O2 to cut data-roaming charges

Roaming rip-off: Mobile operator has confirmed rate reductions are on the way, but denies pressure from Europe led to change

O2 is to cut its data-roaming rates, in a move that may placate some of its business customers enraged over the traditionally high charges. The European Commission has threatened action against the operators, but O2 denied that the pressure caused the change.  

Data-roaming charges typically are several pounds per megabyte of data, and are structured in such a way that users can find themselves hundreds, and even thousands, in the red without knowing it. And, while mobile operators have started to make drastic reductions in voice-roaming charges, data costs remain high.

That is all set to change, as O2 told ZDNet UK exclusively on Wednesday that price cuts are on the way.

"Yes, there will be a reduction [in rates] for UK customers," said a spokesman for O2 UK. "We worked with Telefonica [O2's parent company] last year to bring down voice charges, and we're working through plans for data charges."

The spokesman said the reduction would come into effect later this year, although he declined to say exactly when. He also declined to say how much data-roaming charges would fall by. "We're still working through the details at the moment," said the spokesman.

Despite ongoing pressure from the European Commission over voice-roaming charges, O2 told ZDNet UK that the reason it is dropping the roaming charges is that the wholesale rates have come down.

"Our partnership [with Telefonica] gives us extra muscle to negotiate wholesale deals, and we can now share more traffic internally — we can move more traffic onto the O2 Telefonica network. We will pass that onto the customers," said the spokesman.

O2 said on Thursday it would offer a flat-rate data tariff for BlackBerry users who are resident in Germany but are roaming onto any of its European networks. The UK spokesperson said the flat rate may be extended to UK users later this year.

At the start of February, commissioner Viviane Reding is believed to have threatened to add data roaming into the Commission's roaming legislation unless operators slashed their data-roaming rates within weeks.