Is the end of data roaming really here?

The 8th of July welcomed a significant development in the quest to abolish roaming charges within the EU. It was announced that the deal to secure the end of roaming fees has been approved and is due to take effect mid-2017. The new law will also include the first EU-wide rules to safeguard open internet access, in other words – net neutrality.

For Goodspeed, a business that’s core values are to remove data roaming bill shock, it is encouraging to know that the European Union understands the need for clarity and a reduction in charges. However, it is crucial to look beyond the sensational headlines and address exactly what this means for the average business traveller and how telecoms companies will respond to the ruling.

EU-roaming-trouble

So what changes are expected over the next two years?

2016

The road to the end of roaming will begin on the 30th April 2016 with a modest but significant reduction in charges. The maximum roaming surcharge will be €0.05 per minute for calls, €0.02 for texts and €0.05 per megabyte for data. This will be added to the users domestic rate, which is why it’s not entirely without complications to estimate how much people will end up paying. Well, the maximum is in any case €0.20 per MB which is the same EU data roaming cap that we have today.

What bothers me in this equation is that the roaming fees are tied like this to the domestic price, which has not been the case before. With these terms it is easy to see how tempting it would be for network operators to raise their domestic prices in 2016 to maximise their revenue and to anticipate the final abolishment in 2017. But I guess we’ll just need to wait another year to truly understand the full implications of the new policies.

2017

The European Commission has advised that as of 15th June 2017 holidaymakers and business travellers will benefit from the same mobile charges as you would at home when travelling within the EU. This includes your monthly volumes of minutes, texts and data.

Now, this may sound extremely simple and music to EU citizens’ ears. However, the burning question is the wider effect it is going to have and how exactly it will be rolled out? Analysts are already beginning to question the legitimacy of this ruling by looking at the bigger picture.

Dario Talmesio, Europe practice leader at telecoms, media and IT research group Ovum says "I'm not convinced that 2017 is going to be the final date. The devil is in the detail about how to go about it. There's a lot that needs to be clarified."

It is fair to say that over the next two years the repercussions of using your mobile devices whilst travelling the EU will substantially change. However, there are a few points that need to be noted ahead of thanking the European Parliament.

For a start, it would appear that there will be more news to come. As of 15th December 2016, the Commission will determine the standard for a ‘fair use policy’. In a bid to maintain the mobile network industry, operators will be allowed to apply a ‘small’ charge if roaming goes beyond fair use or outside the purposes of periodic travel. The definition of ‘fair use’ is extremely important to the business traveller and could drastically alter the notion of ‘fee free data roaming’.

The deal states that the ‘fair use’ charge cannot be higher than the maximum wholesale rate that operators pay for using the networks of other EU countries. Those rates are €0.05 per minute for calls, €0.02 for texts and €0.05 per megabyte for data. In other words, if the fair use limit is low, we would in practice be paying the same price for roaming as in 2016. So the finer details will determine if the ‘fair use’ policy is simply a back door to sneak out of the roaming abolishment plan.

Secondly, it would be naïve to imagine that the operators will simply sit back and stomach the upcoming dramatic loss in revenue. The network providers are likely to respond and adjust pricing in other areas, for example contract pricing increases or reductions in bundles. Holidaymaker’s expenses may be a little cheaper but it could be domestic users that pay the price.

And of course, it’s all well and good if you plan to travel within the EU. A recent study by ABTA found that seven out of the 12 destinations that are set to be popular in 2015 are outside of the EU where costs can be up to a shocking €10.00 per MB.

The shift to fee free data roaming could in fact be more hassle than it is worth. With the addition of a ‘fair use’ policy and other regulations the data roaming market could in fact be getting more complicated. The EU first started regulating roaming rates in 2007. Almost a decade later roaming can still be as expensive as a flight for a business traveller. Will this latest announcement really be the end of the roaming road or another complicated fudge?

More recently many operators for example in UK have been enabling subscribers to use their monthly bundle of data abroad at either no additional cost or for a daily rate of up to £3 per day. This is fine for the casual Facebook-er checking their status on holiday. But the business data junkie, tethering their mobile to laptop to keep in touch, will quickly tear through one or two megabytes of bundled data. What happens then? Do they get charged or cut off? Neither is particularly attractive.

It is safe to say that the journey to the end of data roaming fees has not been a smooth one and it certainly isn’t over yet. The next two years will see operators digest the Commission’s ruling that was originally instituted without their assessment, which would have helped to understand how complicated this issue really is.

The key to getting rid of roaming is to recognise its complications to network operators and working together with them removing the obstacles. This is what Goodspeed has done since the beginning and will continue to ensure users are not stung by data roaming fees. Whether it is now, whilst EU fees are still in place, or in 2017 as a reliable source of data once the ‘fair use’ standard has been hit, users can be confident in the knowledge that the Goodspeed device is there when you need it. In fact, the Commission’s maximum price threshold for 2016 is actually higher than Goodspeed’s daily rate – so you do the math.

- Hanne @Uros