The EU is ending mobile roaming charges, but will it lead to abuse?

Last updated: 13 October 2021

Roaming charges are on the way out in the EU. From June 2017, there will be no extra costs for using a mobile phone in another member state. If things go to plan, consumers will pay exactly the same when using their phone aboard as their domestic plan.

Andrus Ansip, the Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, captured the Commission’s vision when he stated ‘together we need to ensure low prices for users all across Europe, to make full use of new mobile services”. It’s great news for travelers and a significant moment in the history of mobile, paving the way for a future where we can use our phones or wearables any time, any place. Nevertheless, the Commission’s plans raise a few challenging points to discuss, especially for MNOs.

Operators have raised valid concerns that the new EU mobile ecosystem could be open to abuse by people looking to game the system for a cheaper contract. As an example, a German mobile user could buy a much cheaper plan in Romania and then use it every day in Germany. Under the existing planned model he wouldn’t actually have to ever set foot in Romania—something that wouldn’t be fair on the German operators.

As a consequence, the European Commission has announced it is revising its initial “roaming like at home” concept to offer safeguards against abuses. While stipulating that the abolition of charges is intended for “travelers only”, the EU has put in place a provision allowing MNOs to monitor usage patterns to ensure “roam like at home” isn’t abused. However, the rules are so complex that we’re wondering if there isn’t a simpler, existing solution for operators to ensure fairness in the system.

We think there could be more simple and effective ways of helping operators simultaneously identify potential abuses and improve the customer experience. For instance, a Quality of Experience dashboard that already combines data collection from the operating system and SIM to provide in-depth information on end-user behavior, could signal any peculiarities in roaming use. It also has the added benefit of allowing MNOs to enhance their service by flagging network issues as soon as they arise, bringing further benefits to the consumer.

While we’re excited about the Commission’s vision of a single digital market and the obvious benefits for consumers, there are clearly wrinkles to overcome. To ensure fairness, there must be ways for operators to intervene if the changes were unfairly exploited. Ultimately, consumers could suffer if this behavior was permitted—reducing revenues needed to continue improving the network and services. We’re interested to see how the situation plays out, as operators adapt their business models to the new landscape.

What do you make of the EU’s modifications to the roaming abolition plan? How do you think MNOs will adapt to the new mobile ecosystem? Tweet to us at @GemaltoMobile with your thoughts, or leave a comment below.

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