The abolition of roaming charges in the EU – a year on

The abolition of roaming charges in the EU – a year on

Mikael Schachne 2018.jpg

It’s been a year since the European Commission introduced the ‘Roam Like at Home’ (RLAH) regulation, effectively abolishing roaming charges for mobile users within the EU.

The ability to make calls and use text and data allowances abroad at the same rate as their domestic tariff has, of course, been warmly welcomed by subscribers who no longer need to fear ‘bill shock’ upon their return from vacation. Gone are the days when watching Netflix on holiday or FaceTiming a friend back home could cost them almost as much as the holiday itself. 

This positive reception was backed up by our own data, which revealed that, as subscribers took advantage of their new-found freedom during the months after the new regulation came into force, LTE data roaming traffic in the EU had increased by somewhere between 600 and 800% on the previous year.  What’s more, given that around a fifth of subscribers may not have been aware of the new regulation, or were wary of testing it out, we can reasonably expect the volume of LTE roaming traffic to continue to increase throughout 2018 as consumer confidence continues to grow and operators offer ever more competitive packages.

New services, new packages, new opportunities

This new confidence, however, may not have been shared by the operators themselves for whom RLAH represented something of a challenge.

Operators had to keep providing their subscribers with attractive rates within the EU which, despite the huge surge in traffic, resulted in a substantial bite being taken from their bottom line.

New ways of monetising their services were needed in order to fill the gap, and operators were required to introduce new solutions and increase the awareness of new tariff plans to drive more network use and generate new revenue streams. One example of this was the need to locate that 20% of subscribers who were not yet taking advantage of the new regulation and give them a reason to turn on and use their phone abroad, by offering advanced packages including cheap data bundles and special offers tailored to their individual phone usage.

As operators across the EU quickly began optimising their services and providing new data-heavy packages to their subscribers, it was little surprise to see that in the six months after the implementation of the regulation, the number of operators offering LTE roaming services had increased by 25% on the previous year to 562, according to our data. 

Expectations from consumers for a high quality, affordable roaming service, regardless of their location, also saw operators in regions beyond the EU offering LTE roaming to their subscribers in a bid to remain competitive. Awareness of the regulation had alerted operators and consumers around the world to the idea that costly roaming charges need no longer be necessary. 

By coming together, telcos can find ways of providing their subscribers with more cost-effective solutions. Moving to an all-IP environment is just one example of how the roaming experience could be democratised. With more operators taking this particular step, there has also been an increase in the use of IP exchange platforms, allowing them to offer their subscribers high quality data roaming with other MNOs, MVNOs, MVNEs, fixed network operators, ISPs and ASPs around the world.

While the new regulation may still be causing a degree of pain to some operators, in terms of managing the increase in data traffic while mitigating revenue loss, the impact of RLAH has also begun a conversation on how mobile operators might collaborate to increase the usage and share the benefits of global connectivity.

Beyond Brexit

The whole situation with regard to roaming charges could be set to change again in the next few years, depending on the how the UK Government chooses to proceed post-Brexit. The RLAH regulation won’t automatically be incorporated into UK law, so it will be up to the government to decide whether or not the country should continue to enjoy the benefits of free roaming once it finally leaves the EU.

Given how well the regulation has been received, however, with the majority of consumers now expecting high quality, affordable roaming services wherever they travel, it’s extremely unlikely that mobile operators will risk alienating their subscribers by bring back unpopular fees – particularly when the EU legislation is now being emulated in other regions.

This summer, a year on from the abolishment of roaming charges and a few months into the EU’s new rules on content portability, LTE roaming traffic is set to soar as more subscribers than ever take advantage of the regulations and enjoy the benefits of RLAH. Whatever shape the final deal with the EU takes, we believe there’s very little chance that operators in the UK will send their subscribers back to the dark days of exorbitant fees and bill shock.

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