Free mobile roaming continues for EU travellers
December 9, 2021
By Colin Mann
The European Commission has welcomed the political agreement reached by the European Parliament and EU Member States on the new Roaming Regulation. The new regulation will prolong until 2032 the existing system whereby citizens cannot be subject to extra charges for calls or data used while travelling within the EU and it will also bring about new advantages.
Citizens will be able to call, text and use mobile data while travelling within the EU at no extra costs and with the same quality they experience at home; they will have improved access to emergency communications regardless of where they are in Europe; and, they will have the right to clear information when a service they use while roaming might cause inadvertent extra charges. The regulation will enter into force on July 1st 2022.
“We have since 2017 enjoyed the end of roaming charges,” noted Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age. “And, today we ensured that we can keep these benefits for another 10 years to stay connected and call, text and surf the internet at no extra costs, when we travel in the EU. At the same time, with this new regulation we also improve the quality of the roaming experience.”
“Spending holidays in Greece, Austria or Bulgaria. Visiting customers or suppliers in Italy or Estonia; travelling abroad without having to worry about phone bills is a tangible part of the EU Single Market experience for all Europeans,” stated Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market. “Today we are not only ensuring that this experience continues, but we are upgrading it: better quality, better services, even more transparency.”
Following the Commission’s proposal on the new Roaming Regulation in February 2021, the new rules will extend the benefits of ‘Roam like at home’ for travellers until 2032 and will introduce additional advantages and protections for consumers:
Consumers will benefit from access to roaming services, while travelling, at the same quality as they are used to when at home. Consumers that usually have 5G services at home will also be able to enjoy 5G roaming services wherever available. If specific factors could impact the quality of the roaming experience, operators will be required to promptly inform their customers.
While travelling abroad, citizens may need to call customer service numbers, helpdesks or insurance companies. While these services are generally free of charge or with limited charges when phoning from home, consumers are often faced with additional costs and bill shocks when dialling in from abroad. From now on, operators are obliged to adequately inform their customers about such extra charges when abroad, so that they can make informed choices about using such services.
Travellers may face surprising high bills when their phone connects to non-terrestrial networks, for example if they are on a plane or on a boat. The new regulation guarantees better information and an automatic interruption of such services when the bill reaches a cost of €50, or another predefined limit. Operators may offer additional services, such as the possibility to opt out from roaming on planes and boats.
The new roaming regulation sets lower wholesale charges. These are costs charged by hosting mobile operators, in exchange for access to their respective networks, ensuring that visiting mobile operators and their clients benefit from roaming services abroad.
The wholesale caps are set at levels that ensure that operators can sustain and recover the cost of providing roaming services to consumers at domestic prices.
Lower wholesale charges benefit consumers, as they should ensure that all operators are able to offer competitive roaming subscriptions in line with the ‘Roam like at home’ principle.
The Commission should also evaluate the measures on intra-EU communications (calls and SMS from the home country to another Member State) and verify whether and to what extent there is an ongoing need to reduce caps to protect consumers.
Free of charge roaming in the EU was introduced in 2017. Since then Europeans have been phoning, texting and surfing abroad in the EU more. However, there was room for improvement. In the latest Eurobarometer from February 2021, 33 per cent of respondents who travelled abroad had lower mobile internet speed than they usually get at home, and 28 per cent had a lower network standard abroad (i.e. a 3G network instead of 4G). Furthermore, a study conducted by the Joint Research Centre found that 25 per cent of customers had, at least once, experienced worse quality of service in roaming compared to at home, even when network conditions could have provided better quality.