The effects of Brexit on mobile roaming are becoming increasingly evident. Foreign travel to the EU is becoming more expensive for most Britons. The British mobile network operators had promised before the country left the EU (“Brexit”) that they would not change anything in the EU roaming free of charge afterwards. Only one of the four network operators is now keeping this promise: Virgin Media O2. Great Britain and Northern Ireland have not been part of the European Union since February 2020, which means that the EU roaming regulation no longer applies there.
“We will not reintroduce roaming charges in Europe,” promises the company, which recently emerged from a merger of the British Telefónica subsidiary O2 UK with Virgin Media, a subsidiary of Liberty Globals. COO Gareth Turpin emphasizes explicitlythat this is not a short-term action, but should stay that way in the long term. After all, the company wants to win new customers.
Promises are broken
EE (British Telecom) and Vodafone UK wanted to introduce roaming charges for their customers in the EU in the first week of the year, but have postponed this. Apparently the necessary tests were not completed on time. Vodafone will bill you from the end of the month, EE from March.
Three (Hutchison 3G UK) announced the introduction of the new fees for May. The three network operators usually want to charge a surcharge of two pounds per day (around 2.40 euros). However, there are limits to the data volume or length of stay, so that the costs can be much higher.
German and Austrian networks
Conversely, some EU citizens have to pay for trips to Great Britain and Northern Ireland with higher mobile phone bills. For O2 (Telefónica Germany), connections to or from Great Britain and Northern Ireland are already included in World Zone 2, which is subject to a surcharge. For Deutsche Telekom, however, the United Kingdom is still in the “EU country group” – subject to change. Vodafone Germany announced: “Great Britain will remain part of the EU roaming zone even after leaving the European Union.”
The Austrian market leader A1 already charged roaming charges in the kingdom last year, and now Drei (Hutchison Drei Austria) is also charging connections there. This is not the case with Magenta, the Austrian subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom: “The UK’s exit from the European Union will not change anything for Magenta customers who are in Great Britain,” the network operator reassures his customers.
EU extends until 2032
At EU level, there are signs of an extension of the consumer-friendly EU regulation introduced in 2017. As part of the strategy for digital change, the roaming rules will be extended by ten years until 2032. A fundamental agreement was reached at the beginning of December, and shortly before Christmas the European Parliament also formally called for a new roaming regulation.
The new EU regulation is not only intended to update the status quo, but to bring further improvements: consumers will enjoy the same quality and bandwidth when roaming in the EU as they do at home. In addition, emergency services must then expressly be available free of charge.
Intra-group billing at the expense of consumers
It is astonishing that the Hutchison Group (Drei / Three) in particular was able to raise roaming charges shortly after the EU regulation no longer applies. The group was a pioneer in reducing roaming charges. At the beginning of the millennium, Austrian Drei customers were able to roam for years in the Group’s own sister networks at no extra charge. Practically simultaneously with the abolition of roaming at no extra charge by Drei in Austria in 2013, it was re-introduced by Hutchison in Great Britain.
It is even more difficult to justify that Vodafone UK is breaking the promise made before Brexit: The group operates mobile networks in Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, the Czech Republic and Hungary – most of them the EU roaming of British customers remains in-house. Even if the roaming purchase prices for Vodafone UK should have changed, the money would only flow from one corporate pocket to the other. From the end of the month, more money will flow into the corporate pockets of British Vodafone customers.