Are we Facing the Return of Mobile Roaming Charges?

Colin Loveday considers possible network decisions on roaming charges in the light of Brexit, and the potential impact for businesses and the industry.   

As of January 1st, 2021, the UK has officially left the EU, which means EU mobile roaming regulations no longer apply to the UK. There has been a lot of speculation about what this signifies for people using their mobile phones abroad, whether for business or leisure.

While we believe things will largely stay the same in the short term, there are potential worries ahead. Businesses need to be prepared to scrutinise and challenge their mobile contracts if charges are reintroduced. And the networks themselves have to look at the negative impact of possible charges in the light of customer relations and long-term global connectivity gains.

 

What is allowed under the Brexit deal?

The UK’s trade deal does not discount extra charges for using a UK mobile in EU countries, so there could be some additional fees in the future. Mobile networks have the right to add or increase fees as they see fit.

Networks must still give customers a month’s notice before making any significant changes to their contracts. If any of these changes prove to leave the customer at a disadvantage, it could be grounds to revisit contracts.

 

What’s happening now?

Customer loyalty and retaining positive relationships are obviously key issues for networks, and top UK business mobile networks such as Vodafone, EE and O2 have said that they do not plan on reinstating roaming charges at this time.

So far, so good. But the picture is not uniform.

Three has announced it is increasing pay-as-you-go roaming charges from next month, and while pay-as-you-go is exclusively for consumers, you wonder if this is an indication of things to come. Will charging trickle down into business tariffs going forward? Plus, is it fair that Three has targeted generally those who can least afford it, first?

So, while there are no big changes yet, we hope that this is not the start of a move towards breaking away from the ‘Roam like at home’ agreements we currently enjoy.

 

What could happen?

Ultimately, there are two routes mobile networks can take:

Option 1: Stick with the status quo

This is how it stands at the moment. As we have said, mobile networks are not planning on making any changes to their roaming offers as yet, which means everything stays the same and customers can use their mobiles in EU countries without worry.

Option 2: Bring back charges

Mobile networks could change their minds for whatever reason and re-introduce fees for EU roaming. If this does happen, the first people to talk to are your independent suppliers, who will deal with the issue on your behalf and will clarify the situation and help minimise additional costs. Remember, networks should give at least a month’s notice of any changes.

 

Thinking ahead

We believe mobile networks will persist with the status quo for the foreseeable future to avoid upsetting any of their customers. Plus, since ‘Roam like at home’ was introduced in 2017 they have adapted to not having the roaming charges revenue stream.

In our experience, while there may be no direct correlation with the loss of roaming charges, since 2017 there have been other cost changes by networks. Costs of calling abroad seem to be higher than before, with clear annual RPI increases in charges for certain categories. Some good-value packages for business customers have also been withdrawn and not replaced on some business tariffs.

 

Growing connectivity

However, the main thing we think networks should consider about whether or not to reintroduce roaming charges is the change in behaviours and customer expectations ahead as businesses open up again to travel and international connections post-Covid. This global outlook will be looking for the right support and, in our view, taking action to enhance connectivity rather than reduce it would be the best position to take.

Over to you, network operators.