Questions and Answers: Roaming*

(Source: European Commission)

Why is a new Roaming regulation needed?

The new Roaming regulation enters into force on 1 July 2022. Building on the outcome of the public consultation, the Commission proposed on 24 February 2021 a new Roaming regulation aimed at extending the rules for another 10 years and further enhancing its benefits for citizens. The previous EU Roaming regulation of 2017, ended on 30 June 2022. Europeans travelling within the EU will continue pay domestic prices for calls, SMS and data.

In November 2019, the Commission published an extensive review of the roaming market, showing that travelers across the EU have benefitted significantly from the end of roaming charges. It is therefore important to preserve these benefits by prolonging the existing regulation. The review shows that without continuing the existing framework, the conditions on the mobile telecoms market would still not ensure an economically sustainable ‘roam like at home’ for operators offering roaming services to everyone travelling in the EU. The Commission also carried out a public consultation, in the period June to September 2020, to collect views on retail and wholesale roaming services as well as on the impact of prolonging and reviewing these rules.

What changes with the new Roaming regulation?

The new regulation extends the current rules and brings new additions.

First, consumers will have access to the same services abroad in the EU as at home, when the same networks and technologies are available on the network in the visited Member State. A roaming customer who can use 5G services at home should also have 5G roaming services when this is available in the visited Member State.

Second, consumers will be better informed about the types of services that can bring additional costs, such as calling customer service numbers, helpdesks or insurance companies. These services can be free of charge or cost less when phoning from home, but when roaming additional charges may apply.

Third, consumers will be informed by way of short message (SMS) about additional charges for using roaming services on so-called non-terrestrial networks. Such networks are usually used for mobile connections on board planes and boats and are not covered by roaming rules. Roaming on such networks will often bring additional costs. When citizens travel by plane or boat, their mobile phones may unintentionally connect to a non-terrestrial network. Operators should also offer tools for the customers to avoid additional costs such as opting out from connections to non-terrestrial networks. In addition, roaming services will be automatically interrupted when the consumer reaches a total cost of €50, or another predefined limit, to avoid further charges. This also applies to roaming outside the Union.

The new regulation also ensures that at wholesale level, operators inform each other on how to ensure access to emergency services and caller location, not only for calls to ‘112′ but also for alternative means of access. Roaming customers receive a message when they enter a Member State with information about calls to ‘112′ and other available means of contacting emergency services, e.g. via real time text or apps. Operators should ensure awareness of emergency services for end-users with disabilities. Roaming customers will be informed via the national public warning applications where these services are available.

Who benefits from the new Roaming regulation?

The new Roaming regulation will benefit European citizens, businesses and operators alike.

The new rules will enhance the ‘Roam like at home’ experience of citizens, who will be able to enjoy the same mobile network quality and speed abroad, as they enjoy at home. Citizens are also better protected against potential hidden charges. They will receive more information about inadvertent charges, opt-out mechanisms to prevent these charges, as well as information about phoning to value-added services when abroad.

Operators will be able to continue providing ‘Roam like at home’ services in an economically sustainable way. This is because on one hand the new rules include lower wholesale rate caps, i.e. the maximum prices that the domestic operator pays the operator abroad to provide roaming services. On the other hand, the new wholesale rate caps also ensure cost recovery for visited operators and can help further increase roaming traffic.

Businesses will benefit from improved connectivity in the Single Market. This is particularly important for application developers and start-ups, because it implies that consumers can continuously use their innovative applications and services as they travel across the EU, without network interruptions.

Do consumers have the same network speed, which they have at home, guaranteed while roaming?

In order to provide roaming services to their customers, operators have to use networks that are available in other EU countries and managed by other operators. Since network availability throughout the EU varies, the same mobile network speed may not always be available. However, the new rules aim to ensure that when similar quality or speeds are available in the visited network, the domestic operator should ensure the same quality of the roaming service. In other words, if a consumer has access to 5G connectivity at home, he or she should not have 4G connectivity while roaming, as long as 5G is available at the visited location. According to the new roaming rules, operators should inform their customers of the quality of services they can expect while roaming, by stating this in the roaming contract and publishing information on their website.

What are ‘value-added services’ and why should consumers be aware of those while roaming?

Communications to some phone numbers are charged in a specific way because of the added value of the service. Examples may be customer care services offered by insurance companies or banks. They also include entertainment services, for example calling a specific number to vote for a winner in a popular TV programme.

For domestic calls to numbers that provide value added services, the costs vary: for example, they may be free or they may cost more than regular calls. Since they are subject to special charging schemes domestically, when roaming these calls typically entail additional charges that the customer may not expect. For example, a call that is free at home may not be free or may be more expensive than expected while roaming.

The regulation aims at providing transparency to consumers about value-added services and increasing their awareness about phone numbers that may be used to access value-added services. The objective is to give consumers practical tools to make informed choices about using value-added services numbers while roaming and avoid ‘bill shocks’.

Operators can ensure this by including information about the types of services that may be subject to higher charges in roaming in their contracts with the consumers. In addition, when citizens are entering another EU country, they should receive an SMS about potential increased charges from using such services. The SMS should include a link to a dedicated webpage providing additional information on the types of services and, if available, about the relevant phone numbering ranges.

How do the new rules ensure citizens’ effective access to emergency services, particularly through alternative means, when roaming?

The single European emergency number, 112, it set up in a way that ensures that everyone calling the number has effective access to emergency services while roaming everywhere in the EU. Dialing the emergency numbers and transmitting information on the location of the caller while roaming should be seamless and for free. Likewise, citizens who cannot place a call to 112 should be able to access emergency services free of charge through alternative means when roaming, for example through real time text or a smartphone application.

The new roaming rules also reinforce access to emergency services, through calls and alternative means of communications in case of cross border use. It will also ensure that the transmission of caller location will be seamless and free of charge while using roaming services.

EU travelers should also be well informed about the available means of accessing emergency services in the visited Member State. Therefore, the new regulation will ensure that roaming customers are provided information about the single European emergency number, 112, but also about alternative, non-voice means of access for end-users with disabilities.

In addition, in Member States where public warning mobile applications are deployed, roaming customers will be notified of the existence thereof and instruction on how to download the app concerned. This is complementary to the existing requirement that Member States deliver public warning messages to end-users, without the need of prior action by a roaming customer.

How will the Roaming regulation ensure that ‘Roam like at home’ is economically sustainable for operators and regulate wholesale caps?

The regulation of wholesale caps, i.e. the maximum prices that a visited operator may charge for the use of its network by another operator in order to provide roaming services, is an essential element for the sustainability of ‘roam like at home’ for operators. Regulating wholesale caps continues to be necessary based on the assessment of current technological and business developments. The review of the roaming market in the EU showed that wholesale caps should be further reduced.

The co-legislators agreed on a gradual reduction of the wholesale caps from 2022 onwards. These caps reflect decreasing operators’ wholesale costs of providing roaming services, provide sufficient investment incentives and maximise sustainability for EU operators.

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