No more bill shocks?
Business travellers in the European Union can breathe a sigh of relief this week as the EU's rules on data roaming come into force.
From tomorrow, operators must automatically cut off European data roaming usage when it reaches a cost of €50, except where the user has already set another limit.
The rules are designed to prevent so-called "bill shock": when a mobile or 3G dongle user runs up a large bill by downloading or streaming data without realising how much it is costing.
European Commission VP for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, said in a statement: "There will be no more bill shocks for tourists or business travellers surfing the internet with smartphones or laptops while in another EU country."
The EU cites an example last year when a German traveller downloaded a TV programme while roaming in France and came home to a bill in excess of £38,000. It said another recent example involved a UK student receiving a bill of some £7,600 for data roaming during a single month while studying abroad.
Earlier this year EU roaming rules required mobile operators to offer customers the possibility of setting a monthly cut-off price limit of their choice for data roaming. But from 1 July, an automatic cap of €50 will become standard unless the customer has set their own limit.
Operators will also be required to send users a warning when they have reached 80 per cent of their data roaming bill limit. The operator will then have to cut off the mobile internet connection once the user's limit is reached, unless they have indicated they want to continue data roaming.
From tomorrow, a Vodafone UK spokeswoman said the operator will send its customers free text alerts when they reach 50, 80 and 100 per cent of their limit. Laptop users will get a pop-up alerting them to their data usage.
The maximum wholesale prices for data roaming will also change from tomorrow - dropping from €1 to 80 euro cents per MB. Next year the price will fall further to 50 euro cents per MB, the EU said. Meanwhile, the maximum price for making a roaming call will drop from 43 to 39 euro cents per minute. Receiving a call will cost a maximum of 15 cents per minute, instead of the current ceiling of 19 cents.
Receiving a voicemail while roaming will become free of charge but consumers will continue to be charged for listening to the voicemails received, the EU said. Prices for sending an SMS will remain at 11 euro cents per message.
According to the EU, the cost of making and receiving roaming calls will be around three-quarters cheaper than in 2005, when the then Information Society and Media Commissioner, Viviane Reding, began firing warning shots at the mobile industry over roaming rates.