Cut-price data roaming gets all-clear for July

Cut-price data roaming gets all-clear for July

Summary: The final hurdle to cheaper data roaming within the EU has been cleared, meaning that the cost of using data services, making phone calls or sending SMS messages is set to fall from 1 July


New data-roaming legislation has been approved by EU countries' ministers of state, lowering the cost of using data services on a smartphone or tablet in Europe for at least 10 years.

EU flags

The EU Council has given its formal approval to legislation that will lead to lower mobile data-roaming rates. Credit: Shutterstock

On Wednesday, the Council of the European Union formally approved the new regulations, which will be published on 30 June. The move, which follows the go-ahead from the European Parliament in May, means the last piece is in place for the introduction of caps on mobile data-roaming rates on 1 July. Limits are also coming in for the price for calls and SMS texts while travelling, but the fall in cost is less dramatic than for data.

"The structural measures introduced by this regulation aim to tackle the lack of competition and consumer choice which leads to high roaming prices," the Council said in a statement.

The approval follows a compromise deal struck between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council, in which they agreed to lower caps than those set out by regulators in their initial proposal in July 2011.

From July, the retail cost of data will fall from a maximum of 70 euro cents per MB now to 20 euro cents by 1 July 2014. The wholesale cost of data services will similarly decrease, from 25 euro cents to 5 euro cents by July 2014.

"In order to allow alternative operators to enter the roaming market, the regulation allows for a reasonable margin between the tariff ceilings for wholesale and retail prices," the Council noted.

Bengt Beier, co-ordinator of the Europeans for Fair Roaming campaign, welcomed the news but said there is more work to be done for harmonised communications within the EU.

"We are glad governments accepted the new regulation just as the Parliament did on May 10," Beier said. "The new rules are a step forward for consumer protection. But it will take another two years until we will know for sure whether prices will really drop."

The amended legislation also includes provisions to allow customers to decouple data services from their main mobile contract, so that they can sign up for cheaper offers but retain their normal phone number.

As is the case already, operators will still have to send warning messages to customers when their bill for internet use approaches €50 (£40).

Beier urged regulators to work on introducing measures in areas to do with calls and roaming outside the EU.

"The EU should now look towards two other nuisances for mobile users: the high prices for worldwide roaming, and international calls from home to other European states, because those things are not covered by the roaming regulation," he said.

Topic: Data Roaming Charges

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • 'Cut Price' Data Roaming? The price has been cut, but it is certainly not 'cut price' in the sense of the phrase, and nowhere near local EU data rates.

    Withn the European Union Free Market, you'd think the purchase of local data sim cards would be a simple straightforward process but operators are making the process as complicated as possble for non-nationals, with high unnecessary upfront costs such as dongles included.

    It would have been better and simpler to force local operators in each EU country to make the purchase of PAYG Data Sim Cards a simple process of 'purchase and insert sim for activation, with a common familar EU website layout specification for top-up.

    A Simpler EU Wide 'unlocked' Mifi Device similar to the Huawei E585/three Mifi Device (with info stored via internet updates) about all local operators is required to enable thiis.

    Currently the process of setting up a local operators PAYG Data sim card is possible in most cases, but far from easy, it takes a while and each is different. Availability of sim-only cards is very hit and miss and often operators force the purchase of a dongle (vodafone) as well as the data sim card to dissuade casual holiday/short travel use.

    If you do manage to get the 'sim only' , the operator's shops try and add fees for activation, and the sim itself to bump up the cost, to prevent you. (Tim in Italy).

    I've done this in Greece, Italy and outside the EU in Morocco. In all cases you need to use your Passport for ID (the law in Greece) at time of purchase. I used an unlocked three E585 Mifi Device for the local data sim card, but this often required additional information such as login/password, server name info to be entered manually in the device.

    Roamng Data rates in Morocco were 1000x more than buying and using a local sim. T-moble wanted £7.50 a MB, where as the local sim was equivalent to £7.50 a GB. 3G Coverage in Morroco was better than the UK (you could end up with a very expensive bill if you do roam on 3G)

    As said, it would be nice if this operator info in the device was self updating for all european operators.
    English translations (in the case of the UK) of websites are needed to top-up (with a common specification to the method of top-up) so things are familar across EU borders.
    In Italy, the website for Tim was very diffcult to work through, to enable activation of the offer and the sim card and setup user/password and server settings, Google helped by still not easy.

    Allowing UK users to easily purchase local data sim cards, once abroad at the same rates as users in their home countries, with the same ease of access and familarity, would do more to remove differentials than any legistlation on price.

    Local Data Rates are often around 5 Euro for 1GB, far cheaper these capped roaming rates, but fees for activation/card itself, can bump this up to nearer 20 Euro for a short break. Often the data sim cards are setup with 1GB of free data to use in the first 30 days.