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Will new EU Roaming Regulations lead to permanent network roamers?

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Top view of a desk with cup of coffee, maps, camera, headphones and coins.

Quite a bit has been happening in the European roaming market in recent years. According to a report by Deloitte, back in 2012 almost half of mobile workers globally claimed to have received expensive roaming bills (averaging >1000 USD) and in 2014 one out of four travelers still switched off their data roaming when visiting another EU country. It doesn’t feel that long ago, but since then a lot has changed. Due to changes in the market and EU regulations, data roaming in the EU is today 96% cheaper compared to 2012 and comparing to 2008, data roaming volume has increased by more than a factor 100, according to the European Commission.

“Roam like at home” from June 15 2017

The new EU regulations take this development one step further when roaming charges in the EU are removed from June 15. Many CSP:s have already started removing their EU roaming fees in order to comply with the new regulations which in essence mean users (post- and prepaid) will have the same pricing for voice/SMS/data while roaming in another EU country as they have in their home network. The obvious effect of this will be an increase in roaming traffic where CSP:s will need to manage larger traffic of both inbound (visitors from abroad) and outbound (users going abroad) roamers. The new regulations will however also introduce new issues for CSP:s to handle, one being how to handle “permanent roamers”.

What are permanent roamers?

Below graph from the European Commission shows what a contract of 1GB of data, 600 minutes of calls and 225 SMS would likely have cost in different European countries back in 2015.

Graphs showing the cheapest monthly handset contract.

As seen, the range is quite big where in Estonia you’d pay 12.99€ per month while in Greece you’d need to pay 81.25€ for a similar contract. Let’s say now I buy an Estonian contract for 12.99€ and travel to Sweden. With roaming charges removed I can now use my Estonian contract for 12.99€ instead of getting a contract in Sweden paying 19.29€. What if I decide to move to Sweden, would I then want to cancel my Estonian contract to get a more expensive Swedish one? Or say I am Swedish already living in Sweden, wouldn’t I rather want to get an Estonian contract to roam with in Sweden? Maybe someone in Estonia could even send me the SIM card? Or maybe I could start selling Swedish SIM cards to users in Greece? This is what creates a market of “permanent roamers”.

How to manage permanent roamers?

With every country and market being unique, EU also recognizes it is not possible to offer the exact same price for a service in different countries and to get around the problem of permanent roamers, the regulations include rules of “fair use”. A general rule for the fair use policy is that the users use their mobile phones more at home than abroad. It is the CSP:s role to control roaming time and consumption for a user over the last four consecutive months or longer. If a user has been more abroad in the EU than at home and has consumed mobile services more abroad in the EU than at home, the operator can inform the user that an extra charge will be added if the user continues to stay abroad. The user will then have 2 weeks to return to the home network. If this doesn’t happen, the CSP can change the price plan, though only if authorized by the national regulator.

To conclude, the new EU regulations do address potential permanent roamers, hence this issue can be avoided. It does however put the demand on the CSP:s to keep track of potential permanent roamers in both home- and visiting network and if cases are found, these specific cases need to be clearly shown to national regulators for them to authorize further actions taken by the CSP.


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