Usage of mobile data services, excluding text messaging, grew by 40% to â‚¬7 billion in 2007 as operators invested more than â‚¬20 billion improving mobile networks and services. Research undertaken for the GSM Association by AT Kearney also reckoned that in the year to April 2008, the number of 3G users in the EU doubled to 112 million. The GSMA states that Europe has adopted 3G faster than any other region.
The research also found that the cost of 3G services, 3G handsets and 3G dongles for laptops is falling steadily and claims that in some European markets, mobile broadband services are now priced lower than comparable fixed-line broadband services. It cites mobile broadband costing just Â£10 (â‚¬13) a month in the UK and â‚¬10 a month in Austria. However, all such packages have a "fair usage" policy; for example, 3's Â£10 a month limit is 1Gb.
Also, Vodafone in the UK has been flooded with complaints about its heavily marketed 3G dongle, which users claim is unreliable and blocks them from using certain sites.
Clearly the research and its publication has been carefully timed in the hope of avoiding further action by the EU's Commission for Information Society and Media, who is threatening to impose data roaming price caps if the industry does not lower prices of its own accord. In January Reding said she would review the situation in July.
Reding imposed price caps on intra-EU roaming charges in 2007, but unfortunately operators are trying to recoup some of their lost income by raising the cost of calling Europe from elsewhere, by up to 163% in the most extreme case.
AT Kearney estimates that the average retail price of data roaming fell by 25% in the year to April 2008 in the EU and that EU data roaming traffic grew 75% over the same period. AT Kearney also estimates that the average price of text messaging roaming services fell 18% in the year to April 2008. The GSMA also claims that services that enable travellers to send and receive emails within Europe, via a Blackberry or similar device, are available for as little as â‚¬15 a month.