Could roaming charges soon be history?

For 30 years or so we have paid extortionate prices for the convenience of making calls with our own mobile phone whilst abroad, outside of our home network. These charges continue to exceed standard per minute pricing back home and so have often been considered unfair by subscribers who inevitably try to minimise their exposure to a ‘bill shock’ and just switch off roaming altogether; preferring instead to use WiFi for data or swap their home SIM card for a local network’s cheaper PAYG SIM card or an increasing number of specialist ‘roaming’ SIM cards.

The largest roaming charge revenues historically have come out of Europe. Roaming charges here have been slowly coming down in price due to EU regulatory pressures but revenues continue to rise. And the rest of the world is catching up proportionately with data roaming revenues that are increasing year on year, but Europe remains the mobile roaming cash cow; at least for now.
On 15th December 2015 new legislation will come into force. EU operators will no longer be able to charge travellers to the European Union’s 28 member states extra for calls, texts and internet use. This is great news! Or is it?

For the European tourist who wants to send a “with landmark” selfie without a concern for how much it will cost them or whether they’re connected to WiFi or not, this is good. The regular European business traveller will be happy keeping in touch with the boss, friends and family back home for no extra charge. But the global traveller may have good reason to be a bit miffed, especially if they don’t visit Europe much.

The impact of the EU’s enforced regulation means that the European roaming revenues will need to be generated elsewhere. The simplest way to do this will be to increase the existing home tariffs. Some EU mobile operators have already increased standard prices by more than 1% in 2015. The impact of this will be that whether you travel around Europe or not, effectively you will still have to pay for ‘free’ European roaming, whether you use it or not. It will not be an optional ‘add-on’ you select when you prepare to board your flight or drive over the border. And when you visit non-EU countries you will still need to pay additional roaming charges on top.

So despite a price hike at home, you will still have to pay for roaming charges outside of the EU unless you have signed up to a growing number of pay monthly tariffs that include international roaming either in full or to a limited number of countries. Of course these are more expensive than standard tariffs but the overall cost is likely to be less overall and less of a shock than paying for traditional roaming charges, especially if you travel frequently.

So the EU roaming legislation is a big step towards ending roaming charges. In addition, some mobile operators have gone a step further and have introduced tariffs that include free international roaming with caveats such as limited applicable countries, limited data speeds and/or capped monthly usage if you have an all you can eat tariff at home. The roaming cash cow is still being milked for now, but it may not be too long until we see roaming charges relegated to the PAYG tariff.