[Update: Statement] Vodafone UK to reintroduce European roaming for heavy users
Vodafone has become the first UK network to confirm it will be reintroducing roaming charges between Britain and mainland Europe, though only for the most frequent users. Under European Union rules, networks must offer roaming, at no extra charge across all member countries. With the UK’s transition membership of the EU due to expire on 31st December, there has been speculation as to whether networks would automatically revoke the service.
All four UK operators BT/EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three, and many MVNOs have pledged that they have no plans to bring back roaming charges, but today has seen multiple reports on Twitter of a text message being sent to heavy users of the service. It confirms that from 18th January 2021, customers who use their device for more than 60 days in a four-month period (in other words, they are roaming more than they are at home) will face roaming charges.
Roaming was devised for occasional periods abroad such as holidays and short trips, so where a customer’s usage abroad is greater than at home over a four month period, additional charges will apply. (2/2)
— Vodafone UK (@VodafoneUK) December 11, 2020
The news will come as a huge blow for the 1.3 million British ex-pats spread across the EU, who, up to now, have been able to keep an active UK number. Whilst pay-as-you-go handsets will be minimally impacted, it will make it a lot more difficult for overseas users to justify maintaining a contract. Also heavily impacted will be business travelers, for whom regular ‘hops’ across the channel for meetings have become part of British working life. While Vodafone’s announcement continues to honor its commitment not to reintroduce roaming, it’s a further signal of the changing relationship that Britain will have with Europe from next year, further emphasized by the UK-founded company’s recent decision to hold an IPO for its towers division in Germany.
It’s also worth noting that the European Union’s rules on roaming only require voice, SMS, and a minimum 3G connection. With many carriers opting, therefore, to restrict access for 4G to roaming customers already, the news does not bode well for the chances of being able to access 5G services overseas, any time soon.
Update: Vodafone UK offers clarificatory statement
Vodafone UK has offered a clarificatory statement on the upcoming imposition of new surcharges:
“In line with EU Roaming Regulations, customers’ use of their allowance while in our Europe Zone (excluding the UK), Roam-free or Roam-further destinations is intended for temporary, periodic travel such as holidays and short breaks.
Where a customer’s usage abroad is greater than at home over a four-month period, we will message them to give them 14 days to clarify their usage, after which a regulated surcharge of 3.3p per minute for voice calls, 1p per SMS, and £3.13 per GB of data will be applied to further usage. The new charges will come into effect on 18 January 2021. Customers will be able to continue to receive calls and texts at no extra cost.
If a customer finds themselves stranded abroad due to COVID-related travel restrictions, we will be sensitive to those situations and take each case on an individual basis. Vodafone offers inclusive roaming, at no extra cost, in 51 destinations – more than any other UK network. Customers on Unlimited Max plans will benefit from an additional 30 destinations worldwide.”
Essentially, Vodafone UK is differentiating these charges from the “roaming charges” that we have ordinarily come to expect. The surcharge in this case is not applied automatically but is applied after giving customers a chance to explain their position, unlike traditional roaming. There’s adequate notice and a chance to explain, so these changes do seem to be fair keeping in mind circumstances beyond any party’s control.