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Vodafone has announced the end of roaming charges for its Republic of Ireland customers, while travelling to Northern Ireland and Britain, following O2's lead.

The new arrangement kicks off in mid-March and follows an announcement by rival O2 in early February, when it unveiled its all-island tariff and said that its customers would no longer incur inadvertent roaming charges while taking calls near the border.

Inadvertent roaming occurs when a mobile phone user unknowingly connects to a base station in Northern Ireland while in the Republic of Ireland, and vice versa. The move is expected to boost trade between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, which is the Irish Republic's biggest market for both exports and imports.

"The recent announcements by Vodafone and O2 that they are eliminating their roaming charges has to be welcomed as a worthwhile first step to breaking down some of the barriers to cross-border trade," said Bernard Durkan TD, Fine Gael spokesperson on communications, in a statement. "Consumers and businesses in border areas have been unfairly ripped-off for years by cross border roaming."

Durkan said the announcement is long overdue and said the delay in the introduction of the all-island phone tariffs is a reflection of a lack of competition in the Irish mobile phone market.

"The scarcity of mobile phone operators has allowed those in the market to act almost as they please," Durkan said.

The announcement comes days after ComReg added a roaming advice section to its website. The communications regulator has warned mobile users of the costs of using their phones abroad, and has added a new section to its website alerting users to the cost of roaming charges when abroad.

The section currently covers the four main holiday destinations for Irish consumers -- Spain, Portugal, Italy and the UK -- and covers both prepay and post-pay phones. More countries will be added to the site in the coming months, and prices will be kept up to date.

ComReg is hoping to raise awareness among mobile users after a survey carried out by the body last year found that more than half of Irish consumers had limited knowledge of roaming charges. A further 20 percent admitted they knew nothing about the charges at all.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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