How EU Roaming Rules Could Affect Irish Startups

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Like many business owners, Evelyn Wolf is flying in and out of Dublin regularly for work. Wolf, based in Dublin, runs the marketing firm Business Brew with her Copenhagen-based partner.

“Both of us travel quite a bit between the two countries,” says Wolf. “We do a fair bit of travel in Germany, as well, and the U.K.”

With each of those trips, Wolf needs her phone to conduct business, keep in touch, and, in one case, figure out where she was while sailing near Greece.

But using mobile phones in other EU countries can get expensive, thanks to roaming charges.

That all changes on June 15. European Union residents who travel to other EU member states won’t have to pay international roaming on calls and texts. Some data is included in a deal reached by the EU Parliament, but there are drawbacks. We’ll get into those nuances a little later.

Prior to the change, international roaming on mobile phones can be a major added expense when traveling just a couple hours away. Wolf paid for an upgraded mobile phone plan that gives better international rates, but she often tries to get on WiFi hotspots just to keep costs under control.

Wolf says, “You end up having a great conversation with a client, but at the back of your mind you have a ticker going, ‘this is expensive. This is expensive. Wrap it up.’ Instead of 100 percent concentrating on the conversation you’re having.”

The end of roaming charges

The deal to outlaw most mobile phone roaming charges has been underway for several years now. Fine Gael/EPP Member of the European Parliament Seán Kelly says he became passionate about the issue after he was elected in 2009. It was personal for him.

“At that time, roaming charges were extortionist,” says Kelly who represents Ireland South. “I couldn’t believe the size of my bills.”

Kelly believes removing the roaming fees will help small businesses working across the borders of Europe. Right now, 75 percent of business in the EU do not trade outside of their national borders, according to Kelly. It will also make it easier for tourists and tourism businesses to connect.

He points to the United States where it doesn’t matter if you’re in New York or New Orleans. Carriers charge the same amount. It makes it easier to move around the United States whether for relocation or holiday.

“It is the one thing that will prove to citizens that the European Union works for me,” says Kelly.

For Wolf, new roaming charges may not exactly spur a business renaissance. Still, she says it could help some organizations save money and make it easier for sales representatives who travel between countries.

Is it as good as it looks? 

Despite the fanfare, there are some serious concerns the roaming rule changes don’t go far enough. As the Independent’s Adrian Weckler pointed out, there will still be roaming fees:

At the core of the EU Parliament agreement were caps on phone and text wholesale prices, the amount of money telecom networks charge carriers for cross-border roaming needs. Noticeably absent from the most sweeping changes: data.

This came after court battles and negotiations with the networks.

The data question… 

Data is capped at a higher rate, although it will decrease 75 percent by 2022. Most Irish carriers will now offer a set amount of data free per month. My Virgin Mobile IE Unlimited plan, for example, will allow me to use 5 gb per month outside of Ireland.

“Data is more important than minutes,” says Wolf. “I don’t know anyone who looks at how many texts they get included.”

Just the beginning

Kelly says the EU Parliament wanted to phase in roaming rates for the carriers, to keep the market competitive. If smaller carriers stay in business, he argues, market forces will naturally bring prices down.

So while this may not be a perfect fix, it’s a move that has consumers at heart. As a traveller, it will be easier to know Google Maps or a phone call to the hotel are options. For businesses, it’s one less concern when constantly connected.

In the end, it’s one more barrier crashing down.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on Reddit