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The EU’s new roaming rules (economist.com)
96 points by doener 120 days ago | hide | past | web | 94 comments | favorite



This is awesome. Traveling in Europe right now (from USA) and bought a 5GB data only Ortel card in Italy on June 5 for 20 euro. June 11th I'm in Salzburg and it doesn't work, which is my previous experience. I go to Slovenia for a few days where it does work, possibly because of the new regulation, some carriers apparently started it up on June 1. Yesterday June 17th cross back into Austria and It Works!

It works now in Prague too, though maybe it would have anyway.

So now this one 20 euro prepaid data card has worked in Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and the Czech republic.

This was so confusing before, lots of sim cards would roam in different countries, but only for texts and sms. The data would just shut down. Sometimes one type of plan would work and another wouldn't (on the same carrier). The carriers were super confusing about what would work where, digging through their sites would yield nothing about were things would work. You had to talk to phone shop people and other travelers to figure it out.

It it so great not to have to manage this country by country or get a special carrier to do this. And Europe is tiny, there was a guy on my train commuting from Slovenia to Austria for his paramedic job. And see http://thetruesize.com/

The news is underplaying how much better this is. It rocks.


It's more likely that it's your phone/device that is the source of the issue.

There are 10 LTE bands currently in use in Europe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LTE_frequency_bands#Deployment...

and 2 UMTS bands: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UMTS_frequency_bands#Deploymen...

Those are not necessarily the same bands that are in use in North America or Asia, or some other region and as a result there are very, very few phones that actually support all of them - even the EU variants.

Google Pixel is the only phone I'm aware of that supports every single one.


I buried the lede, the point is that it didn't work in Austria June 11, and it did on June 17th. June 15th is when the rule went into effect.

Slovenia and Czech Republic working are speculation. (But I've heard so many complaints about data roaming for prepaid that I think it's possibly better).

And so far its worked everywhere, after June 15th I haven't had issues.

But if it's relevant to anyone my iPhone 6S model (a1688) does have pretty good LTE band coverage for Europe. Namely, bands 1,3,7,20,38.

http://www.everymac.com/systems/apple/iphone/specs/apple-iph...

"Please note that this A1688 iPhone 6s model is compatible with LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, (but not 30) in addition to TD-LTE bands 38, 39, 40, and 41 -- is intended for Sprint and Verizon as well as sold with a T-Mobile nano-SIM in the United States and a wide variety of carriers in Canada, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere worldwide."


Yeah, iPhones support quote a few bands too and each model released is doing better, but they are still releasing multiple regional variants with different bands supported:

https://www.apple.com/iphone/LTE/


Good point. US phones usually fail to include at least some common bands.


Definitely positive for everybody. An example (Slovenia) is a new package from A1(Vodafone) with 15GB everywhere in EU without limits for 20€. Previously was like 22€ for 4GB local only.


For some telcos this is a very tough deal. Countries with a lot of foreign visitors, like Spain or Italy, will have to improve network capacity to sustain the added data volume, and with no increase in revenue. A lot of carriers still operate at local country level in Europe. I guess the long-term plan is that that most telcos will end up merging into pan-european companies.


Note that the telcos don't stop charging each other for roaming, they just stop charging customers. This might even be good news for Spanish and Italian telcos.


True, but the regulation limits how much they can charge each other so they need to make it up in volume.

Before they could charge 51.2 EUR/GB which is now lowered to 7.7 EUR/GB set to go down in steps to 2.5 EUR/GB by 2022.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_roaming_regulat...


7.7 EUR per gigabyte is still a ridiculous price. I simply refuse to believe that this is even close to the actual costs.

This is very problematic, since in some countries operators are selling fix price 4G subscriptions with no data cap for prices like 20-50EUR/month. Now they are supposed to let us roam free, but still pay the outrageous per gigabyte fees to other operators.

This benefits large, multinational operators which sell data capped subscriptions. Small, local and competitive get hurt.


Yes that's why they can set limits on unlimited plans and start charging "reasonably" after those limits are exceeded.


51 euros per gigabyte is absurd.


You think €51 per GB is absurd? I have a Vodafone prepaid connection from Germany. Currently traveling in Switzerland, Vodafone informed me my roaming data charges are 17ct per 50 Kb.

A little back of the envelope calculation and that puts my rate at €3.500 per GB. Now that's an absurd value!!


I'm curious if that was postpaid. My prepaid Vodafone data started working EU-wide without extra charges just over a year ago.

> Gut zu wissen: Du nutzt Deine Highspeed-MB mit Deinem CallYa-Tarif ohne Aufpreis in der ganzen EU. Falls Du den Basispreis oder Deine Tarif-Option nicht zahlst, kostet ein MB 5,95 Cent.


Switzerland is not in the EU


Switzerland is not in EU, so the prices for there are not regulated.

As a result on my prepaid CallYa plan, I have insane charges when roaming here.


They used to be charging multiple euros per MEGABYTE. You can see why regulation was needed.


It is.

In 2008 I downloaded 30 MB Firefox nightly on a ThinkPad whilst roaming in Serbia. Bad move. Set me back ~600 EUR.

I didn't know this beforehand, but I was 'lucky' to struck a deal with Vodafone to cut the cost in half.

Serbia isn't in EU though, and this was in 2008.


7.7 EUR/GB is still absurd, it's 2017.


That's 77 euro for 10GB. For that money you can buy a 1TB harddrive, send it by mail, and it will be faster still.


You'll have to use one hell of a postal service since 200mbit/s LTE is common now (1TB will take around 12h).


LTE in EU, not so much :), it's available just now widely adopted


I think when I (a European) visit the US, my roaming cost is about 15 euro per MB. You read that right, MB. Not GB.


8 E/GB is 3+ orders of magnitude more than the bandwidth cost for a telco.


Right, but that's backbone traffic cost. The majority of total cost is going to be the wireless part of your data's journey. Interpolating from intranational data cost, 8€/GB is still a lot but maybe off by one order of magnitude, not three


I have learned a while ago that, while telcos are technically charging each other for cross-network traffic, no real money ever exchange hands. In practice, two telcos issue invoices to each other, the amounts cancel out and anything that remains is just transferred as the starting point to the next accounting period.


Even if true for most, it most likely is not true for every operator.


So those abusive prices per-MB only apply to... small operators who don't have international presence?


Sounds like an opportunity for a very small telco to build towers in touristy/CBD/expat areas and charge foreign carriers for traffic.


But the rate they can charge to each other is capped, I think. I should have not said "no extra revenue" in any case, that is true. My mistake.


Actually, in the article the journalist argues that it IS good news for them.


Actually telcos in those countries with many foreign visitors will still make money. While consumers enjoy 'roam like at home' without additional costs, there are still wholesale roaming charges in place for the home carrier [0]. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that these wholesale roaming caps are comparable to typical consumer prices, meaning they should result in actual profits (at least compared to German prices, which are generally not the cheapest).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_roaming_regulat...


Isn't it actually the other way around? Telcos in tourist destinations will have to increase capacity, but they still get to bill the user's home telco at the wholesale roaming rate – so they do still receive revenue.


> I guess the long-term plan is that that most telcos will end up merging into pan-european companies.

The EU does have a goal of creating a Single Market.


there are quite a lot of Telecoms having the same parent company, so it's just pure profit for them.

If the regulation implies improving the local infrastructure and the companies invest something, even better.


Note that if the new rules cause roaming net (roaming revenue minus roaming costs) loss of more than 3% of the operator's mobile services margin, they can apply for an exemption to add roaming surcharges (to cover expenses only).

The Finnish operators were all granted that exemption to prevent the domestic price level from increasing:

https://www.viestintavirasto.fi/en/ficora/news/2017/fouroper...


Ok, that explains my surprise today. Am in Austria with a Saunalahti (Elisa) SIM and was surprised to see there is still a 7€/Gb roaming charge. This is the SMS I got:

--- Ulkomaan käytön normaalihinnat Itävallassa: Soitto Suomeen ja tekstiviestin lähetys kotimaan hinnoin + 0.03968 e/min tai 0.0124 e/kpl. Puhelun vastaanotto 0 e/min ja datasiirto 7.44 e/Gt. Ei koske Premium-liittymien erikoishinnoittelua. Hätänumero 112 0 e/min.


I pay £0.1 per MB when roaming. Any change from this frankly obscene price is good news.

Sadly I feel this deal won't last for long when the UK leaves the EU.


One among many fine details to go missing in the "great" repeal bill, no doubt.

Take heart though - someone sane may yet stop the whole lunatic circus completely.


Depends on the UK's position in relation to the single market.

Admittedly at the moment it looks like a massive dumpster fire, but I assume single market membership (currently the least awful outcome for the UK) would mean digital single market regs apply.


>Sadly I feel this deal won't last for long when the UK leaves the EU.

I wouldn't worry too much. The UK providers are quite good with this. e.g. The contract I signed a month ago was 16GB anywhere in EU for 19 quid. (voda). And the prepaid Three network cards can also roam with their data allowance in a sizable number of countries.


But of course they can only offer these prices because the wholesale prices for roaming are capped across the EU (this has been the case for a while now, they have now just reduced those rates further). If the UK operators wouldn't be able to benefit from the wholesale prices anymore, I doubt they could sustain this. Just look at Switzerland, where "all in" contracts with roaming in the EU will set you back around 70-90 CHF...


>But of course they can only offer these prices

They've had them for a while already. Like months.


My (free) roaming Three service works in Norway, which is not in the EU so there is some hope.


Three have had free roaming for some time (of their own accord), including most EU countries and some other ones like the USA. I pay £17 a month for unlimited data in the UK and loads of other countries. It's the bomb.


I pay 15chf (close to dollar) per mb on my Swiss card... Or rather I don't and collect simcards


How is the network in a foreign country being picked? Here in Germany, we have (at least?) three competing networks, O2, Telekom and Vodafone. Their coverage differs, but afaik I don't get to automatically use another network if my network doesn't cover my location.

So what happens in another country? Free roaming won't be much use if no network covers my location? If on the other hand, I will be allowed any network for the price of my home network, I wonder if it would make sense to get a contract in another country, so that I can use all networks in Germany for free?


> So what happens in another country?

You will get a network that has a contract with your operator. The roaming regulations basically require the foreign networks to meet all reasonable requests for roaming: http://berec.europa.eu/eng/document_register/subject_matter/...

> I wonder if it would make sense to get a contract in another country, so that I can use all networks in Germany for free?

There are fair use clauses that allow the operators to charge for permanent roaming: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A3... (section 3)


I heard [1] that SIM cards have a preference built in for networks, often over 100. But you can override that if your smartphone OS allows that.

[1] in this German podcast: https://www.heise.de/video/artikel/Podcast-c-t-uplink-17-5-D...


Operators usually have preferred networks when roaming. If not available I think they fall back to the one with the most reception at time of switching.


Don't German networks have agreements to route traffic for other operators if they don't have coverage somewhere? That would surprise me.

And the rules are made to make it difficult to get that contract in a different country, as you aren't allowed to roam for 12 months a year for free.


They don't. The gaps in coverage are very small at least for basic phone service. LTE is available for at least 93%/90%/80% of the area respectively for the three networks. Good coverage is also the main factor of competition.


They did, at least O2 had a inland roaming with Telekom back in its early days; after the merge between O2 and EPlus the networks are still doing inland roaming afaik.

And I'd say with O2 you don't get anywhere next to 90% LTE - not in the countryside (where Vodafone and Telekom often enough also offer EDGE at best), but also in major cities. Berlin is the worst (at Hbf and Gesundbrunnen you're lucky to have actually working HSDPA!), next comes Hamburg and Duesseldorf. Munich is fairly good, also in the subways.

The general problem with O2 is when the network gets congested - e.g. demonstrations, festivals, sometimes on Autobahns even traffic jams! - there is no Internet service at all. The phone may show a "4G" indicator but no traffic goes through. Telekom and Vodafone seem to handle sudden congestions way better, I am not sure how though.


Sorry, I edited my comment while you replied. O2 officially is at 80% LTE coverage according to the latest BNetzA report. But as far as I know they often use cells that can't handle the needed capacity.

When the networks where new, some offered roaming in some areas, I remember that as well. The E-Plus/O2 roaming was more of a technical thing when they merged, it should now be largely gone and a single network.


It's iirc their backhaul network that can't keep up, not the technology they use in their BTS. Telekom and Vodafone have large fiber networks (Telekom for DSL, Vodafone for cable-Internet) so they can use existing infrastructure (conduits, electricity lines, right-of-way for houses housing concentrators, routers etc) while O2/Eplus had to build out/rent everything.

In addition O2/Eplus historically got the cheaper but more inefficient frequency ranges which made them the "low cost" players.


Anyone pick up on this little doozy at the end? "The new law may not be all good for all consumers; it is possible that non-roamers will end up subsidising the more expensive needs of roamers, as the networks respond to the lost roaming revenue."

The argument feels a bit naive to me, and smacks of the oversimplified scenarios taught in economics-101. I'd agree with them if the increased roaming charges reflected the extra cost imposed on the network, but in reality the networks were just price-gouging a captive market.

They may be technically correct in that the networks could try to make up the lost revenue by raising prices, but the reasoning feels specious. It's not a question of one group being forced by law to subsidise another, it's a question of an unsavoury business practice being forced by law to end.


The roaming rules are a bit complicated. It seems that only a fraction of the data plan can be made available under "free roaming" rules.

I suspect operators will make their money back from "I forgot to turn off roaming" to "I took too much from my roaming data".


Operators have to inform you when they start charging for roaming, and cannot start charging before you have been informed (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/faq/frequently..., questions 17)


I don't think so, carriers are quite clear about their conditions. E.g. even if you're not French you can understand on this webpage that you have 40GB/month, included in Europe, for 24,99€/month: https://shop.sosh.fr/mobile/forfaits-mobiles


Those prices are insane compared to Belgium.

It goes to show why carriers lobbied so hard to prevent European citizens to buy subscriptions from a different country considering roaming would truly create European competition between carriers.

Keeping in mind Dutch,French and Belgian carriers are sometimes one and the same entity it shows liberalism and free market is only promoted and applied when it benefits the strong (carriers), not the weak (consumers).

It's still a very good and welcomed evolution for consumers though :).


Cross country competetion would really suck because of the varying levels of wellfare across the EU.

Between Belgium France and the Netherlands, there isn't much of a problem. However, if you start comparing e.g. the Netherlands with Romania, things get weird. Those consumer markets are vastly different, Romania is much cheaper.

I'd expect that, due to differing expectations of infrastructure building a network in Romanio would also be cheaper.


Good point even though I still think I am being ripped when comparing to France.


FYI EU telecos have to cut you off if you spend more than €60 in a month in roaming fees, unless you explicitly opt out. Most people won't think of opting out, so it means their roaming costs are capped.


My plan currently allows 5GB of roaming data per month, which under my current consumption pattern (I don't travel much more than a couple of times a month) is plenty.


There are caps after that, which are not significantly higher than what many national providers charge within the country.


-BE to BE (in BE) : bundle

-BE to BE (in FR) : bundle

-BE to FR (in BE) : extra

-BE to FR (in FR) : extra

To Google & Apple Please add an easy way to allow roaming in EU but not in other countries.


The last time I had a Swedish SIM card in my iPhone there was a separate "EU Internet" option


Yep, iOS 10 added it.


OK, I get that "roaming" now costs as if you were home, but what if you're french and you go to germany and there you call a french number. Is that also as if you were calling a fellow french person, or not?


It's annoyingly a bit complex. As I now understand it, for Three in the UK the rules are pretty simple for most cases:

UK user in UK calls UK number – local country cost. UK user in Germany calls UK number - same cost as calling locally from UK. UK user in Germany calls German number – same cost as calling a UK number.

The weird edge-case is that calling a foreign number is less expensive when roaming; calling a German number from e.g. France is now cheaper than calling a German number from inside the UK, because the roaming regs affect roaming cost but do not affect what providers can charge for international calls from the home country.


this is correct, international calls from home country are not affected by roaming regulation and cost more than same calls using foreign networks, they should regulate this as well, to make at least international EU calls from home country on par with roaming prices (aka domestic calls)


Funnily enough, as long as you are abroad in another EU member country, calling into any other EU member country is now regulated to count as "national".

Calling from your home country to another EU member country is not regulated and you'll pay the old long distance fees.


The way I understood it, the prices will be what they would be if you called from your home country. So calling another EU country from abroad would cost you the same as calling that other country from your home country.


that's not what they say in official FAQ, all calls placed abroad are same as domestic calls. calling internationally from home country is not regulated yet, hopefully they will fix this nonsense and cancel international EU calls completely


Yes, you'd pay the same as if you were in France as I understand it. However, calling a german number will still be more expensive I think, just as it would be when calling from home.


no, if you look up official FAQ they say all calls placed abroad have domestic prices, international call from home country is not regulated yet, hopefully they will fix this nonsense soon


The whole point is that when you're in Germany, the costs are the same ans when you are in France. Eg if your plan includes X free minutes to French numbers, and X€/minutes to call German numbers, when you're in Germany, you still call free your friends at home, and you still pay when you call German numbers.


If you're calling from your French mobile phone? Yes, isn't that exactly the point of the new rules?


While this change is very welcome, a lot of ISPs still ask for , in my opinion, unreasonable amounts of money for relatively small amounts of data ie: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/finnish-like-unlimited-mobile...


It seems unlikely the EU regulators will ask for fair data roaming prices, too, anytime soon, as the operators most likely told them this is a cash cow for them in the near future. However, this may be irrelevant in 5+ years, if the "Wi-Fi everywhere" program is implemented across the EU.


It's good for competition. In France the mobile plan I use from "Free Mobile" evolved in few months from 3GB 35 days per year to 25 GB all the time, and some others like Sosh (from Orange) or SFR evolved too.


What if you're on some obscure lesser known mobile network and the EU country you're traveling to doesn't support that network? Vodafone (a non obscure network) however seems to be ubiquitous in the EU.


Doesn't matter. The networks using the same name are independent companies anyway, for example Vodafone UK and Vodafone IE have the same agreements, as your lesser known mobile network.

It may go even further - the brand name of the network you recognize may be not owned by the same company, as the rest for the networks with the same name. For example, O2 CZ and O2 SK are not owned by Telefonica (anymore), but the other O2 networks are.


So does your device automatically choose the correct network depending on what sim it has?


No, it doesn't - your home provider ought to publish a list of providers with whom they have roaming agreements. For example, here's Three Ireland's page for Germany: https://apps.three.ie/roaming/phone/prepay/Germany


From the observation, yes, but I'm not sure whether it is just up to the device to choose a network with the same prefix (the ids are different), or whether there is some network intelligence.

When there's no network with the same prefix, the choice is usually random. It doesn't matter anyway, money-wise it is the same.


The SIM card has a preset of preferred roaming networks, which your home provider may or may not update. Replacing SIMs every now and then may actually help with your roaming experience.


Yep. Dumbphones often let you view or even manually edit this list as well.


The wikipedia page mentions the "Right to use other operators' networks in other Member States at regulated wholesale prices" so I assume all networks have to offer themselves up to roaming to any other EU network.


I'm a happy TMobile customer and it's always nice to get iMessages after landing in another country.


what has this to do with roaming? they just lowered the fees, functionality is exactly same as before


Was this coming anyway, or is this specifically designed to raise the pain level of Brexit? (the idea that it might go away for UK)


It has been coming a long time, and was actually phased in over a few years.


it was process updated every year for very long time

same as with depreciation of old Wolfram (?) light bulbs




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