From today the cost of roaming in the EU has declined significantly, an important victory for consumers. The limitations now placed on how much carriers can charge in roaming fees will hopefully put an end to the annual media horror stories about thousand pound phone bills (which can even catch out celebrities). The most significant reduction is in the maximum cost of data per megabyte, which is set to fall by 36%. Most excitingly of all, is the fact that this is only the first step in a program of reduction, which will see costs scaled back even more over the next couple of years. We have previously discussed the absurdity of high roaming costs (as they end up double-charging consumers), and it’s great to see real change being enacted. Hopefully the plans to scrap roaming charges altogether by the end of 2014 will also come to fruition, although that will probably be somewhat harder to achieve.
The main reason that lower roaming fees are important is not solely based in the simple expediency of being able to remain connected while abroad, something that is becoming increasingly vital. There is also an important secondary factor, which lies with the simplification of consumer choice when faced with a decision about which carrier or price-plan to go with. Currently there are a whole number of factors that people must take into account, which can make buying a cell phone both a complex and somewhat oblique process. Balancing the competing requirements of handset model, handset price, network performance, roaming tariffs, data allowances and contract price can be extremely difficult and can make a fair comparison tricky when different operators perform better in different categories. At OpenSignal we are trying to simplify the process of understanding network performance, as that has historically been the most difficult to understand of all. An across-the-board reduction in cell phone roaming charges only means one less thing to worry about, meaning that consumers can make more efficient decisions and helping to protect them from extreme incurred charges.
The move that the EU has put in place is great for consumers, and hopefully will have consequences beyond simply making going abroad easier and cheaper. It is a move which will have a significant impact in making Europe a truly unified entity, especially as costs continue to be pushed down. Above all, by giving consumers one less thing to worry about, hopefully they will be more mindful of other factors that are extremely important to getting the most out of your phone. As prices become more equitable hopefully the lens of decision-making will be increasingly focussed on the comparative performance of networks in a given geographical area. It’s only when consumers become more aware of the true pattern of network coverage that they will start to demand better from operators.