EU Roaming Explained Part 1 – Wherever You May Roam

Ciara O'Reilly
On: 2 Jun 2016
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Note: this post was published in June 2016. For a more recent post on EU Roaming, see:

As we reach the second stage of the EU’s changes to roaming charges, Ciara O’Reilly, Portfolio Manager at Three, takes a look at the impact this could have on your business.

As a nation with a small, open economy, we’re relatively reliant on exports for growth and our key market is of course our European neighbours. Being part of Europe has allowed Irish businesses to trade more easily with other member states, as well as internationally. So it follows that as we increase our volume of exports, so increases our need to travel to those countries to do more business. This was one of the objectives of the EU when it committed to ending mobile roaming charges by 2017. Its aim was to encourage greater business (and consumer) travel among member states as part of its objective to create a single digital market.

At the end of April, the EU implemented the second stage of its planned abolition of roaming charges for member states. The three stages will see the costs associated with using your smartphone, laptop or tablet abroad decrease incrementally as follows:

Stage 1: Prior to 30th April 2016, people using their phones and devices outside of their home countries were charged a premium for using other EU countries’ phone networks to make calls, send texts and access the internet.

Stage 2: From 30th April 2016 until 14th June 2017, roaming consumption will be taken out of travellers’ existing domestic voice, text and data package and a small surcharge added to cover the cost of roaming. This may differ from operator to operator but at Three we felt that charging a reduced surcharge only, without touching the domestic package, was the simplest way to administer the price reductions for our customers.

Stage 3: From 15th June 2017, all of the costs for your calls, mobile data and text messages will be deducted from your domestic package, without any surcharges being added.

But what does this mean for business travellers regularly moving across EU member states? Let’s take a look at the actual cost of roaming:

Stage 1   Stage 2   Stage 3
Voice calls made (p/min)   €0.19 €0.05 Same as domestic package
Voice calls received (p/min)   €0.05 €0.0114 Same as domestic package
SMS (p/message) €0.06 €0.02 Same as domestic package
Data (p/MB) €0.20 €0.05 Same as domestic package


Simple, right? OK, perhaps not. Let’s consider how this works in real life instead.

You regularly visit EU countries on business for two or three days at a time, once a month. While you spend the most time in France and Germany, you do visit Spain and Portugal regularly too. When you’re at home you typically send around 10 texts, download about 70MB of mobile data and talk for around 77 minutes a day. When you’re abroad however, your usage changes. Most of us tend to be more careful with our data usage when abroad, but you may use your phone to check out maps, download directions, check your emails more frequently and maybe even video conference the office back home. Since you’re not always sure where the nearest Wi-Fi network is, your data consumption will go up, so your usage when travelling is more likely to look something like this: spend 60 minutes speaking on the phone; send 30 SMS; and download 150MB of data. So assuming you don’t have any roaming allowances in your plan, what did this cost you last year and what will it cost you now?

  • 60 minutes of calls per day when roaming would have cost you €11.40 before 30th April this year. Now it will cost just €3.
  • 30 SMS messages per day when roaming would have cost you €1.80 before 30th April this year. Now it will cost €0.60.
  • Downloading 50MB of data per day when roaming would have cost you €30 before 30th April this year. Now it will cost you €7.50.
  • Your overall usage before 30th April 2016 would have cost you €43.20 and now it will cost you €11.10.

It’s likely that business and consumer travellers on Bill Pay will see reductions in costs of up to 75%. That’s great news if you’re a business looking to increase trade outside of our borders and into member states. This was indeed the motivation of the EU when abolishing roaming charges. It hopes that the changes will “…notably promote the cross-border use of connected devices and services (e.g. connected cars) and boost the evolution of mobile apps, on which one million Europeans now work. They will use their devices more regularly when they are travelling. This means more opportunities for online businesses and start-ups to provide services to consumers when they travel in the EU.”

In my next blog, I’ll be examining how the EU hopes that changes to roaming charges could bring about true net neutrality, impact innovation and help drive economic growth across the region.

Note: all costs quoted are ex-VAT.