European Commission to act on data roaming

Jonathan Morris
July 7, 2011

Our sister magazine, Mobile News, has reported on the plans by the European Commission (EC) to take stronger action that could see a huge cut in mobile data roaming charges.

While the cost of making and receiving calls is gradually coming down, due to the implementation of price capping that applies to the end-user cost, when it comes to mobile data charges, the reductions are being made on the wholesale rates.

As a result, even with a reduction on the prices network operators can bill each other, there is no requirement to pass these savings on, even though the belief is that competition will see this happen. It isn’t happening because it is far too tempting to just keep prices high, especially when networks are under a lot of strain when it comes to data.

The only protection for customers is the ‚¬50 price-cap that will cut mobile data when reached, but if you opt to release the bar to just grab one more email, you’ll never see the warning again. Venture to a country that isn’t in the EU and there are no warnings at all – plus even higher charges still; up to £8 per megabyte on some networks!

With data charges remaining high and the mainstream media regularly reporting on people returning from a holiday abroad to receive a gigantic bill, the EC now wants to take things a step further.

Besides introducing much harsher cuts, the EC also plans to make it possible for UK customers to sign up to a second contract for when roaming, while being able to keep the same number and the same SIM card. This would help encourage competition for the first time, which could lead to significant price reductions. After all, networks offer very generous data packages for their own customers – like Three giving truly unlimited data on its ‘One Plan’.

Phone users can already swap SIM card (if the handset is unlocked) to benefit from lower call and data charges abroad, but this means getting a different number. Alternatively, customers can carry a second device with the SIM for use abroad, but that means carrying more things with you.

What Mobile has always questioned why network operators are so greedy, to the point where the advice given to consumers is usually to ‘turn data roaming off’. Most phones give on-screen warnings to customers to warn of excessive charges when roaming, with the full consent of the industry.

What other industry tries so hard to put people off using its services? Simply reducing charges voluntarily would mean users not having to mess around with swapping SIM cards, signing up to other contracts or turning data off completely.

The problem seems to come down to something quite simply; namely that the operators know the game is soon going to be up, but want to just milk every last penny before the inevitable happens. And that means excessive data charging is almost certainly set to continue for some time yet, regardless of what the EC or anyone else tries to do.

Update: Three is asking for the wholesale rates to be slashed even further than the EC proposes, to as little as 3 cents per megabyte. Three UK CEO David Dyson stated: “High wholesale data rates are the problem, but the proposed caps will still leave these charges equivalent to ‚¬100 a gigabyte of data by 2014, a hundred-times greater than the current rate enjoyed today by UK consumers.”

More info: Mobile News

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