EU data roaming has increased 1,500% since 2008

20 February 2014, 13:17   By Jemma Crutchlow-Porter

THE demand for EU data roaming has soared since price caps were introduced six years ago, research released this week has revealed.

mobile internet use on holiday

The amount of data used has increased by 1,500% since 2008 thanks to lower prices and the growing uptake of mobile devices, the European Commission study found.

However, with roaming prices still high, many mobile users still choose to switch off when abroad.

More than a third (37%) of Brits still turn off their mobile phones for the duration of their holiday to avoid costly roaming charges.

Neelie 'shocked' by roaming switch off

Broadband abroad

The poll of 28,000 EU citizens, found that the majority of those that don't turn their phone off altogether while roaming limit their use of internet services instead.

Social networking habits were the most severely affected, with 94% saying that they wouldn't use sites like Facebook and Twitter to the same extent they would have done if they were at home.

The number of people sending emails and browsing the internet was also down by 90% and 47% respectively.

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, said she was "honestly shocked" by the figures.

"We have to finish the job," she said in a Youtube video, shown above, "we have to eliminate this roaming problem once and for all."

Scrapheap for EU roaming charges

The existing cap on EU roaming charges means that the networks can't charge more than 46p per MB for data, 24.5p for calls and 8.1p for texts.

86% of respondents to a separate European Commission poll said those charges were still too high.

Good job then that the European Parliament is due to vote on scrapping roaming charges altogether by next year.

Four of the UK's biggest mobile networks: EE, Three, Vodafone and Virgin Media, have already pledged their support to scrap roaming charges by 2016, but this would put an end to charges a year earlier.

If, as if expected, the plans get the go ahead, mobile users will be able to Tweet to their heart's content without paying a penny more than they do at home.

Unfortunately, though, none of this legislation solves the problem of roaming outside the EU, where the cost of making calls, sending texts and using data drastically increases.

For example, O2 customers holidaying in the US currently need to pay £1.10 a minute to make a call back home, while data costs £6 per MB.

Only Three's Feel at Home, launched in September last year, has tackled roaming further afield.

What will free roaming bring?

It's clear to see that there is demand for EU roaming. In fact, the EC believes that the telecoms companies are missing out on business from 300 million phone users because of the current charges.

Millions of people choosing to send texts instead of make voice calls and with others refraining from using Facebook, sending emails and browsing the web, there is a lot of revenue being lost.

Networks could also be missing out on a particularly lucrative section of the market: frequent travellers. As they're better informed about the cost of using internet abroad they're currently more likely to switch off while on their trip.

When free roaming is finally introduced the networks will likely see demand soar as groups currently avoiding or limiting charges start to use their mobiles abroad just as they would in the UK.

Why is data use going up?

However, this week's study is perhaps too quick to tie the dramatic increase in demand for EU data roaming to the first price caps imposed by the EU in 2008 and lowered in subsequent years.

Over the past six years, prices for voice calls and text messages have fallen by 80%, while data roaming is 91% cheaper.

This has led to increased demand for mobile services with 10% now making calls and 18% sending text messages just as they would at home.

However, mobile use in general has also increased and data use certainly has, which must account for a large proportion of the increase.

Which broadband deals are available in your area?

independent comparison

We are independent of all of the products and services we compare.

fair comparison

We order our comparison tables by price or feature and never by referral revenue.

charity donations

We donate at least 5% of our profits to charity, and we aim to be climate positive.

Get insider tips and the latest offers in our newsletter