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UK Mobile Operators Confirm No Change to Free EU Roaming

Tuesday, December 29th, 2020 (9:19 am) - Score 29,616
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As expected all four of the UK’s primary mobile network operators, including Three UK, Vodafone, O2 and EE (BT), have now confirmed that they have “no plans” (yet) to remove free roaming when the UK fully leaves the European Union on Thursday 31st December 2020 this week.

At present citizens of the European Union benefit from free mobile roaming via the “Roam Like At Home” regulation. As such anybody choosing to use their Mobile (SIM) to make calls, text or use data (mobile broadband) while roaming around the EU should be able to do so for the same price as they pay their UK operator (i.e. no extra roaming charges); although there are some caveats for data (mobile broadband) usage above a certain level.

One long-running concern about the Brexit process was that it would bring this protection to an end, although the Government did introduce some protection against the risk of BILL SHOCKs by adding legislated cap of £45 on roaming charges and related warnings (first proposed in 2018). Despite this most of the major mobile operators had already indicated that they would seek to retain roaming “at no extra cost” from 1st January 2021 (here).

The new EU-UK Trade Agreement doesn’t guarantee such a position for the future, but it does contain “measures to encourage cooperation on the promotion of fair and transparent rates for international mobile roaming. It also covers obligations on net neutrality, which fulfils the UK’s dual aims of securing commitments towards an open internet and protecting the safety of users online,” said the Government’s summary. The actual text is as follows.

Trade Deal Agreement on Mobile Roaming *

Article SERVIN.5.36: International mobile roaming

1. The Parties shall endeavour to cooperate on promoting transparent and reasonable rates for international mobile roaming services in ways that can help promote the growth of trade among the Parties and enhance consumer welfare.

2. Parties may choose to take steps to enhance transparency and competition with respect to international mobile roaming rates and technological alternatives to roaming services, such as:

(a) ensuring that information regarding retail rates is easily accessible to end users; and

(b) minimising impediments to the use of technological alternatives to roaming, whereby end users visiting the territory of a Party from the territories of other Parties can access telecommunications services using the device of their choice.

3. Each Party shall encourage suppliers of public telecommunications services in its territory to make publicly available information on retail rates for international mobile roaming services for voice, data and text messages offered to their end users when visiting the territory of the other Party.

4. Nothing in this Article shall require a Party to regulate rates or conditions for international mobile roaming services.

* This Article does not apply to intra-European Union roaming services, which are commercial mobile services provided pursuant to a commercial agreement between suppliers of public telecommunications services that enable an end user to use its home mobile handset or other device for voice, data or messaging services in a Member State other than that in which the end user’s home public telecommunications network is located.

The reality is that a number of UK operators, such as Vodafone, are large pan-European players and that makes the continuation of such roaming agreements much easier to maintain. Failing that, there’s also plenty of scope for bilateral deals between different operators and, by the looks of it (BBC), all of the UK’s major mobile operators have now found a solution to prevent higher roaming charges for consumers, which is welcome news.

At this point it’s unclear whether there may be future divergence in other areas than cost, such as on service quality or data speeds, but for the time being everybody can continue to enjoy free roaming when travelling within the EU. Not that you’d want to do much travelling abroad right now.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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31 Responses
  1. Avatar Darren Reid says:

    The UK operators will not want to withdraw it. However I’m sure there’s going to be plenty EU based operators who want to go back to charging UK operators very high roaming fees. At which point it will be very hard for UK operators to absorb that cost. Time will tell.

    1. Avatar Dan says:

      Hopefully all is kept, it benefits all parties involved so I can’t see why not. EU networks get access to UK ones and UK networks have access to EU ones.

    2. Avatar Ivor says:

      at least two of our four network operators have networks in the EU, Vodafone in particular has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies.

      Will they charge themselves a lot of money? Doubtful.

      If the network operators can somehow arrange roaming deals with countries like the US, Canada and Australia (where I don’t think there’s any common ownership?), why wouldn’t they be able to do the same in Europe?

    3. Avatar Economic Migrant says:

      Some Polish operators already announced price hike for those who are planning to use their mobiles in the UK and then immediately applied a discount (time limited) treating UK as EU.

    4. Avatar Vince says:

      Oh the networks will want to remove the inclusive roaming. That you think otherwise is misguided. They might well wait a while before they change things, but change it they will – increasingly under pressure on revenues to fund network growth, and with fewer and fewer ways to make revenue beyond the rental as more things are standard and other services like SMS/MMS get used less and less, they will look to find ways to claw back money making.

      They’re also not stupid and won’t do it immediately and get bad PR.

  2. Avatar Burble says:

    Vodafone have already changed their roaming terms for 1/1/20 onwards.
    They will only allow 62 days in any 4 month period.

    1. Avatar Vince says:

      Vodafone always said you couldn’t persistently use it abroad, they’ve merely clarified more strongly what they think is “too much”

    2. Avatar Burble says:

      Previously Vodafone had a 25gb limit, now after the 62 days there will be very high charges.

    3. Avatar Vince says:

      The 25GB limit is on the unlimited plans, if you have a plan with an allowance you can use that allowance in full.

      But also, they had the right before to suspend/limit for long periods, they’ve merely clarified what they consider to be the limit more openly – but also, it says they’ll notify you before and give you 14 days warning, so you’re complaining a lot but it isn’t quite as unreasonable as you’re portraying – I mean it is fair enough that it’s for holidays, not living forever somewhere else.

      What would be better is if they offered an option to pay for extended roaming – still not “forever” but a reasonable surcharge. I’d pay that happily.

    4. Avatar Burble says:

      Before the EU ruling on roaming many people like myself who spend longer periods in EU would buy local SIMs, not many do nowadays, looks like that will change again.
      Seems some people on here think of couple of weeks in the sun as a trip to europe, that’s not true for thousands of Brits.

    5. Avatar Ivor says:

      “Seems some people on here think of couple of weeks in the sun as a trip to europe, that’s not true for thousands of Brits.”

      If you’re spending extended periods in the EU, or you’ve moved to another country, you should be using a local SIM anyway. The EU rules don’t allow you to literally “roam like home” forever and it seems Vodafone have merely implemented that same rule voluntarily

      I work with a few EU nationals and they keep their home SIMs so that they can keep their numbers etc. They actually use a UK SIM for the bulk of their comms

    6. Avatar Ben says:

      Sounds relatively reasonable.

      If you’re in another country (or countries) for longer than 62 days then you’re probably not just on holiday unless you’re wealthy or have a lot of holiday allowance at work.

      And even then you could just get an EU SIM card.

  3. Avatar Billy Nomates says:

    for now. notice how they all say “we have no plans” to change it ?
    you can bet it’s coming.

    1. Avatar David H says:

      Vodafone offers inclusive roaming to 51 countries on pay monthly packages – rising to over 80 on higher cost ones. Other operators offer similar terms. There are only 27 countries in the EU so clearly they see a competitive advantage in offering well beyond what they are legally bound to do. There is every reason to assume they will continue to offer free roaming to remain competitive.

  4. Avatar André says:

    Vodafone Portugal have ceased treating the UK as an EU roaming destination and therefore roaming charges now apply.
    I suspect many more operators in Europe will do the same.

  5. Avatar Jin says:

    Hopefully there will be some new plans which don’t offer EU roaming at a lower price for UK only usage.

  6. Avatar Phil says:

    We would be naive if we thought roaming was actually “free”. What has happened now is everyone pays a bit more for the few that make a lot of use of it. Also as time has marched on, there is much less need for roaming using a mobile anyway given holiday locations and villas typically have some form of Wi-Fi and we can video call using any number of apps from tablets and other devices we end up taking along with the mobile. So if they introduce roaming charges again, they will not make the kind of money they once did as alternatives are a plenty.

    The costs of administrating extra charges and updates to billing systems likely means mobile operators will find it more profitable to just make their own agreements, as they have already done. The EU forcing free roaming didn’t magically remove the costs associated with it, so not much has changed.

    1. Avatar dave says:

      “The EU forcing free roaming didn’t magically remove the costs associated with it, so not much has changed.”

      Yes it did, because the legislation also enforced a cap on wholesale fees, which were the bulk of the cost.

    2. Avatar Aled says:

      The problem was that it was a cash cow. Prices charged bore no relation to the true cost of international comms (from recollection, the profit margin was 70-98%). Every operator charged excessive costs to people on holiday, simply because they could and were incentivised to do so (especially since charging foreigners is popular as a preferred tax method).

      It’s not like mobile companies have stopped making money now, is it? It also pushed companies like vodafone to set up pan-European companies to use their own infrastructure, cutting costs again.

      One of the best EU regulations to ever be introduced, fought tooth and nail by almost every mobile company, and unsurprisingly the UK and USA govt lobbyists.

      It is now hard to recall so far back, but the original EU “data roaming cap” was around £600 per GB…!

    3. Avatar Burble says:

      Roaming was ridiculously overcharged, remember all the operators saying how domestic charges would have to go up to compensate for their losses? I do, and guess what domestic charges didn’t go up, in fact due to other pressures they where going down, mobile operators where the most profitable companies in the UK, and I guess across EU. That’s why a specific EU ruling was made.
      Next year I hope to get back to ‘normal’, this will involve a 90day trip across several EU countries, and also needing to keep in contact with UK to manage my affairs, so contact is essential for me, europe in general has relatively poor free wifi compared to some areas of world I visit.

  7. Avatar Michael V says:

    Heavy users like myself do limit usage when in another country.
    Three have a 20gb limit for example.
    But as Phil says, there’s Video/VoIP apps. Like Google Duo, WhatsApp. Especially useful if one is on Prepay with no Add on bundle.
    Free WiFi is more widespread, in hotels.
    will always avoid the public open WiFi networks like many places can have also.

    But then other than taking pictures & videos when on holiday, why would anyone want to call & message home?
    [not referring to business travel of course]

    Time will tell what the four Operators do with roaming…

  8. Avatar Ryan says:

    The way I see it roaming charges for UK user in other EU countries could possibly get reintroduced a some stage but not at the moment.

    Network like Vodaphone and O2 (Telefonica) who have network in some other EU countries should be able to provide free roaming in them countries even if they decide to introduce elsewhere in the EU.

    EE could be the hardest hit pre BT ownership it was 50/50 owned by orange and T-Mobile (Deutsche Telekom) who got networks in some other EU countries, BT is just UK only EE.

  9. Avatar Peter B says:

    This is going to be messy no matter what they say now.

  10. Avatar Andrew says:

    The networks only removed roaming charges because they had to

    Now they don’t have to.

    I cant see myself jetting off anyway in the near future but if roaming charges return I’ll vote with my wallet and turn my phone off for a fortnight like I used to do.

    Simple really!

  11. Avatar Adam Henderson says:

    The Vodafone email actually says 62 days AND more usage than when in the UK.
    That means you can roam for more than 62 days in 4 months so long as your usage is less than your UK usage over the same 4 month period.

  12. Avatar Meggie says:

    one good thing about Brexit is that there will be less drunken and aggressive short and fat Britons in Europe

    1. Avatar Burble says:

      I doubt it will any effect on drunken stag weekends, or sun, sea, and sex, holidays. It will however cut back the number of ,generally older, travellers who take longer holidays and appreciate the cultures the are visiting.

  13. Avatar Nadim Hakim says:

    I remember Vodafone use to do £3 a day roaming in Europe and £5 a day (Plus VAT) to a number of countries in different continents. I do agree, they will bring back roaming costs, as it’s a money-spinner.

    TBH I wouldn’t mind £3 a day roaming in Europe to use your plan, I would rather have that then charged per minute and MB on data. Obviously, all-inclusive would be better, but I just can’t see it, a company’s aim is to make money.

  14. Avatar David Atkinson says:

    I’ve noticed various European mobile operators (Orange, Telefonica (O2), Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone) have adopted blockchain for roaming settlements. This means roaming charges will be history, with or without the EU regulation.

    https://www.telecomtv.com/content/blockchain/deutsche-telekom-orange-telefonica-hope-blockchain-will-ease-roaming-headaches-37721/
    https://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2020/07/164006-giant-telecommunications-firms-telefonica-deutsche-telekom-vodafone-introduce-blockchain-pilot-for-settling-roaming-discount-agreements/

  15. Avatar Scott Burgess says:

    I do mention, European mobile operators Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Telefonica (O2), Orange and GSMA members have adopted blockchain for roaming settlements.

    Due to spam measures, I can’t post links. If you search on Google ‘blockchain roaming’, there’s plenty of articles from different sites about it.

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