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Europe's O2 extends roaming discounts

Mobile operator expands roaming price cuts for regular voice services--but not data--across Europe.

O2 has extended its European roaming-charge plan to 31 countries, after having previously predicted that it would cover 35 by mid-2007.

Last year, the operator introduced its My Europe program, under which customers paid a discounted rate of 35 pence (68 cents) per minute to send or receive calls unless they paid a monthly supplement of 2.50 pounds, in which case incoming calls would be free and outgoing calls would enjoy a discounted rate.

The plan initially applied only to Spain--home of O2's parent company, Telefonica--and the U.K., but it now is open to the majority of Europe. While the per-minute charge still exists for those not paying a monthly premium, customers using the new My Europe Extra tariff will now pay 5 pounds per month to get incoming calls free and outgoing calls at 25 pence per minute, 02 said. Customers using their handsets in Spain will still pay only 2.50 pounds per month.

Consumers who want reduced roaming rates for a single month, instead of taking out a 12-month subscription, will have to pay a 10-pound surcharge to do so.

According to Sally Cowdrie, O2's marketing director, "people want simplicity and transparency with the flexibility of using their mobile phone while traveling, (and they) also want to keep costs down."

Data roaming, however, is still not part of O2's price reduction plan, despite the European Commission's recent threat to add data to its incoming roaming-charge regulations.

Mike Short, vice president of research and development at O2 and chairman of the Mobile Data Association, told ZDNet UK last Tuesday that data roaming is "very complex (due to) understanding different networks and how they justify their per-megabit charges." He promised, however, that "data will follow" voice in O2's future roaming reductions.

For now, O2's customers must pay between 5.29 pounds and 7.05 pounds per megabyte when they access data services while traveling.

David Meyer of reported from London.