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EU slashes wholesale rates on roaming data, voice and SMS

Margrethe Vestager.jpg

The European Union has renewed its “roam-like-at-home” policy, which has applied for five years, for customers in all 27 member countries for a further 10 years.

The EU has set tight limits on the wholesale rates that operators can charge to deliver voice calls, text messages and data services – rates that will fall steeply over the next few years. There is an immediate 20% cut in the rate for roaming data.

European VP Margrethe Vestager (pictured) said: “Prolonging these rules will keep inter-operator prices competitive, and allow consumers to continue enjoying free-of-charge roaming services for the next ten years.”

Thierry Breton, the EU’s Commissioner for the Internal Market, said: “Remember when we had to switch off mobile data when travelling in Europe – to avoid ending up with a massive roaming bill? Well this is history. And we intend to keep it this way for at least the next 10 years. Better speed, more transparency: we keep improving EU citizens’ lives.”

The rules do not apply to EU roamers into non-EU countries, including Albania, Serbia, Turkey and – since it left the EU – the UK. And it doesn’t apply to users from the UK roaming into the 27 EU member countries. The UK government has removed “the requirement on UK mobile operators to guarantee surcharge-free roaming for customers in the EU after exit”, according to UK regulations published in 2019..

For EU users travelling within the EU, the new regulation caps the wholesale rate per gigabyte of data at €2.00 this year, down to €1.80 in 2023, €1.55 in 2024, €1.30 in 2025, €1.10 in 2026 and just €1 from 2027 onwards.

The original roam-like-at-home regulation in 2017 capped wholesale data roaming charges at €7.70 per gigabyte, falling on 1 January each year and reaching €2.50 per gigabyte from 2022.

That means the EU has immediately cut the 2022 rate of €2.50/GB by 20% to €2.00/GB.

The wholesale caps for voice drop from €0.022 a minute between now and 2024 and then €0.019 a minute from 2025 onwards. The voice cap was originally €0.032 a minute in 2017.

The wholesale rates for SMS are capped at €0.004 per message this year to 2014, down from an original €0.010 per message from 2017. After 2025 the cap will be €0.003 per message.

The new rules also impose tight guarantees on quality of service. The Commission says: “Operators providing mobile services should ensure that consumers have access to use 4G, or the more advanced 5G, networks, if these are available at the destination the consumer is visiting.”

And consumers have to be alerted to hidden charges when, for example, they are on planes or boats serving the EU that have charges – delivered by satellite, for example – that are higher than expected.

“The new roaming rules oblige operators to protect their consumers and notify them if their phones switch to a non-terrestrial networks,” says the Commission.

“Additionally, operators should automatically interrupt mobile services if the mobile services over non-terrestrial networks reach charges of €50 or another predefined limit.”

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