Mobile operators accused of international roaming rip-off

UK consumers pay twice as much as other Europeans for using their pre-pay mobiles overseas, and Oftel sees no justification for it

Oftel has accused the UK's mobile phone operators of taking advantage of their pre-pay customers and overcharging them when they use their phone abroad. It is calling on UK consumers to take action by taking their business elsewhere.

The regulator published details of its investigation into international roaming charges today (Wednesday). It has found that British phone users are paying twice as much as other European consumers when they use a foreign mobile network when travelling abroad.

"UK prices for pre-pay international roaming are much higher than for customers in France, Germany, Sweden and Italy," said the watchdog. According to Oftel, customers are also exploited when they receive a call when travelling in Europe -- paying up to £1.50 per minute for the privilege.

Oftel believes that the network operators are able to get away with such prices because many phone users simply don't realise how much they are being charged, and fail to consider the issue when they purchase their phone.

"There appears to be no clear reason why UK pre-pay consumers pay twice as much as their European counterparts to use their mobile phone abroad. The extremely high prices for pre-pay international roaming suggest that the UK operators are able to exploit a lack of consumer awareness," said Chris Kenny, Director of Regulatory Policy at Oftel.

"Better consumer information is vital if prices for pre-pay international roaming in the UK are to come down," Kenny added.

Oftel has published details of measures to boost customer awareness, and advice to phone users on how they can save money when using their mobile abroad.

These measures include changing your SIM card when abroad and using an alternative network provider -- either a foreign operator or a dedicated international mobile phone company.

Kenny believes that the UK's mobile operators will be forced to charge less for international roaming if consumers are prepared to move their business to another company.

"Well-informed consumers that shop around will put pressure on the mobile operators and will lead to lower prices in the future."

Oftel also recommends text messaging rather than phoning, and considering changing to a different tariff where overseas calls are cheaper.

See the Mobile Technology News Section for full coverage.

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