the 28 EU nations. The new rules — which will come into effect in June 2017 — mean mobile subscribers travelling to these regions will pay the same for voice, texts and data as they do in their home country.

The agreement is intended to protect periodic travellers from unexpected roaming bills upon returning home. Holidaymakers from the UK, for example, are currently often charged several multiples of the fees they’d normally incur. The new rules will benefit those streaming videos and map data, something which wasn’t much of an issue a decade ago.

It also aims to dismantle artificial boundaries between the EU’s operator networks. This will benefit subscribers living along national borders who might work or shop between countries, with such changes making the EU more American in approach when it comes to mobile telephony.

The regulations might appear to starve mobile operators of lucrative service revenue, but the companies will be allowed to make up the difference in other places, and “fair use” policies will prevent subscribers from abusing the new rules.

Some operators have seen roaming as an opportunity to sell disposable SIM cards, or to offer cross-border deals (such as Vodafone’s Passport plan, which provides subscribers with lower roaming tariffs). Other have gone further — Three’s Feel at Home offer, for example, allows Three UK subscribers to roam to 18 countries (several outside the EU) at no extra cost.

The new agreement stops at the EU’s borders, and will not benefit those travelling to other global regions. The concept could catch on, possibly spreading to Eastern Europe, but there’s limited political pressure to implement similar roaming rules on an intercontinental basis.

Europe’s early adoption of mobile standards for the likes of air interface specs and frequency has allowed European carriers and equipment suppliers to take global mobile leadership positions — an advantage that’s faded over the past decade. There are hopes that the new roaming rules could stimulate a more dynamic digital and connected Europe.

Mobile roaming fees were virtually eliminated within the US through consolidation. American networks operate coast-to-coast — something that seems obvious, but wasn’t the case at the turn of the century. There are now only four major mobile operators covering the whole of the United States. It’s unlikely such a level of stateless consolidation will occur in Europe, but the EU’s ruling could nudge the industry in that direction.

For more information about about European operator regulation, please see our Hotline report, Regulatory Scrutiny Stays High as Operators Plot More Acquisitions (login required).

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