EU seeks to extend free mobile roaming for another decade

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The EU wants to extend and strengthen existing rules that allow Europeans to use their phones without additional charges in any other member state.

All roaming fees were abolished across Europe in June 2017 following several years of price cuts, but the regulations are due to expire next year.

The European Commission says more than 170 million Europeans have benefited from the changes, with roaming traffic increasing 17 times between 2016 and 2019. The associated economic benefits of cross-border services are also a key pillar of the digital single market.

EU roaming

“Wherever we are in Europe, we can check in with our loved ones, talk business and share stories while on the road without worrying about costly bills,” said European Vice President Margrethe Vestager.

“The end of roaming charges is a prime example of how the EU keeps millions of citizens connected and improves their lives. The new rules will keep roaming at no extra charges and make it even better.”

The Commission’s proposals would not only extend these provisions for another decade, but also ensure that Europeans receive the same quality of service in another country as they do at home. For example, a 4G subscriber in France would not be forced to use 3G in Austria.

The EU says that many new applications will require 5G connectivity to work effectively and citizens must have certainty that they can be used when travelling.

There has been some tension between telcos in Northern and Southern Europe. Operators in southern Europe want higher wholesale price caps so they can benefit from demand during the peak tourist season, while counterparts in the north want lower caps.

The EU has said it wants inclusive roaming to be as sustainable as possible and that further reductions in wholesale caps are in the offing.

“Millions of Europeans have been enjoying the benefits of roaming throughout the EU at no extra charges,” added Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market.

“It is an established and successful cornerstone of the single market. In Europe's Digital Decade everyone must be able to have excellent connectivity everywhere they are in Europe, just like at home. Today we confirm the commitment towards our citizens. In parallel we work to support investment in adequate infrastructure.”

The regulations no longer apply to the UK, but major operators have indicated they have no plans at present to restore charges.

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.