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Celebrate, but understand the fine print.

From today mobile operators across Europe will be barred by EU regulations from imposing roaming charges when their customers use their phones while travelling within the EU.  This is undoubtedly good news for all users of mobile services within the EU.  Businesses, in particular, will benefit because in the past they’ve borne the brunt of high mobile service costs while travelling.   We would expect most businesses to see a cost reduction of between 5% and 10% as a direct result of these welcome changes.   And these changes may well remain in place for UK businesses even after Brexit. 

However, as always the devil is in the detail.   Below we outline a number of potential issues and opportunities which the changes will throw up for those of us involved in enterprise mobility.

How EU roaming will work

Effectively you can now take your domestic plan with you when you travel within the European Economic Area (EEA) – i.e EU28 plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein  (many operators will also include Switzerland in the list of countries where you can ‘roam like home’).  Any minutes, texts or data you use while in the ‘roam like home’ countries will be counted against your domestic allowance.  If you have unlimited calls and texts in your domestic plan you will have unlimited calls and texts when abroad.    If you have a bundle which includes a certain number of domestic texts and calls, your usage while in the ‘roam like home’ countries will count against these limits.  If you exceed the limits you will incur the same out of bundle charges whether at home or abroad.   

Data pools and data growth

Many businesses today operate with a domestic data allowance which is shared across the company’s  devices.  This domestic data pool will now cover usage while in the ‘roam like home’ countries.  Data consumed while in the ‘roam like home’ countries will grow dramatically (5-10 times current levels) as employees no longer artificially constrain their data consumption while abroad.  In fact, you will soon find that average daily consumption while abroad will be far greater than at home as, unable to access office or home wifi, travelling staff have more need for mobile data.  If your business is close to its data pool limit,  now would be a good time to look at solutions for controlling employee mobile data use.

The shrinking roaming data plan

Some organisations also have a roaming data pool.  Expect to see usage against this plan shrink dramatically as all of your EU roaming switches to the domestic plan.  Don’t forget to take the opportunity to downgrade your plan to a tier which more accurately reflects your needs.

Redundant add-ons, unnecessary plans

Most businesses have a range of tariffs and add-ons to reflect different usage patterns among their employees.  The most expensive of these tariffs are generally those with preferential roaming rates built in.  With the end of EU roaming charges, organisations need to re-assess the alignment of tariffs with devices.  In many cases, it will be possible to eliminate add-ons and to downgrade users to less expensive tariffs.

The Operator dilemma

So much for the good news…now lets look at some areas where it gets a little murkier.  Mobile operators have long opposed the end of roaming charges as it represents a significant revenue loss.  But for some operators, this isn’t their only concern.  Providing low-cost data packages to customers using your own network is relatively painless for operators.  There is in effect zero marginal cost for each additional GB used by their end customers.  However, when data is consumed on foreign operator networks the home operator incurs a wholesale charge.  If you’re an operator with lots of unlimited or low cost data plans you’re looking at spiralling wholesale costs as your subscribers consume larger and larger amounts of data when abroad.  As a result of this, the EU has given operators a limited exception to the ‘roam like home’ rules with regard to data.

Roaming data – The rules

Subject to various conditions an operator can set a ‘fair use’ limit for roaming.  Once you go above these (relatively generous) limits you can be charged a maximum of €7.70 per GB.  The extent to which operators will use this exception will vary widely.  Even within an individual operator, we expect to see considerable variation across customer categories.  Given that many enterprises have bespoke mobile contracts it’s essential to clarify with the operator how they intend to apply the roaming regulations to mobile data in your specific circumstances.   Already we have seen evidence of unexpected ‘special cases’ in the approach operators are taking to the implementation of the regulations:

  • Some operators are redefining ‘unlimited’ to mean ‘unlimited while in your home country’ but capped while abroad.  
  • Some organisations have separate domestic data pools for smartphones and data devices (tablets, wifi routers etc).  These latter pools often have very low per GB pricing.  Some operators are redefining these data device pools as home country only.  
  • Some organisations have phone plans which explicitly disallow roaming.   In effect you can only use your phone when in your home country.  Rather than redefine ‘home country’ as the entire EU some operators are insisting that these plans continue to bar non domestic use of the phone.

The end is nigh

The changes being brought in today are unequivocally good for users of mobile services.  The nagging concern that you’ll get hit with a huge fee when we use your phone as you travel across the continent will be a thing of the past.  Having to investigate bill shock events or check obscure schedules on our enterprise mobile contract will soon be but a distant memory.  And notwithstanding the various ‘special cases’ devised by the King Canutes of the operator world it is likely that with time, the intent of the regulation – to make the EU one vast mobile territory – will win out.   

 

 

 

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