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March 13, 2019updated 14 Mar 2019 2:00pm

What could happen to mobile roaming charges after Brexit?

By Ellen Daniel

Just one of the many uncertainties surrounding the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU is the issue of mobile roaming charges. Depending on the outcome of Brexit, holiday-makers and those travelling to Europe for business could face expensive surcharges for using their phone abroad.

Before June 2017, UK citizens had to pay roaming charges to make calls, send texts and use mobile data when travelling to other EU and EEA countries. However, thanks to the Roam Like at Home scheme there are currently no extra charges for both EU and UK citizens.

According to guidance published by the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport in September, if the UK leaves the EU with a deal, the Brexit Implementation Period will apply until at least the end of 2020, meaning all EU rules and regulations will still apply.

After this, arrangements for roaming, including surcharges, will depend on the outcome of the negotiations on the Future Economic Partnership.

A no-deal scenario

In the event of a no-deal, the costs that EU mobile operators would be able to charge UK operators for providing roaming services would no longer be regulated. This would mean that there is no guarantee than mobile roaming charges after Brexit will not be introduced.

The government has said that it will ensure that there is a cap on how much mobile operators can charge for data usage, which will be set at £45. There is also the possibility of a trade deal between the UK and the EU in the future that could include mobile roaming.

It’s up to mobile providers

However, just because providers can reintroduce roaming charges, it doesn’t mean that they will.

According to a survey by Broadband Genie, 75% of the public think it’s important for the UK to maintain free mobile roaming, so mobile providers may risk losing customers to competition if only some begin charging for roaming.

Telecoms provider Three has confirmed that its customers will not be charged extra for using data or making calls outside of the EU, advertising the fact that customers will save £187m in roaming charges.

According to the BBC, EE, O2 and Vodafone have also said that they currently have no plans to alter mobile roaming charges after Brexit. However, none of them have categorically ruled this out.

“We’re still unlikely to see the high tariffs that once existed”

Mikaël Schachne, VP Mobility Solutions, at telecommunications company BICS believes it is in the best interest of operators keep roaming charges a thing of the past:

“With LTE/4G data roaming traffic in Europe surging by 600-800% after the implementation of Roam Like at Home, it would be exceptionally unwise for operators to go against such clear demand.

“In its abolition of roaming charges, the EU set a major precedent, and motivated other operators to offer competitive international tariffs. Most of us have now grown accustomed to using our mobile phones – and all of those data-intensive apps and services – when we’re abroad, to a similar degree as when we’re in the UK. In taking that away, operators risk alienating their customer base, and risk haemorrhaging subscribers to those offering more cost-efficient roaming packages.

“In the event that all UK operators decide to opt out of Roam Like at Home, we’re still unlikely to see the high tariffs that once existed. Roaming packages promote and drive subscriber loyalty, and encourage the use of all manner of mobile services and apps, helping operators to market and deliver additional services, making it in service providers’ best interests to stay competitive.”