Explained: Mobile roaming charges slashed, data excluded

From today, European mobile phone roaming charges have been slashed in accordance with new EU regulations. But data charges are a whole other story...

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
3 min read

Today is the 37th anniversary of the first Gay Pride march in England. More relevantly to our concerns, it's also the day new EU regulations come into effect that could slash the cost of using your mobile phone while abroad by more than half. So, a good day to be gay and on holiday.

Here's a short version and a long version.

Short version

Calls could cost you half as much when abroad, as will sending texts. The cost of using data hasn't been reduced for customers, and still costs a fortune. New prices are in effect from today.

The long, detailed version with numbers 'n' stuff

From today, the maximum a UK operator can charge you to send a text message to a UK phone from within Europe is 11 Euro cents, which today works out at about 10p when VAT is added. This is less than half of the previous maximum cost of 25 cents, and receiving messages remains free.

Exact costs for calls depend on what your network decides to charge you based on your tariff, but the maximum you can be charged for making a call from Europe to the UK is now 43 Euro cents (about 43p including VAT) per minute, and 19 cents (18p including VAT) per minute to receive a call.

Additionally, operators must allow customers to request their usage is capped should their bill while abroad reach a certain figure. By default this will be about £50 including VAT. If you're loaded, go ahead and set it at a few thousand quid. This could be useful for businesses wishing to restrict overseas calling made by employees, we imagine.

For example, an O2 spokesperson told us this morning O2 would be reducing the cost of sending a text message from within the EU for both pre-pay and pay-monthly customers, from 25p per message to 11p per message -- a 56 per cent reduction. Call charges will stay the same as they were already below the new limit.

Data roaming still ludicrously expensive

New charges for data may confuse some people. Lower caps have been placed on what operators can charge for data -- now €1 per megabyte, or roughly 86p -- but this is only the amount one network can charge another network, and is not a new limit on what a network charges you, the customer. What you pay for data roaming has not changed at all.

Our O2 friend explains the new data charges: "If T-Mobile was using our network for its customers to roam, we could charge T-Mobile up to £1 per MB, but T-Mobile could [still] charge their customers what they like."

Although O2's data roaming charges are not changing, 3's are. In fact, 3 is now offering standard European data roaming charges of £1.25 per MB, regardless of whether a customer is on pre-pay or pay monthly plan. For reference, Orange and O2 charge £2.94 per MB, T-Mobile charges £1.50 per MB and Vodafone charges £5 for the first 15MB and £2 for every MB thereafter (prices based on a UK pay-monthly customer using data from France).

To find out your particular network's charges, give 'em a call.