After fighting to reduce roaming charges for ten years, the European Commission finally succeeded in abolishing such fees on 15 June 2017. With the ‘Roam Like at Home’ regulations, you can now call, text and use data all across the European Union and European Economic Area for the exact same price as you would in your country of residence. Except, not really.
In practice, many consumers continue to pay extra for roaming when travelling around the Union. Things are especially complicated for customers of the Finnish telecom providers that have been granted special permission to not comply with ‘roam like at home’ regulations, and thus continue to charge extra fees for roaming.
When you use your mobile phone abroad – whether you are calling, texting, or using data – you are roaming. When you are roaming, the telecom provider you are a customer of is paying another provider in the country where you are located for you to use their services.
Roaming has traditionally been quite expensive when travelling abroad, especially in terms of data usage, and many travellers have returned home with surprisingly high phone bills. Now, such negative surprises should be a thing of the past. To the dissatisfaction of many telecom providers, however, the revenue stream from roaming has simultaneously been significantly reduced.
To shield telecom providers from substantial losses, and to prevent operators from subsequently raising their fees for calling, texting and using data domestically, the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority, FICORA, has granted four of the most popular Finnish mobile operators permission to continue charging extra fees for roaming beyond all deadlines set out by the Commission.
Thus, if you have a contract with a Finnish mobile phone operator, and have planned to take advantage of ‘roam like at home’ with no additional cost when travelling in Europe this summer, you may have to think again.
Caveats do not only exist for Finnish operators and their users, however. Indeed, the name, ‘roam like at home’, is somewhat misleading as the new regulations do not require operators to offer the exact same amount of data abroad as paid for domestically.
How does roam like at home work?
If you have paid for unlimited data for your mobile subscription in France, for example, your operator is not required to offer you unlimited data when you travel to Sweden. Instead, the amount of data you can use without an extra cost when in Sweden depends on the monthly price of your mobile subscription.
According to the regulations, your data volume in the EU and EEA should be twice the quotient of the monthly price of your mobile bundle (excl. VAT) divided by €7.70. In other words, if the French mobile subscription costs you €30 a month, excluding VAT, you should receive a minimum of around 8GB of data per month when travelling in Sweden.
If, on the other hand, you are paying for a limited data package domestically, and your domestic unit price for data is €7.70/GB or more, you should be able to use exactly as much data abroad as you would at home. If your domestic unit price is cheaper, you can calculate the gigabytes you are eligible for per month by dividing the price of your mobile package (excl. VAT) by the maximum capped price for roaming of €7.70/GB.
According to the European Commission, the cap for roaming will continue to gradually decrease up until 2022, at the point of which each gigabyte of data will cost a maximum of €2.50. In other words, in five years time, you will only receive less data abroad than you have paid for domestically if your domestic unit price is less than €2.50/GB.
To prevent individuals from shopping around for the cheapest mobile subscriptions across the EU, and then using them in their countries of residence with ‘roam like at home’, the European Commission added a so-called ‘fair use policy’ to their regulations. In other words, you can only use roam like at home as long as you spend more time in your country of residence than abroad, generally calculated in four-month periods. Operators are allowed to track your phone usage and can ask you for an explanation if you seem to have exceeded the fair use limit.
Do customers of Finnish mobile operators benefit from roam like at home?
Telia, DNA, Elisa and Moi Mobiili are the four Finnish mobile operators that have been granted special permission by FICORA to continue applying surcharges for roaming, or, in other words, to not comply with roam like at home regulations.
Nevertheless, all of the operators have significantly reduced their roaming charges this year alone, and some subscription packages do not apply extra fees at all. Thus, consumers who wish to benefit from roam like at home while using Finnish mobile operators need to carefully consider what the various subscription packages offer.
Most operators seem to have generously adopted the new regulations to their most advanced subscription packages. DNA, Telia, and Elisa all offer packages with unlimited domestic data and an additional 10GB data in the EU/EEA without extra cost, thus significantly exceeding the required amount of gigabytes they would have to offer according to the EU regulations.
On the other hand, Moi Mobiili offers a maximum 2GB of data in the EU and EEA without an extra cost – far less than what is required by the new EU regulations when calculated in relation to the price of Moi Mobiili’s subscriptions.
Beyond the newest and most advanced subscription packages, DNA, Telia, and Elisa do not fully comply with the regulations either. DNA, for example, charges €5.70/GB from the moment you start using data abroad, unless you have one of their newer 4G packages offering either 10GB or 600MB data free of extra charge.
It is similar with Elisa. Unless you subscribe to one of their packages with 10GB of EU/EEA data included, you will have to pay €7.44 per each gigabyte of data used abroad. Additionally, calls and text messages are slightly more expensive than the equivalent within Finland if you have one of the subscription packages with no EU/EEA data included without extra charge.
Telia is perhaps the operator that has adopted the EU regulations most thoroughly out of the four. All of their so-called Yhteys subscriptions – with either unlimited, 10GB or 5GB of domestic data – offer more EU and EEA data than required by roam like at home. As for the rest of their subscription packages, they will all be up to date with the new EU regulations by 31 August this year.
Calling abroad is not roaming
There are two additional things related to the new regulations that are important to remember.
First, if you call abroad from Finland with a Finnish mobile subscription package it is not considered roaming, and operators still charge an additional fee for all such calls. It is only when you travel to another EU or EEA country, and your subscription respects the roam like at home regulations, that you can call all EU and EEA member states without an extra charge.
Second, Switzerland, despite being part of the Single Market, is neither part of the EU nor the EEA, and thus not part of the roam like at home regulations. Many other small European countries and holiday destinations similarly fall outside the scope of roam like at home. While some operators have included countries outside the EU and EEA in their roaming packages, this varies greatly between both operators as well as the packages they offer, and thus needs to be separately confirmed with each.
In general, the type of mobile phone subscription one finds useful varies greatly among people. Some spend a lot of time calling, others texting, and yet others need a great amount of data. The new roaming rules in the EU and EEA have simply added another dimension to take into consideration when selecting a mobile subscription package.