Is "roam like at home" going to be the real deal?
Robyn Hamilton
Staff Writer

A new EU law that is set to come into effect in June of this year promises to get rid of roaming fees. Is it too good to be true?

For months now we’ve heard rumours that come June of this year, consumers will witness the end of the last bastion of gratuitous mobile phone charges - roaming fees (well, within the EU at least).

Who among us hasn’t panicked as soon as we touch down on foreign soil; worriedly anticipating that welcome text from whatever local network has picked us up to see what kind of exorbitant rates we are about to be charged for calls and texts, not to mention data?

We’ve all heard the horror stories on the likes of Joe Duffy of unsuspecting holidaymakers coming home to three-figure phone bills simply because they didn’t know how to turn off the data on their phones. The standard procedure for many of us is usually to avoid making/taking calls, stick to texts and forget about data altogether - rather inconveniently seeking out WiFi Hotspots as needed.

Thus naturally, it felt long overdue when we heard the news that a new EU law nicknamed “roam like at home” would abolish roaming fees across the EU.

Smoke and mirrors?

But don’t get too excited just yet! The new law will apply to calls and texts but the same does not extend to data usage.

When it comes to data, mobile operators will be allowed to continue to impose special "fair usage" limits when you're city-hopping around the EU. And these data limits may be lower than what you're used to at home. So, "roam like at home" sounds like a bit of a stretch when it comes to data, doesn't it?

If you exceed your pre-determined data roaming limit while abroad, you will still be subject to penalty fees, although they will be capped under the new EU law.

From the 15th of June 2017, the most you will be charged for exceeding your operator's roaming limit is €7.70 per GB of data, and this will steadily decrease over the course of the next five years; €6/GB (01/01/2018), €4.5/GB (01/01/2019), €3.5/GB (01/01/2020), €3/GB (01/01/2021) and €2.5/GB (01/01/2022).

How are operators reacting?

Adrian Weckler states in The Irish Independent, that operators have “persuaded the European Commission that customers don’t need to use Facebook, Google, Gmail, Snapchat, YouTube or Netflix as much when we’re on holidays" (I’d like to add Google Maps to that list - an invaluable application whilst abroad).

Three, the mobile operator with greatest market share, recently attempted to separate its data allowances into ‘core’ and ‘benefit’ categories. The operator argued that its “unlimited” data package is “an additional service benefit” and not part of a customer’s service bundle.

It was claimed that the core package was only obliged to offer between 1GB and 7GB of data, and a hefty charge of €61.50 per GB of data used beyond roaming limits was even suggested.

However, the European Commission pushed back on this and made it clear that no loopholes which would regard domestic data allowances as a gift or side benefit would be permitted.

Current Three customers will also have noticed that Three made changes to both their bill and prepay offers earlier this month; adding an extra €5 a month on to bill pay and reducing its €20 top-up offer from 30 days to 28 for prepay customers.

Have these changes been made in anticipation of June’s law in order to further compensate for projected roaming fee losses?

Will we ever be able to “roam like at home” when it comes to data?

According to the Commission, the reason that data had to be excluded from “roam like at home” was because of wholesale charges that operators charge each other.

When the new law comes into effect and to err on the side of caution, customers should check with their networks ahead of travelling to confirm what "fair usage" roaming policy applies to them.

Since April 2016, to protect against excessive data roaming bills, the volume of downloaded data on mobile devices has been capped, worldwide, at €50 but this is dependent on whether or not you have agreed to a different limit with your operator, so always be sure to check and check again!

*Update: when originally published, this article referenced a quote which stated that "no operator with a €20 per month contract is required to provide more than 5.2 GB of data when the customer is roaming while travelling in the EU as of June 2017". Contact has been made with the European Commission to confirm this claim and we are currently awaiting a reply.