Who’s afraid of the big bad data roaming?

Well, 94% of EU citizens apparently are.

Since the establishment of the EU Single Market over 20 years ago, the region has grown into a market of 500+ million people.  The telecom market has evolved significantly during this time, but the EU regulation has somewhat failed to keep up with this development to serve the free moving citizens’ needs.  To be fair, regulation has not been stock-still, and an increasing agility of the Single Market has led to changes in the roaming regulation. The roaming caps for calls and SMS within EU have been in place some six years now, easing the costs for the EU consumers and businesses alike. Still data roaming charges remain at such high level that most EU citizens (94%) deliberately limit their data usage when outside their home country. The latest Eurobarometer (January 2014) on roaming tells us that 47% of EU citizens would never use mobile Internet in another EU country. European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes reads the survey results as an opportunity loss of 300 million roaming customers for telecom companies. 

“…we have to finish the job and eliminate roaming charges. Consumers are limiting their phone use in extreme ways and this makes no sense for the companies either.”  (Neelie Kroes)

As part of the EU’s Connected Continent legislative initiative, there are plans for eliminating premium fees for roaming in EU, to allow people to use their phones at the domestic rate everywhere in EU (“roam like at home”), but this regulation is yet to be finalized and implemented. The critics say, these regulatory changes would have dramatic effects on the operators’ roaming revenues, seriously challenging today’s set up and business models.

In the midst of this European regulatory debate, some operators have started to reposition their roaming offers (which, of course, has been great news for the consumers and businesses). For example TeliaSonera Finland offers consumer customers across Nordic and the Baltics same call and data tariffs as in their home market. Similar plans have been announced by Orange group, who plans to offer “roam like home” in all their footprint. Allowing roaming in the markets you operate is an easy way to add value to your subscribers and may also assist in tackling churn. Operator 3 has gone as far as actually negotiating deals with other operators, beyond their own footprint, to offer 3 UK customers to use their UK allowance when roaming in the US.

Affordable ways to roam are in great demand, as the users’ communication behavior has irreversible changed. Consumers and business have shifted to use rich, virtual communication medias where data connection is fundamental.

Below is a snapshot on the Eurobarometer, comparing the EU28 average and the Finnish and Swedish consumers’ survey results.

Roaming 2As the above chart shows, when travelling in EU (let alone outside EU), EU citizens are very cautious in using any data, unless there is Wi-Fi available. Almost one third of the EU travellers turn off their mobiles completely! In Finland, in addition to TeliaSonera’s offering, other operators are offering data travel packages for roaming abroad. The Eurobarometer shows that Finns’ likelihood to use especially data roaming is greater than in Europe on average and far beyond that of our neighboring country Sweden. This could be an early proof that there is an upside for operators to reconsider their offer planning for roaming, and that operators could in fact capture some of the 300 million roamers opportunity. At least from where I am looking at, this development looks very positive for the consumer.

Happy roaming!

/Suvi

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