Brexit has an impact on mobile roaming, at the expense of traveling consumers. Great Britain and Northern Ireland have no longer been part of the European Union since February 2020, which means that the EU roaming regulation no longer applies there. However, before the country left the EU (“Brexit”), the British mobile network operators had promised not to change anything in EU roaming afterwards. Two of the four British network operators, EE and Vodafone, are breaking this promise after less than two years.
EE customers have to pay roaming fees when traveling to the EU or to Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway from the turn of the year, provided they have chosen a current tariff after July 6th. At Vodafone UK, accounting begins five days later at Epiphany. This affects customers with invoicing (“postpaid”) who choose a new tariff after August 10th.
Both network operators charge roaming in the form of daily or weekly flat rates. For the time being, travelers to Ireland will not be affected by the price increase. Competitors O2 and Three have not yet announced any price increases for roaming in the EU.
A1 is already collecting
What it looks like in the opposite direction, i.e. when traveling to Great Britain or Northern Ireland with EU SIM cards, is inconsistent. Because the EU regulation no longer applies, the situation can change at any time. Vodafone’s German website promises that “Great Britain will remain part of the EU roaming zone even after leaving the European Union. You can use your tariff there without additional costs as at home in Germany.”
Telefónica Germany (O2) keeps its options open and writes that “for Great Britain, despite leaving the EU until December 31, 2021, only the price according to Zone 1 (EU-regulated) will still be charged (subject to extension).” Similar to Deutsche Telekom: “For the time being, Great Britain will continue to be treated like an EU country.”
The Austrian market leader A1 is already charging roaming fees. This is different from its competitor Magenta Austria: The Austrian subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom promises on its website that nothing will change. The Chinese network operator Drei (Hutchison Drei Austria) is like O2 and Telekom in Germany: Drei expressly reserves the “assignment of Great Britain (including Northern Ireland) to Zone 1”, but has not yet taken the step.
Intra-group billing at the expense of consumers
The abolition of the EU regulation with regard to Great Britain and Northern Ireland affects not only the end customer prices, but also the purchase prices of the network operators for roaming in foreign networks. In the absence of EU regulation, wholesale prices can now be freely determined. It is not publicly known whether and what influence this has on roaming contracts.
For British network operators, the effects are theoretically much more far-reaching than for EU network operators. For the former, the EU regulation has been completely dropped, for the latter only in relation to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In practice, the situation is a little more complex: Most network operators either have group companies in several other countries or are otherwise part of a purchasing group. It is therefore not easy from the outside to estimate the real impact on purchase prices.
It is difficult to understand that Vodafone of all people is breaking the promise made before Brexit: The group operates mobile networks in Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, the Czech Republic and Hungary – most of the EU roaming British customers stay in-house. Even if the roaming purchase prices for Vodafone UK should have changed, the money would only flow from one corporate pocket to the other. Soon more money from British Vodafone customers will flow into the group’s pockets.