Caps come in for EU data roaming: How much will it cost you?

New data roaming laws came into effect in the UK on Sunday, putting a limit on how much operators can charge for data use on mobiles and tablets. What do their new plans look like?
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

British mobile operators have reduced the cost of using data services within the EU, after new price caps on roaming came into force on Sunday.

New data roaming laws came into effect in the UK on Sunday.
New data roaming laws came into effect in the UK on Sunday.

Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, Three and Orange's new price plans aim to comply with EU regulations, which put a maximum rate of 70 euro cents per MB on downloading data or browsing the internet while travelling in member countries. However, each has taken a slightly different approach to pricing, with some companies bundling in minutes and texts.

For example, the O2 Travel package costs customers £1.99 for 25MB of data usage per day. Previously, they paid £3 per MB. However, anyone who decides to opt out of the bundle will be charged 69p per MB, an O2 spokesman told ZDNet UK. Once the cost has reached £40, the charges will stop, but customers can continue using the service until 100MB has been consumed. If they want more data, they can text O2 to increase their limit to £120, for a maximum data use of 300MB.

Other operators, notably Three, have chosen to introduce a flat rate plan for roaming in Europe. Full details of operators' rates are below:


Bundle offered by the operator: O2 Travel - £1.99 for 25MB, per 24 hours
Out of bundle/Opted out cost per MB 69p per MB, operates outside of roaming cap

Bundle offered by the operator: Euro Traveller - £3 per day to use normal contract, minutes, data. Opt in or out whenever you want. Pay Monthly customers only.

Data Traveller is the default for PAYG, priced at £2.25 for 25MB per day

Out of bundle/Opted out cost per MB: If not opted in, 69.6p p MB inc VAT

Bundle offered by the operator: Euro Internet Pass - £5 per day, unlimited data
Out of bundle/Opted out cost per MB: 69.6p per MB

Bundle offered by the operator: 30 day 30MB + 50 minutes +100 texts = £15 (until Aug 5 - then £20)
Out of bundle/Opted out cost per MB: 69p per MB

Bundle offered by the operator: Series of boosters starting from £1 for 3MB
Out of bundle/Opted out cost per MB: Not possible

Unlike its rivals, T-Mobile will not allow its customers to roam at all without purchasing its bundle. This should simplify the process for customers and make sure they will not get bill shock from higher-than-expected data charges while using data services on smartphones and tablets.

The new regulations, which were formally approved by the European Union and the European Parliament in May, introduced a staged series of data-roaming caps that will see maximum prices drop to 20 euro cents per MB by 1 July, 2014. The wholesale cost of data will also decrease over the same time period, from 25 euro cents to 5 euro cents per MB.

Caps on mobile calls also came in on Sunday. The maximum for making a call is now 29 euro cents, falling to 19 euro cents in two years, with receiving a call at 8 euro cents, falling to 5 euro cents. Texting is capped at 9 euro cents per message now, dropping to 6 euro cents by 2014.

"Price caps on data mean we have roaming for the smartphone generation," Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, said in a statement. "This ends the roaming rip-offs once and for all in the EU".

Traveller savings

According to the European Commission, the roaming safety net will save a typical business traveller more than €1,000 ($1,262) per year, while a family on holiday is likely to spend at least €200 less.

The new caps do not apply around the world, so customers may still find themselves stung with large bills if they use data in countries not covered by the operators' plans. However, the regulations mean people travelling outside the EU will now be alerted by text, email or pop-up window if they look likely to spend over €50 on data downloads.

Looking ahead, EU regulators have also promised that by 2014, they will decouple data-roaming deals from a user's normal mobile contract, to make it easier for consumers to pick and choose the best deal on arrival in a foreign country.

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