EU roaming charges won't return, Virgin Media O2 confirms

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EU mobile roaming charges will not be coming to Virgin Media O2 customers, the  company has said, making it the only major UK mobile operator to make such a commitment.

All roaming fees were abolished across the EU in June 2017 following several years of price cuts, as per European law.

However, roaming was not included in the UK’s withdrawal agreement from the EU, meaning European and British operators are now under no obligation to offer tariff-free use when subscribers use their phone abroad.

O2 roaming

Although all four major networks had all repeatedly promised not to reintroduce the fees, which were abolished across the EU in June 2017, EE, Three and Vodafone have all confirmed their intention to do so in 2022.

Virgin Media O2 has tightened its policies, introducing a 25GB data cap after which customers will be charged 0.3p per MB, or £3 per GB. However, it says only 1% of its users get anywhere near this limit and hopes its commitment will drive business at a time when many people in the UK are looking to travel abroad more often as pandemic restrictions ease.

“We’re starting the year by giving our customers some certainty: we will not be reintroducing roaming fees in Europe for customers on O2 or Virgin Mobile,” declared Gareth Turpin, chief commercial officer, mobile, at Virgin Media O2.

“Unlike all the other major mobile networks who are bringing back roaming fees, we will not be following suit. With many Brits now looking to plan a trip abroad, we’ve got our customers covered and extra roaming charges will be one less thing to worry about.”

"I welcome the decision by and to keep roaming free, meaning UK citizens can still use their mobile data, calls and texts across Europe with no extra charges," added Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Twitter.

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Analysts believe Virgin Media O2’s contrarian stance could position it as consumer champion in the market and challenge its rivals to reconsider.

“Virgin Media O2 has blown the roaming door wide open,” declared Kester Mann, director, consumer and connectivity at CCS Insight. “Bucking the market trend to bring back charges, its decision to hold firm will raise eyebrows across the sector and is a blow to rivals. As EE, Vodafone and then Three each confirmed they would reinstate the dreaded fees, it left the door ajar for Virgin Media O2 to break rank and disrupt the market.

“When the joint venture launched last June, it vowed to shake things up; this news shows it is ready to live up to this ambition. Expect it to go hell for leather in its marketing as it seeks to position itself firmly on the side of the consumer. Roaming is a poisonous term for many and horror stories of people racking up huge bills on holiday rightly led to widespread distrust and resentment toward telecom operators.

“This move could hit Three hardest. It was the first to begin to phase out roaming in 2013 and has assertively promoted its Go Roam offer as it looked to differentiate by overcoming common customer pain points. If it goes ahead with plans to bring back roaming in May, it risks undoing much of this effort.”

If you want to take advantage of free roaming, then look at the best O2 mobile phone deals

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.