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Data roaming in Europe: New rules, new Orange and T-Mobile rates

The European Commission has decreed that, from 1 March, you'll get cut off after you've spent €50 on roaming, while T-Mobile and Orange have busted out some new EU data-roaming rates

After spending a week at Mobile World Congress, roaming like the escaped feline monstrosities that stalk the green fields of Britain, we've incurred data charges that could bankrupt Greece. But, as of 1 March, we're all going to get a little extra help to avoid the shock that rocks our tiny minds when the bill comes in.

The European Commission has introduced a cut-off mechanism that means your data pipe will get throttled once you've spent €50 (£44) on data roaming. If you want to spend more, you'll have to contact your network to confirm it.

But watch out! On some networks, the service requires you to opt in -- O2 says that you'll have to give it a call to set up the €50 limit. If you're the kind of person that accidentally roams yourself into a £10,000 bill while downloading movies in France, you're probably not organised enough to opt into the limit, so we think it's pretty useless.

We prefer 3's approach. The operator told us that the limit will be put on all accounts by default. Also, 3 will alert you by text message every time you go £10 over your contract data bundle, whether at home or while you're roaming your heart out.

The Commission's announcement follows regulations from July 2009 that limited the price of sending a text message to 11 euro cents, calling home to the UK to 43 cents per minute, and receiving a call to 19 cents per minute. Converted to pence and with VAT factored in, these prices work out to about the same amount.

In July, however, only wholesale data rates were capped at €1 per MB, which limited how much networks could charge each other, but not how much they could charge the consumer.

Mobile operators are ever so slowly reducing their exorbitant charges to reflect the wholesale cut, with Orange launching a plan that allows 2MB of data for €2 (£1.76) last week.

This week, T-Mobile announced a new mobile data add-on for people on pay-per-day and pay-monthly mobile-broadband deals -- that's you, USB-dongle folks. The 'euro broadband booster' add-on costs £1 for 3MB, £5 for 20MB, £10 for 50MB or £40 for 200MB.

All but the 200MB add-on are only valid for 24 hours, from when you buy them via a Web page that launches automatically when you open your browser using your T-Mobile connection in Europe. The 200MB add-on is valid for 30 days.

If you're using a T-Mobile phone rather than a dongle, the 200MB option isn't available. Instead, you can buy 3MB for £1, which expires after 24 hours, 5MB for £20, which lasts for seven days, or 10MB for £50, which lapses after 30 days.

It's still horrifically complicated, but it makes the EC directive fairly redundant, since you'll get cut off automatically when you reach the limit of what you've paid for from T-Mobile.