Roaming fees were reintroduced despite all UK operators vowing not to do so this January
EE is set to reintroduce roaming charges for new customers at the start of next year.
The BT-owned mobile operator says that those joining or upgrading from July 7, 2021 will be charged £2 per day to use the network in 47 European destinations from January 2022.
EE is the first operator to reintroduce the charges since the UK left the EU, with the other operators confirming to Mobile News that they have no plans to bring back the controversial fees.
The move comes despite all four operators saying this January that they would not reintroduce roaming charges. Customers will not be charged for using their devices in the Republic of Ireland, while those travelling to the 47 affected countries will be able to buy 30-day passes or £10 to use their home tariff abroad.
The reintroduction of roaming charges is surprising, but reflects a failure by UK telecom operators to stem the long-term decline in average consumer spend amid heavy investment in future fixed-line and mobile networks, according to CCS Insight director of consumer and connectivity Kester Mann.
“£2 per day isn’t an awful lot and is nothing like the horrendous charges we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “But ‘roaming’ has negative connotations with customers, who see it as quite a poisonous subject given that it is associated with operators being untrustworthy and trying to rip off customers.”
Mann says BT would not have taken this decision lightly, but must have concluded that the upside to the positives outweighed the negatives.
“The company knows it will not be well-received by its customers and that it has handed on a plate a clear marketing opportunity to rivals,” he says.
“It would have had to carefully calculate that the upside outweighs any potential reputational damage.”
Uswitch.com mobiles expert Ernest Doku says the move from EE is a disappointing one given that in the aftermath of the Brexit deal, the UK’s biggest mobile providers said they had no immediate plans to change their charging models for roamers within the EU.
“EE says the move will support investment in its UK-based services, but this is ultimately a backwards step for consumers,” says Doku.
“Unfortunately, when one provider makes such a bold decision, it can mean that others follow, so we’ll be watching to see what O2, Vodafone and Three do next. If you’re an existing EE customer, these charges won’t affect you yet, but make sure you check the small print if you’re due an upgrade in the coming months.”
Doku urges customers to always check roaming charges for destinations and use hotel and cafe Wi-Fi on holiday where possible.
While the other operators maintain they have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges for consumers, O2 and Three have amended their fair-use limits for data in Europe.
A spokesperson for Three UK said: “Following a review of our fair-use policy, we are making some changes to our Go Roam policy in the EU to bring it in line with our Go Roam Around the World fair use policy. This means from July 1, our fair-use limit for data while in the EU will reduce from 20GB per month to 12GB.
“The new fair-use limit is still more than enough for holidaymakers to use their phone like they would if they were in the UK. There is no change to our surcharge, so data usage over 12GB (up to the customer’s allowance) will remain subject to a small fee of 0.3p per MB.”
O2 has extended its 25GB roaming fair-use data limit (currently in place for customers with unlimited data plans) to other pay monthly customers. It confirmed it had no plans to otherwise change the current roam-like-at-home arrangements.
A spokesperson for O2 said: “Less than one per cent of our Pay Monthly customers reach anywhere near 25GB during occasional travel to Europe. “If a customer’s UK monthly data allowance is over 25GB, from August 2 they will have a roaming limit of 25GB in our Europe Zone.
“This means they can use up to 25GB of their allowance at no extra cost – we’ll text them if they get close to the limit, and again if they reach it. A customer can still use data if they reach our roaming limit, but will be charged £3.50 per GB.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson at Vodafone said: “We have no current plans to change our approach to roaming in the EU.”
Given that EE has changed its stance soon after reaffirming that it would not reintroduce the charges, Mann believes the operators face an interesting dilemma: should they follow suit in a similar hunt for higher average spend or hold firm and dial up their marketing, positioning themselves firmly on the side of consumers?
“As COVID-19 restrictions slowly ease and international travel resumes, it will be fascinating to watch how this move plays out,” says Mann.