Fresh from its victory over the issue of voice-roaming costs, the European Commission has again warned mobile operators that they could be forced to cut data-roaming charges.
UK operators have this week been announcing the new rates they will be charging customers for using mobile phones in other European countries, after Viviane Reding, the commissioner for information society and media, won her crusade for lower-cost calling across the continent. However, the new regulations apply only to voice calls, not text messaging or data usage.
Using data on a mobile phone while travelling can be a costly affair, with prices usually reaching many pounds per megabyte. Some operators' data-roaming charges have fallen somewhat recently, but only for business customers travelling in a few selected countries (T-Mobile) or in some kind of bundle (Vodafone). These price drops followed Reding's warning, expressed at the start of this year, that the European Commission would roll data and SMS into its roaming regulation if operators did not cut prices voluntarily.
On Thursday a spokesperson for Reding's office told ZDNet.co.uk that the commissioner had not forgotten her threat. "In the next few months, the European Commission will be assessing the impact of the roaming regulation and, depending on developments in the market, will decide whether the regulation should be extended in time and scope to cover SMS and MMS messaging and the transfer of data," said the spokesperson, who warned again that "mobile operators are, however, encouraged to reduce tariffs for these services voluntarily as from now".
"It's basically a shot across their bows," Ovum analyst John Delaney told ZDNet.co.uk on Thursday. However, Delaney questioned the Commission's "appetite" for further confrontations with the mobile industry, and added that "it also depends on whether operators start moving on it by themselves, particularly on SMS".
The only operator not to charge any extra for data- or voice-roaming is 3, although it only allows this when its users are on one of its overseas networks — if they roam onto another operator's network, they will be charged accordingly. Observers have also noted that 3 does not have extensive network coverage of its own across Europe.
At the time of writing, one megabyte of data usage in France — assuming the user does not subscribe to a premium bundle — will cost a UK-based subscriber £6 with O2, £7.50 with T-Mobile, £8 with Orange and £10 with Vodafone. Data usage is not available to 3 subscribers in France, according to the operator's website.