EU agrees to extend free roaming legislation, but UK excluded

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The European Union is to extend and strengthen regulations that allow EU residents to use their phones without additional charges in any other member state.

The existing legislation was introduced in 2017 and under the new agreement citizens will be able to use their voice, text and data allowances until 2032 and will be entitled to the same quality and speed of connection as they would be at home.

In practice, this means an operator cannot downgrade a roaming user from 4G to 3G if such a signal is available.

EU roaming

The agreement has also lowered wholesale caps. These caps limit how much one operator can charge another for a customer using a foreign network and are often the source of disagreements between carriers in different parts of the continent.

For example, operators in southern Europe that typically host more tourists want higher caps to support the cost of additional capacity, while those in the north want lower ceilings to minimise their costs and drive usage among customers.

The new wholesale cap for data will be €2 per GB in 2022 and will come down progressively to €1 by 2027. Call caps currently stand at €0.19 and the EU says these will be reviewed over time.

The informal agreement will now have to be formally endorsed by the European parliament and council to become law.

“We were able to reach an agreement that is progressive and leads to even better quality and service for European citizens,” said Angelika Winzig MEP, the European Parliament's negotiator for the new roaming rules for mobile networks. “We are creating a fairer roaming market, especially focusing on smaller operators by significantly cutting the wholesale caps. As European Parliament chief negotiator, it was my goal to improve the situation significantly for consumers.”

“We succeeded in ensuring a new regulation that delivers exactly that, while also providing enough flexibility to react to new developments in the telecom and technological sectors. This way we make sure that the EU constantly has its finger on the pulse. Tonight’s agreement is one step closer to a true Digital Single Market and I am happy that we could add a new chapter to this European success story.”

The roam like home legislation used to apply to the UK before it left the EU and no provisions for the continuation of the policy were included in the withdrawal agreement. Many operators have ended their free roaming offer since.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.