EU rules make data roaming cheaper

THANKS to a little encouragement from the EU, it's now possible for mobile broadband users to roam Europe without it costing the earth.

As of the 1 March, European Parliament rules on roaming agreed in June 2009 will start to be enforced.

Under those rules, it'll be illegal for mobile broadband networks to charge more than 50 Euros (£45) a month for data unless the network has specifically agreed another amount with their customer.

Of course, there's no glory in just conforming to those rules which is why UK mobile broadband giants Orange, T-mobile and Virgin have announced their cheaper deals this week along with a smattering of "just because we love our customers" marketing spin.

New roaming deals

The networks have chosen to carry out the EU's rules in the form of pre-pay 'data bundles' rather than lower data charges across the board.

Orange's daily packages cost either £8.50 for 50MB or the - newly announced - 2 Euros for 2MB.

Rolling monthly and one-off 30-day bundles are also available.

Virgin offer slightly more choice with four different types of 'Travel Passes' each with a data allowance available for a limited amount of time.

Virgin customers can get hold of a one-day pass offering 10MB of data for £10, while a three-day alternative offers 15MB for £15. Seven-day access is available at £30 for 30MB, while a 30-day pass offers 60MB for £60.

T-mobile are also offering a choice of four 'boosters': 3MB for £1, 20MB for £5, 50MB for £10 or 200MB for £40.

The 3MB, 20MB and 50MB Euro mobile broadband boosters will allow access for up to 24 hours after purchase and the 200MB broadband deal will last for 30 days, although it's extremely unlikely that any of the boosters will last that long.

Note that these prices are only correct as of the date at the top of this article, for more on this subject see our guide to using the internet in other countries.

Preventing bill shock

Both rates are still far more expensive than using the same service in the UK but they should go some way to putting a stop to some of the more shocking examples of mobile broadband bill shock, one of the foremost causes for broadband complaint.

Take the unfortunate case of 22 year old UK student William Harrison.

He landed himself with a mobile broadband bill of £8,000 after using an Orange dongle with a 3GB usage allowance in France on a six month internship.

Harrison was seemingly unaware of Orange's roaming charges as he happily went on to use the dongle for connecting to Skype for daily chats.

After a month of usage, he received a teeth-grinding internet bill to the sum of £6,101.56.

After calling the company to block the dongle, he was punished again with a further charge of £1,547.21 to cover the cost of dongle use between the bill date and the date on which the dongle was blocked.

Unless they opt into a daily bundle, Orange mobile broadband charges its roaming customers £3 per megabyte for data or £3000 for a 1GB.

In the UK, Harrison's 3GB Orange mobile broadband only costs £5 for 1GB.

What next?

In all, although Orange, Virgin and T-mobile are clearly trying to make mobile broadband less of a potential financial disaster, they could be trying a lot harder.

Roaming data usage in general still remains costly for everything except the most basic of webpage and email usage.

It will unfortunately be some years yet before the kind of GB usage allowances that we see with local UK Mobile Broadband packages are plausible for European roaming.

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