Orange joins rivals with 'complex' free inclusive roaming plans

Orange has become the latest operator to announce mobile plans that eliminate roaming fees for European consumers, but one analyst said French operators are taking an overly complex approach to "free inclusive roaming" plans that could just confuse users.

Orange France joined its two French rivals Free Mobile and Bouygues Telecom by unveiling select plans with inclusive roaming services, ahead of moves by the European Union to cut roaming charges altogether from this summer. The operator will offer two new bundled national and roaming services, Orange Jet Europe and Origami Jet Premium, from early February.

Earlier in January, Iliad-owned Free Mobile added Italy to the roaming cover bundled with its €19.99 per month national plan for smartphone users, and was quickly followed by Bouygues Telecom, which said it will offer inclusive data roaming "across Europe" within its Sensation mobile plans from Feb. 24.

"France is steadily becoming the source of competitive 'free inclusive roaming' case studies," observed Emma Mohr-McClune, service director, global consumer services, at Current Analysis. There are also some new and innovative examples elsewhere in Europe such as 3 UK's "Feel Like Home" roaming plan and the national and roaming no-contract plan provided by Tele2's brand Comviq in Sweden.

However, Mohr-McClune said the "very different propositions" from the three French operators each contain "their own special set of loopholes and restrictions" in the fine print.

For example, Bouygues Telecom's plans allow customers to call back to the home market of France from abroad at no additional cost, but making other calls while abroad is not part of the inclusive roaming offer. Orange's plans meanwhile have a confusing mix of limits both on the number of days of usage per year and annual data usage.

"Ironically, complexity isn't at all what the EC had in mind in setting out to 'eliminate roaming premium charges' for European customers travelling between European Union countries, and it remains to be seen how consumers will react to these early, fine-print ridden propositions," said Mohr-McClune.

In fact, operators could simply confuse the market and leave users with the impression that relying on free Wi-Fi services is simpler after all.

Mohr-McClune conceded that restrictions are often necessary for such bundled national and roaming plans, but suggested operators should find alternative approaches, such as targeting specific groups with common travel requirements.

Whatever approaches operators do take, roaming charges as well as new LTE roaming services are clearly on their collective minds. There will be much more to come in this field as the European Commission prepares for the final hearing of its Connected Continent package.

For more:
- see this Orange release

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