3's decision to drop all roaming charges across its networks shows sanity, foresight and common sense. It's time for the rest of the industry to follow.
Small companies have more freedom to innovate – and less insulation from changes in the market. But while 3's move is a coup that would cost bigger companies more, its competition won't be able to avoid the logic for much longer.
Roaming is robbery. It's money for nothing, which is why the operators are being so mean-spirited about losing it: they know they have no substance to their argument, so they're forced to resort to posturing. France Telecom went as far as trying to blackmail the European Commission with threats of buying its equipment from the Far East if roaming were regulated. That was the act of a bully, not a company committed to the free market and the interests of its customers.
3 has shown the best way to avoid regulation – stop misbehaving. At a stroke the company has made itself the logical choice for anyone who moves between the countries it covers, got itself off the hook with the Commission and encouraged its users to make more calls. It's also made data access something you can do on the move without having to get a second mortgage, which is fitting for the 21st century. And, since the company's not a charitable organisation, it will know it can still make money in the process.
We don't expect it will be too long before the other operators follow – and if they're smart, they'll get moving before the EC gets its teeth into them. Businesses who are big enough to cut their own deals with the networks should waste no time in hurrying the process along by demanding parity with 3 – and 3 itself should consider putting together packages for corporates. Nobody's going to get too excited by being able to make a video call to the boss, but affordable mobile data access is on everyone's shopping list.
With luck and good judgement, by this time next year the only animals charging for roaming will be bulls having a go at hapless ramblers. Until that happy day, we're glad to give 3 the crown of common sense while calling bull on the other operators. It's time to drop the charges.