Business travelers -- and the enterprises that foot their phone bills -- have been complaining about high roaming fees in Europe for years. Now, some relief is finally in sight.
Indeed, both data roaming and phone calls travelers make while doing business (or taking a vacation) in Europe should be much cheaper this summer thanks to a deal done in the European Parliament this week.
Members of the European Parliament and the Danish Presidency of the Council of Ministers agreed to lower price caps on roaming. Parliament as a whole still needs to approve the deal. But if all runs smoothly the new rules will take effect July 1.
"I am satisfied that the Council approved Parliament's approach to tackle very high prices of phone calls, SMS and in particular of data roaming," said Angelika Niebler of Germany, Parliament's reporter for the draft legislation. "The proposed price caps ensure a sufficient margin between wholesale and retail prices to assure a level of competition that will enable new players to enter the market."
How Low Do They Go?
The agreement increases transparency and consumer protection to prevent bill shocks, Niebler said. That means European Union consumers no longer need to worry about accidentally running up huge bills when using their mobile devices both within and outside the EU. Of course, it's also a boon for consumers from other nations traveling to Europe.
How much savings are we talking about? According to the new rules, a downloaded megabyte would cost no more than 70 cents. That cost drops down to 45 cents in 2013 and 20 cents by July 2014. This is a big improvement, seeing as there is currently no price ceiling for mobile data services charged to consumers.
On the phone call front, the cost of a one-minute call would not exceed 29 cents under the new rules. That declines to 19 cents as of July 2014. That's down from 35 cents under the current legislation. Finally, an SMS would cost no more than 9 cents. That drops to 6 cents as by July 2014 and marks an 11 percent cut from current costs.
Nixing Roaming Altogether
"Mobile roaming charges in the EU are artificially high. Given the fact that they are trying to treat the entire continent like a single country, I don't understand why mobile roaming charges are so high between countries," said Mike Disabato, managing vice president of network and telecom at Gartner .
Practically speaking, the new rules mean that you only need one SIM card while traveling in Europe. Of course, you can't get a SIM card on an iPhone unless you buy an unlocked phone for $800. But if you do use a SIM card you will not have to change phone numbers every time you go to a different country.
"The new rules will make it a lot cheaper for people who actually have to do business in Europe. Any time you start reducing these types of rates it's a good thing," Disabato said. "We got rid of roaming charges a long time ago. It's about time they go in Europe. It will take until the EU decides they are going to make it happen."