Being stung by roaming charges could be a thing of the past

Young woman using smartphone in Sydney
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The days of unexpected high phone bills caused by roaming charges could soon be at an end if a new Ofcom proposal goes through.

The watchdog is proposing changes to how mobile operators notify users about roaming charges and is inviting telecoms to join the dialogue before any decision is made. 

Since the UK left the European Union (EU), Ofcom notes that some laws regarding roaming, charges, and users being notified of connecting to foreign networks, ceased to apply.  Furthermore, it found that a fifth of holidaymakers (19%) don’t know they could be charged extra when using their mobile devices abroad, and 18% didn’t research roaming charges before traveling.

Inconsistent and unclear

Furthermore, almost everyone (94%) relies on roaming alerts, and 84% read the messages when they receive them. Of those who read the alerts, 94% described them as either essential or helpful. Also, almost three-quarters (72%) changed their behavior after receiving the alert. 

But Ofcom also found these messages “inconsistent and unclear”.

That being said, the organization now proposes telecoms create personalized alerts, which would include roaming charges that would apply (including specifying any fair use data limits and the time period that applies to any daily charges), any mobile bill limits the customers set up, and where to find free-to-access further details on roaming charges, fair use policies, and how to monitor, reduce, and limit spend.

These changes are not just designed to protect people on holidays - they are also important for people living in border zones. Apparently, there is plenty of “inadvertent roaming” (when a device connects to a foreign network without the user physically being in that country), with 14% of UK mobile customers experiencing it when still in the UK. Roughly 2% connected to French networks while being on the English coast, and 22% of customers in Northern Ireland experienced inadvertent roaming in Ireland last year. 

"Millions of UK holidaymakers head abroad every year and want to stay connected on their travels. But without clear information from their provider, they could find themselves facing an unexpected bill for calling home or going online,” commented Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s Director of Telecoms Consumer Protection. 

“These alerts would mean whichever mobile provider you’re with, you won’t be left in the dark about roaming charges and action you can take to manage your spending."

Ofcom is now inviting responses to its consultation by September 28, 2023, and plans on publishing its decision in early 2024.

Sead Fadilpašić

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.