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This site shows the new roaming rules in the EU effective 15 June 2017. It will ultimately replace the old article with the previous rules.

The rules may be hard to read and comprehend. But it's very much recommended for you to understand the basic rules of EU roaming to make up your mind of which option is best for you when travelling in the Union.

While the new rules are clear and laid out on this site below, their exact implementation by the different providers remains still uncertain and raises many questions. This page will be regularily updated as soon as more details emerge in the course of 2017.

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EUROPEAN UNION - Rules and Implications Edit

The good news: (most) roaming surcharges within the European Union (EU) and the wider European Economic Area (EEA) come to an end by 15th June 2017;

and the bad news: it will not be for everyone, some exclusions like restrictions on data use will still apply and there are many strings attached.

As the situation remains confusing for visitors and residents alike, this is your guidepost through this new era starting in June 2017.

Looking back Edit

Travellers to or within Europe have found an annoying situation up to June 2017: every country has still its own national phone system and mobile networks. This made mobile phone use in Europe cheap only if you were using a SIM card issued in the specific country you were visiting. Compared to that, intra-European roaming rates used to be excessively expensive, especially for data. "Bill shock" was not that uncommon. This has been a particular burden for travellers visiting multiple countries: to get a decent rate for data, one had to buy a new SIM card in every country visited. Many users became so afraid of high costs that they simply disabled mobile data or switched off their phone when abroad.

That’s why we started this Wiki some years ago. But there is really good news: from 15 June 2017 most roaming surcharges will be scrapped all over the EU and EEA.

EU history

The European Commission claims that compared to 10 years ago retail prices across calls, SMS and data are more than 80% lower, data roaming is now up to 91% cheaper and the volume of the data roaming market has grown by 630%. However, this is only one side of the story.

EU principles Edit

Roam like (at) home Edit

"Roam like (at) home" will be the guiding principle for roaming from June 2017 in all of the EU and EEA:

Roam like at home

Net Neutrality Edit

Net-neutrality

The EU commits to strict net neutrality: no blocking or throttling of online content, applications and services. All traffic will be treated equally. This means that there can be no paid prioritisation of traffic in the internet access service. This applies to roaming too, as any roaming traffic must not be depriorised. However providers are allowed a reasonable day-to-day traffic management according to justified technical requirements.

EU Roaming Rates Edit

EU-Roaming

New rates from 15th June 2017 Edit

The EU finally agreed on bringing roaming fees to an end in June 2017 with a few exceptions, so that prices for roaming are the same as domestic:

Roaming

from 15 June 2017
voice

calls

incoming free
outgoing at domestic rate
texts

(SMS)

incoming free
outgoing at domestic rate
data at domestic rate (some limitations may apply)

Incoming in this table means being called or texted while staying in a roaming country, also called passive roaming. Outgoing means calling or texting from a roaming country, known as active roaming.

Effective from 15 June 2017, most roaming charges are banned on all EU providers for the entire union. Under the regulated tariff every EU provider needs to charge the same rate domestic and abroad when roaming within the EU and EEA for calls and texts and most data.

All users of EU issued SIM cards are automatically adopted to new roaming scheme from June 2017. This applies to prepaid as well as ongoing postpaid contracts, no matter how roaming was priced before. There will be no changes what domestic rates are concerned. You may choose to opt-out and switch to a different plan for roaming too, if your provider offers it to you. Some may be even pushy about this for reasons explained below.

New wholesale caps Edit

In early 2017 the European Commission finally agreed to new wholesale caps. This has been a prerequisite for "roam like at home" to take effect. These caps are the maximum rates that providers in Europe can charge each other for the roaming customers of a different network from out of the country.

Roaming

2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
voice calls € 0.032 per minute
texts (SMS) € 0.01 per SMS
data (per GB) € 7.70 € 6.00 € 4.50 € 3.50 € 3.00 € 2.50

These prices are net rates without VAT. Voice and SMS rates are already below domestic retail prices. For data a gradual reduction scheme has been introduced that will be checked for consistency after two years. This designation was very disputed because smaller providers are afraid to sell roaming data now below their revenues, while big network alliances can benefit from heavy reductions on wholesale rates of own or partner networks. Critics fear a further consolidation of the telco market in Europe as a consequence.

Validity Area Edit

EU roaming regulations are valid in all EU member states, including their EU territories outside Europe, and in the countries of the wider European Economic Area (EEA). In the following article they are referred as EU, but include Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein too, as this term is better known as EEA. The EU and EEA countries are shown in green on the map and named on the column on the right:

EU-0
Off the map are the Canary Islands as a part of Spain, Madeira and the Azores as a part of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean and some French Overseas Departments in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean, which are part of the EU and consequently where EU roaming regulations equally apply.
As prices are not regulated and much more expensive outside, it's worth noting the areas in red: Switzerland is the most notable exception in Central Europe. In Eastern Europe, Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine are not part. In the Balkans, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia are outside. And there a small red dots between France and Spain (for Andorra), France (for Monaco) and Italy (for San Marino) where you can be charged much higher too. Finally, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are excluded territories as well as the northern part of Cyprus and all of Turkey

Remember, that the United Kingdom intends to leave the EU/EEA, so that its status and that of Gibraltar may then change too. This hasn't been decided yet and it's expected that they will remain in the EU at least until 2019 with the rules applied.

Some providers include certain red countries like Switzerland to their EU zone, but others don't, and as they are not legally required, this can't be generalized. For this you need to check your provider.

As this zoning creates many borders, where red meets green, remember when staying close to an red area, you should always:

  • when roaming: make a manual network selection
  • when using your home network: disable data roaming

Major shortcomings and restrictions Edit

No roaming

There are some principal restrictions and strings attached to these rules you should be aware of:

Geographical limitations Edit

EU rules only apply to all SIM cards issued in the EU and EEA shown on the map above by a terrestrial EU or EEA provider, not to any other provider or any SIM card issued outside. And they only apply to calls and texts from one EU/EEA country to the same or another and data use. Not to calling/texting in from outside the EU/EEA or to calling/texting out from inside the EU/EEA. There are still huge gaps shown in red on the map above. Note, that there are steep borders where roaming outside may become more than 1000 times more expensive than within. So shock bills can still occur when you connect to the "wrong" networks outside.

Maritime or aircraft networks Edit

This regulation doesn't apply to networks employed on cruise or ferry ships or in aircrafts using satellite links, even when these vehicles are cruising or flying within the EU or EEA. Bear in mind that these networks are usually charged very high typically around €16 to €25 per MB data or incoming calls at €2 to €7 per min and should be avoided at all costs.

International calls and texts from home country Edit

There is an odd distinction between calling from your home country abroad and calling when roaming. The EU regulation is only about roaming. So all IDD (or cross-country) calls and texts from the home country (of the SIM card) even to another EU/EEA country are not covered by the legislation. The EU doesn't have a mandate for this.

This anomaly makes most international calls more expensive than when roaming with the same SIM card abroad for calls to the home country. This exclusion only concerns calls or texts to anywhere from the home country where the SIM was issued. Luckily it doesn't concern data use: for internet you are either at home or roaming as soon as you log on to the foreign mobile network.

Restrictions for data use Edit

There are restrictions for data use on some networks. Open (or unlimited) data packages will be capped for roaming. On some large packages only a part of the included data volume may be given out at the domestic rate for roaming. This is subject to different FUPs specified further below.

Further exclusions Edit

All roaming calls and texts are considered "off-net" as a different network is employed for transmission. That's why on-net discounts between users of the same network don't apply while roaming.

Roaming rates for calls and texts are always at the domestic rate in the home country of the plan. This rate is usually lower than calling the same country from home, but can be higher too in a few cases when special promotions are applied in the home country to certain destinations which are below domestic rates.

Any calls and texts to premium and special services numbers are not included.

Alternative options Edit

All EU providers are required to offer an option to make the tariff or plan compliant to the new regulated EU rules. They can also offer different plans or bundles, that can be cheaper or more expensive depending on your own consumption. For instance they can offer special allowances for roaming on top of your domestic bundle instead of being taken from it. These further offers don't need to obey EU rules. But you must agree to opt-out of EU rules before choosing a different plan.

Nor for permanent roaming Edit

The EU regulations apply to occasional roaming use during holidays or business trips of its citizens, not to permanent roaming in another country. So when you are roaming continuously for longer abroad, after a couple of months some providers may want to see some links to the home country or switch off roaming.

Implications Edit

It's not yet entirely clear how these restrictions affect the three different modes of consumption. As it looks like now, the Roam like at Home principle will apply to all voice and text use and to most data use.

Implications for voice (call) and text (SMS) users Edit

Phone
SMS
For voice and text users all roaming surcharges are scrapped from now on without limitations.

Incoming or passive roaming (that's when you are called or texted abroad by someone else) is free.

Outgoing calls and texts within the roaming country, to your EU/EEA home country or to another EU or EEA country are charged at the domestic rate only.

  • If you have a domestic all-net flatrate for voice or text to all lines in your home EU/EEA country (not only an on-net flatrate), the roaming call/SMS will be "free" on this flatrate.
  • If you have a certain allowance of ## minutes airtime or SMS to all domestic lines in your home EU/EEA country (not only on-net), the roaming call or SMS will be debited from this domestic allowance.
  • If you call on a standard (default, pay-as-you-go) rate of ## cents per minute/SMS domestic, the roaming call/SMS will be charged at the same domestic per-minute/SMS rate.

Again, all calls and texts from your home country (ar rather home country of the SIM) calling IDD abroad are not considered roaming calls, but international calls. They can be charged much higher as they are not regulated under the EU rules.

Implications for data / mobile internet users Edit

Data
  • If you have a domestic "unlimited" data flatrate in your home EU country, data use will be "free" on this flatrate up to a certain cap that must be clearly indicated by the provider.
  • If you have a certain package allowance of ## MB or GB in a bundle for your home EU/EEA country, roaming data consumption will be debited from this domestic allowance. On cheap data bundles with prices below €4 per GB (or any ratio of this) some restrictions may be applied that only a defined max. of data needs to be given out at the domestic rate. This mostly applies to cheap EU countries and must be stated by the provider before.
  • If you surf on a standard (default, pay-as-you-go) rate of ## cents per MB in your country, the same rate will be charged for roaming in another EU or EEA country.

All these allowances can be affected by the different FUPs mentioned below. For SIM cards issued in some EU countries there can still be surcharges on all roaming data consumptions.

Implementation Edit

Question mark

How will the providers react? Edit

While voice and text will be given out mostly "unlimited" without surcharges, the operators are much stingy with data. This applies especially to the "cheap" EU countries where they are afraid of losing earnings when they sell roaming data at domestic rates. In the more expensive countries and plans these extra fees can be easily absorbed by the retail price.

There are basically following measures how operators try to bypass increased roaming expenses from the start which have been employed in some countries:

  • they raise prices and say it's because of roaming
  • they terminate or don't offer roaming or data roaming on a plan. Then the EU regulation doesn't apply, but the plan or tariff must be clearly marked as domestic only.
  • they "outsource" some allowances as bonuses or benefits rather than included in the plan, not to be given out without surcharges. But this will be contested by national regulators.
  • they use "technical restraints" like depriorisation, long latency, no 4G/LTE roaming, dropped calls, preferred "partner" networks only or other measures to make roaming less attractive.
  • they employ a FUP or apply for a derogation from the rules specified below.

Why is it so hard to bring the European providers together? Edit

The regulation concerns 28+3 national markets with different rules, licences, fees and costs. The gaps within Europe are still wide. For example, consumers in Latvia spent in 2014 on average €3.70 a month and Irish consumers an average of €23.80 per month for using their mobile phones.

Europeans have different travel habits across the countries, and there are also different network costs in visited countries. Consumer retail offers vary widely between states. In 2016 the cheapest monthly deals offering 1GB of data, 600 minutes of calls and 225 SMS ranged from €60 in Hungary to €8 in Estonia (excl. VAT). For prepaid data 1GB is commonly sold in at €10 in Germany, while you can get it for less than the equivalent of €0.40 in Poland.

Abuse

That's why the danger is quite real, that users may try to take a SIM card from a "cheap country" to be used in a more expensive country and thereby clearly undercut national pricing. Therefore, the EU has put in some "safeguards" (for the providers) against "permanent roaming" what they consider "abusive behaviour".

Abuse and Fair Use Policy Edit

Here the wording already gets ambiguous. The providers and the EU try to prevent what they claim possible "abuse" or "misuse" of the regulations by some consumers. The users argue that while they might disobey some T&Cs, they act quite in line with a rational economical behaviour by preferring the cheapest offer available in one market and bring it to another.

There are essentially 3 different so-called "safeguards" or "FUPs" in the regulation put in place by the EU to protect providers from losing revenues:

1
  • Stable links: to avoid "permanent roaming" in another country, a provider can demand from its clients to show "stable links" to the home country of the SIM. If he/she can't prove them, he/she might get roaming discontinued after 4 months, but will be reset after one year. The wording of these rules leave a lot of room for interpretation and they will be applied by any provider only in extreme cases.
2
  • Limits for data: on so-called "open data packages" the providers may implement some restrictions. These plans are either real flatrates with unlimited data sold in very few EU countries or data bundles with very cheap data or large amounts at a price below €4 per GB (or any similiar ratio). For these offers, a provider is allowed to limit the volume of data to be given out at domestic rates for roaming to a certain quota. This share must be clearly stated before selling the plan or package.
Images
  • Derogation: when a provider can prove to the national regulator that the EU regulation is not economically viable and will severely affect its business, under certain conditions it may be exempt from the regulation for a period of time. A general derogation from the rules has been applied by all providers at their regulators for the Baltic States and Poland.

Preliminary assessment Edit

Given the different strategies of the providers to undermine the roaming regulation and several more safeguards in place by the regulation to deny its principle, one may wonder what remains of the "Roam like at Home" promise. This depends on the provider, the country where the SIM is bought, the price tag for data and how stringent any "abusive behaviour" will be penalized. In the cheap countries or for a cheap plan a much stricter approach can be expected than for pricey plans or expensive countries where "Roam like at Home" will be generally adopted without any restrictions.

We need to monitor the implementation this summer closely to tell whether it's going to be a success story and really the end of roaming charges in most of Europe or a failure with broken promises. The implementations and possibly the implications chapters will be updated as soon as it gets clearer. Much of this information will be country- or provider-specific. That's why we keep covering all EU and EEA countries separately and will add a section about roaming to each of them later this summer.

More information Edit

If you have more questions about the EU roaming rules, first check here:

This Wiki does not endorse to break the rules as this regulation is a major step forward in the fight against excessive roaming charges. But it clearly falls short of its promise to simply "roam like at home" for everyone.

On this Wiki cheaper or better solutions for domestic or roaming data use are continued to be featured, even if their consistent use may be considered "abusive behaviour" in light of this regulation.

The old article with recommended roaming SIM cards for Europe is going to be taken off as they don't make any sense past 14 June 2017. If you want to get some information from this section, you can still access it through here for a while. Eventually, when the situation becomes more evident in the course of this summer an article with new roaming SIM card suggestions may be added.

We simply need to wait for this summer to see what the providers will do to give further advice. We don't want to jump to conclusions and need your feedback. Post us what you have learnt using EU/EEA SIM cards under the new rules for roaming or in your home country. So that we can get a broader picture and other users can benefit from your experience.

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