Here's the top line: roaming charges for EU citizens will decrease by 36 percent. Brilliant, right? From a short-term standpoint, it is indeed pretty fantastic that this year's EU holidaymakers will have to worry a whole lot less about monumental phone bills due to checking Twitter a few too many times while roaming or pocket dialling their mother while painting the town red.
European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes was feeling particularly summery herself, referring directly to consumers having more cash in their pockets while on holiday. But, of course, this protection from so-called "bill shock" has to come from somewhere and you can bet your life on the fact that the networks aren't happy about it.
The GSMA, which represents over 800 of the world's mobile carriers, has long fought the notion of simply capping prices and leaving it at that. And it's not just the fact that operators will be earning less money overall, it's also a question of competition.
Luca Schiavoni, a regulation analyst from Ovum, can see their concern: "If you just impose price caps you clearly do not improve competition," he told V3. "We've seen in practice that operators tend to stick to caps without bringing the prices down further." Indeed, many mobile users will be in one or two-year contracts, and the operator's roaming charges will generally be low down on the priority list when signing up for a new deal, thus the companies won't feel particularly motivated to offer a more competitive roaming package.
With today's new regulations now in force, it can clearly be seen that all the UK carriers' base roaming costs are identical: 24.5p per minute voice calls are seen across the board.
"Many people are now technologically wise but for most people there isn't enough information, especially for data roaming," Schiavoni said. "Many people turn the data off and other people are aware of it and buy a SIM card in the country they visit. Regardless of regulation the operators have to find a different pricing structure or make roaming more attractive."
An attractive roaming market could arrive as soon as next July, however, with a much more open market being created for those traveling in the EU. For example, instead of simply buying a SIM card from the country in which you're travelling, you could buy a week's tariff from a local mobile operator and have it applied to your SIM card, thus negating the need for roaming charges at all. How exactly this will work remains to be seen, but it will certainly be a very interesting marketing opportunity come next summer, assuming pricing regulations haven't taken the competition out of it.
Schiavoni explains that the European Commission is very consumer-focussed, and tends to have customers at the forefront of its mind when producing legislation such as this. The problem comes, however, when you look into the future. With this potential loss in revenue, how are the operators expected to upgrade their networks to the latest standards? The answer isn't one consumers will like: If you plan on going further afield than the EU, your carrier may choose to hike the price of roaming in non-EU countries. To counter this, Ofcom has stepped in and, as a result, carriers must now set a €40 spending limit for all customers while they are roaming anywhere in the world.
So, short-term gain for long-term pain? Perhaps - certainly this new policy to please sunseekers could come back to give them financial sunburn in the future.
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