Holidaymakers will pay less to use their mobile phones abroad this summer thanks to an EU cut in mobile call charges.
Consumers will pay a maximum of 35 cents (31p) a minute to make a call from Europe, down from the previous maximum of 39 cents (34p). It will cost no more than 11 cents (10p) a minute to receive a call abroad, a fall of 42% in the past two years, according to uSwitchcom. The price cap for sending a text message remains at 11 cents (10p). It costs nothing to receive a text.
Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch.com, said: “Consumers have been paying extortionate call charges on their mobile phones abroad for too long. The average cost of a mobile-phone bill after returning from holiday now comes in at £149.
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“Our research shows that 33 million Brits plan to take their mobile abroad this summer, but worryingly only one in five check how much they’ll be charged for using their phone abroad before they go.
“Although it is only a small cut, it is a step in the right direction.”
The cost of using a mobile phone in Europe is set to fall even further, despite opposition from mobile firms, as the European Commission (EC) pushes ahead with its plan to align national and “roaming” tariffs by July 2015.
From July 2014, it proposes that customers should be able to sign up for a cheaper mobile roaming contract, separate from their contract for national mobile services, while using the same phone number. At the moment, mobile users can buy a sim card local to the country in which they are travelling, but this means they have a different phone number.
The EC also hopes that more “virtual” operators, which do not have their own networks, will enter the roaming market when it regulates wholesale prices. The extra competition would then be expected to push down prices.
In the meantime, the price caps on voice and texting services will fall further. The latest roaming price caps are due to expire at the end of June 2012. But the authorities fear that call charges could pick up again unless they put more caps in place.
The EC has therefore said that by July 1, 2014, roaming consumers in Europe will pay no more than 24 cents (22p) a minute to make a call, a maximum 10 cents (9p) a minute to receive a call and a maximum 10 cents (9p) to send a text message.
In an even bolder move, the EC plans to introduce a retail price cap on data roaming – where customers access the internet through their mobile network using a smartphone – to curb what it describes as the industry’s “outrageous profit margins”.
Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumers’ Organisation, said: “It is unjustifiable that data roaming can be 50 times more expensive than when at home.”
There is currently no cap per megabyte on downloading data. The new proposed ruling would cap data roaming at 90 cents (81p) per megabyte from July 1, 2012, falling to about 50 cents (45p) by 2014, half the current average of just over €1 (90p).
But this average masks a wide variation in retail prices. For example, it costs consumers an average of €2.23 (£2) per megabyte when downloading abroad on another network. In some cases, charges can be as high as €12 (£10.50) per megabyte.
Smartphones can easily use one megabyte in a few seconds to view an image, update an app or stream music, highlighting how quickly mobile phone use abroad can see bills get out of hand.
The rise in the use of smartphones has led to bill shocks for some customers. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of smartphone users have been burned by a large mobile phone bill following a trip abroad, according to the Carphone Warehouse. Its research found that 80% of holidaymakers have received a bill on their return which was up to £100 more expensive than their standard monthly payment. Facebook and Twitter are the main culprits for the rise in roaming fees.
At the moment, operators have to place a €50 (£45) cap on customers’ data consumption in order to avoid unexpectedly high bills. Users who want to continue their data roaming can request to have the limit removed.
Doku says: “This has not come a moment too soon.
“Even though the EU made a tentative first step to curb costs last year through the introduction of the €50 cap, it didn’t go far enough. The cap simply limited the amount people could use their phone, rather than the high prices they were being charged.
“By lowering call and text charges to a manageable level, consumers now have the freedom to roam at an affordable cost. With more than ten million smartphones now in circulation in the UK, this will be welcome news to gadget-lovers.”
Consumers should bear in mind that the price caps only apply in the EU. There is no price protection in other popular holiday destinations such as Turkey, or anywhere further afield such as Australia or America.
THE price caps on call charges are welcome, but holidaymakers can still rack up big bills. The Sunday Herald has come up with some money-saving tips, with the help of the Carphone Warehouse.
It is always worth contacting your network operator before you go abroad as roaming charges are not usually included in any pay-monthly packages. Find out if there are packages you can buy to help save money and monitor your usage.
Turn off your voicemail – you are normally charged roaming rates every time you listen to a message.
Smartphones are constantly connecting to the internet so make sure you turn data-roaming off when you’re abroad. The same goes for email.
The latest smartphones have in-built applications, such as Google Maps and YouTube, which use a large amount of data. In general, it’s a good idea to keep these switched off when you are abroad. Many apps such as Facebook and Twitter use the internet to update, so they are best avoided when you are on holiday. And resist the temptation to download any new apps.
However, if your phone has wifi built in, finding a wifi hotspot is a great way to surf the web, update apps and use programmes such as Google Maps without incurring any costs.