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The cost of making mobile phone calls while abroad will fall, as operators create roaming-friendly tariffs and face up to regulatory pressure on overcharging.

Operator groups have started to formulate roaming-friendly tariffs, to bring about price transparency and lower prices for their roaming customers, according to Informa's new Global Mobile Roaming report.

The Vodafone Passport is an example of one such roaming tariff, which will apply when consumers roam within a particular operator group.

"Vodafone is the world's largest operator, both in terms of footprint and number of consumers, that definitely gives them an advantage," Michele Scanlon, telecoms consultant with Informa Telecoms & Media, said.

She said that Vodafone has gained a technological advantage, as its phones are pre-configured to select its partners in different countries. Other groups and alliances will come up with similar tariffs over the course of this year, but these alliances are inhibited by a lack of leadership, she said.

Informa estimates that there were 207 million roaming customers at the end of 2004 and projects that there will be 850 million roamers by 2010.

Currently, most roamers are contract users who make frequent calls from abroad. The report predicts that future growth will be driven by occasional roamers, such as holidaymakers or businesspeople who make occasional trips. Operators will encourage these occasional users by establishing virtual home environments.

Revenue growth will be challenged as competition puts a dent into roaming rates. Potential revenues will also be limited as consumers start to use VoIP across a wi-fi network as an alternative to mobile roaming.

The report comes hot on the heels of a report by the European Regulators Group (ERG) which has concluded that European operators charge too much for roaming. The ERG, a body of 32 European telecoms regulators, which includes ComReg, has also found that consumers are not given clear information about the cost of calling from abroad.

The findings could lead to price controls being imposed on roaming fees, which could lead to cheaper mobile calls for consumers. A new system, whereby consumers would be alerted on arrival in a foreign country as to which mobile network is the cheapest, is also under consideration.

Vodafone and O2 are being investigated by the European Commission over fees levied on foreign operators whose customers travel to Britain. The two operators could be fined up to 10 per cent of their annual group turnover if the Commission finds against them.

© ENN

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