Despite the cut in fees, Europe is still far from done with mobile roaming

The end of April brought a further reduction in roaming fees across the European Union, with the prices that mobile operators can charge on top of their domestic offerings capped at €0.05 per minute on outgoing calls, €0.02 per SMS sent, and €0.05 per MB of data.

The European Commission is now pursuing the well-publicised objective of eliminating charges altogether from mid-June 2017. Many operators have already pre-empted this move -- one of the latest being Tesco Mobile in the UK, which said last week that its new Home From Home service would remove additional roaming fees this summer. Three UK and France's Free Mobile also promote mobile plans with inclusive use abroad.

However, the reduction in and eventual abolition of retail roaming fees in the EU will not end the debate over mobile roaming in general, with consumers and mobile service providers continuing to face their own challenges.

Mobile virtual network operators have also now waded into the debate, pointing out that changes need to be made to wholesale roaming rates, not just retail rates.

MVNO Europe, a coalition of MVNOs and "progressive" MNOs, said it welcomed the cuts and eventual abolition of retail roaming surcharges, but noted that regulated wholesale roaming caps also need to be reduced to allow all operators to compete on the market.

The coalition warned that a great deal of work still needs to be done by the European Commission, European Parliament and Council to deliver on the political promise to achieve roam-like-at-home across Europe by June 15, 2017.

"Without any further steep reduction of these caps, a large number of mobile operators may decide or be forced to impose restrictions to users when roaming abroad through complex and unfriendly contractual clauses," MVNO Europe added.

For consumers, bill shock could still be an issue for roamers. Some watchdogs worry that users will forget that roaming fees will still apply when they travel outside the European Union, for instance.

On the other hand, the message that EU roaming charges have fallen substantially over the years is still not getting through to all users: for example, uSwitch noted that more than 6 in 10 (62 per cent) UK mobile customers are still afraid to use handsets in other EU countries for fear of bill shock when they return home, saying that 34 per cent don't use mobile phones abroad at all.

Mobile network operators, meanwhile, will be pressed to find ways of restoring lost revenue from roaming. Some may simply raise domestic prices, but the more innovative will be looking at offering new services that will enable them to add new revenue streams.--Anne

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