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Carriers, prepare to bleed: EU pops a cap on data roaming

56 pence a megabyte from July

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The EU has renewed its caps on mobile roaming, this time including a cap on data roaming and a promise to let travellers choose their roaming carrier by 2014, all coming in from 1 July.

At the end of next month anyone travelling in Europe will pay no more than 56 pence (€0.70) a megabyte for data, 23 pence (€0.29) per minute for calls and 7 pence (€0.09) for sending a text message. Not only that but any EU customer abroad, anywhere in the world, will have to be notified before their bill exceeds €50 (£40), which should prevent a lot of tabloid headlines based around "bill shock".

The existing caps include calls and text, but not data, and they run out at the end of June, so the update is needed, but as well as imposing the immediate cap the EU has laid down a sliding scale of cost reduction which will see roaming data down to 16 pence a MB by July 2014 at which point calls will be a shade over 15 pence a minute and texts a shade under five.

For comparison, right now Vodafone will charge you a pound a megabyte for data used within Europe, and £3 in the rest of the world. But sign up to "Vodafone Data Traveller" and you'll get 25MB of data for a couple of quid, which works out rather less than the EU-capped rate, and anyone with more than 1200 minutes on their contract gets Data Traveller free too.

Vodafone also conforms to the already-mandated €50 warning within the EU, but only warns those travelling outside when they hit £100 - which will have to change with the new rules.

So these caps won't change anything very radically, trimming the exorbitant tariffs a little won't make downloading a movie more practical, but the 2014 requirement to allow roaming-only carriers is potentially much more disruptive.

The premise is that one might be a Vodafone customer while in the UK, but might decide that EE has better roaming rates thanks to their international presence, so one signs a roaming contract with EE. While in the UK one remains on Vodafone's network, but travel within Europe and one seamlessly switches to EE's roaming partners paying the rate agreed with EE (while keeping the same mobile number).

It's easy to imagine a swath of companies pitching to provide that roaming service, providing genuine competition to the network operators which today can rely on customers selecting them based on domestic rates rather than their roaming offers.

That's not going to happen until July 2014, so for the moment we'll have to content ourselves with slightly reduced data and calling rates, and better warnings, while sunning ourselves abroad. ®

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