Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems
Q I'm bringing the family on holidays next month to Spain. Is it true that mobile phone roaming charges are being scrapped? It seems too good to be true. Is there any catch?
A. There is a bit of a catch, yes. You won't pay any more roaming fees for calls and texts. But you might for things like Facebook, WhatsApp, Netflix and YouTube.
That's because a deal between the EU and mobile operators means they don't have to give you your full domestic data allowance as part of the roaming rules. In fact, only those with small existing data allowances or those who pay relatively high monthly tariffs will get the same data abroad as they get at home.
The rest of us will face new "fair use" limits that might be a fraction of our domestic data allowances. And we'll face new roaming fees of up to €9.50 per gigabyte once that smaller allowance is surpassed.
You'd be forgiven for being confused if you're hearing this for the first time, as neither the mobile operators, the telecoms regulator, the Government or EU authorities are being clear about how much data you'll get under the new deal.
A very rough rule of thumb is that you're entitled to around 2GB of EU roaming data for every €10 you spend on your normal monthly mobile plan here, up to the limit of what you actually get domestically.
In other words, if you spend €20 per month on a prepay service that gives you 10GB of mobile data, you'll still only be entitled to around 4GB of that data when travelling in the EU, before big roaming fees kick in again.
It gets even more diluted if part of your monthly bill goes towards paying for the likes of an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy that you got cheap with the plan. To explain further, I'll give you two examples.
Scenario 1: You have your own phone. You currently pay €20 per month for one of those plans that includes "all you can eat" data. Under the new roaming law, you'll be entitled to around 4.2GB of EU roaming data, no matter how much data (60GB with "all you can eat") you normally get at home.
Scenario 2: You're in the middle of a phone contract for 18 months or 24 months. When you signed up, you got an iPhone 7 for €99. Your monthly bill is €60. Under the new roaming rules, that €60 bill will be divided into the bit that pays back the cost of the iPhone and the bit that pays for the calls, texts and data. It's probably about half and half. So €30 of your €60 is counted towards your data allowance.
Based on this, you get between 6GB and 7GB of EU roaming data. Again, this is regardless of how much data your domestic plan gives you.
It's not all sad news. The EU has built in a clawback mechanism so that the amount of EU roaming data which operators are legally obliged to give you will increase every year until 2022.
According to this sliding scale, in 2022 your €20 monthly tariff should guarantee you at least 13GB of EU roaming data (assuming you have that allowance at home).
Once again: roaming fees for calls and texts will definitely be dropped. And you will be entitled to more roaming data than before. But it's a long, long way from saying that roaming charges are being "scrapped". Forewarned is forearmed. You'll still probably need to find Wi-Fi spots abroad.
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