Data Roaming Limits on Roam Like at Home Mobile Plans: Could You be Affected?

Have you heard of the “Fair Use” clause? It means that you could still be charged for data roaming in the EU on a Roam Like at Home contract, even though cross-border roaming charges within Europe were banned from 15 June 2017. We've analysed the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) Guidelines and calculated data allowances across various tariffs so you can figure out if you could be impacted.

The new law includes a bit of a loophole, so there are circumstances in which a provider may lower the data roaming allowance below a user’s domestic data volume. This can happen IF a plan includes an open data bundle (i.e., unlimited or very cheap data) and not all providers will take advantage of the “Fair Use” clause to lower roaming allowances.

Which Providers Impose a “Fair Use” Data Allowance?

Not all providers will impose a lower roaming allowance within Europe. Some will provide their customers with the same data roaming volume as they get domestically. Others will make use of the Fair Use clause to impose lower data limits when roaming in the EU.

We’ve done a bit of research on some of the large mobile providers to see where they stand on the Fair Use issue. Because our research is an indication only and the situation is ever changing right now, we recommend that you contact your own provider to find out exactly how they will treat data roaming.

EE

EE has not published any information regarding how they’ll treat data roaming. We had a chat with a customer service rep who said, "The data in EU works as per the fair usage policy and is capped." See the tables below for an indication of the roaming data allowance you should receive in Europe, based on your tariff.

O2

O2 discusses data roaming on their fair use page. They don’t specifically refer to monthly contracts, but do mention pay as you go: “Your data usage may also be limited in our Europe Zone (excluding the UK) at a lower level than your data allowance in the UK if you’re a Pay As You Go customer.” They also advise all customers against: “using a large volume of your allowance (be that text, calls or data) in our Europe Zone.” This statement seems to be open to interpretation. Perhaps O2 is leaving the door open to imposing data limits on monthly contracts, too.

Three

Three spells out their data limitations here. If you pay monthly for all-you-can-eat data, your data roaming in Europe is limited to 12GB. Pay As You Go customers can use up to 9GB of their data roaming allowance in Europe. Data usage over these limits will be charged at 0.73p/MB.

Vodafone

Vodafone told us that a customer gets as much data while traveling in the EU as they do at home in the UK. Good news for Vodafone customers – you don’t need to read any further.

Plusnet

On plans of 20GB or more a month, Plusnet’s fair usage policy provides a lower monthly allowance of 15GB while in a Roam Like at Home destination. Usage beyond 15GB may be hit with an extra data charge.

Could My Data Roaming Volume be Lower in Europe than in the UK (i.e., Do I Have an Open Data Bundle with unlimited or very cheap data?)

If you are on a contract that provides very cheap or unlimited data (i.e., an open data bundle), your provider is allowed to limit your data roaming allowance when traveling in the EU. How do you know if you have an open data bundle? You need to check to see how much you pay per gigabyte. Those paying less than the wholesale data roaming cap of €7.7/GB (or with an unlimited data plan) have an open data bundle tariff.

[Note: It’s not clear what exchange rate the mobile providers will use, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll use an exchange rate from 20 June 2017 of 0.88 EUR/GBP to convert the €7.7/GB threshold to £6.78/GB. Pay less than this (excluding VAT) and you may be hit with an EU roaming data allowance cap that is lower than your data limit in the UK.]

The calculation to determine the price you pay per gigabyte is:

(tariff, excluding VAT)/(domestic data allowance in gigabytes)

We’ve tried to simplify this calculation by doing it for you. The following table shows the per gigabyte charge for a variety of monthly contract combinations. If you pay less than £6.78 and you have an open data bundle and your provider may lower your data allowance while roaming in the EU.

How Much do You Pay per Gigabyte? If you Pay Less than €7.70/GB (£6.78) then Your Tariff is "Very Cheap"


Monthly Tariff (including VAT)
4GB8Gb16GB
£10£2.08£1.04£0.52
£15£3.13£1.56£0.78
£20£4.17£2.08£1.04
£25£5.21£2.60£1.30
£30£6.25£3.13£1.56
£35£7.29£3.65£1.82
£40£8.33£4.17£2.08
£45£9.38£4.69£2.34
£50£10.42£5.21£2.60

To recap:

Pay Less Than £6.78/GB (excluding VAT) => Open Data Bundle (i.e., unlimited or very cheap data) => Possibility for Lower Roaming Data Allowance in Europe

Tariffs Including a Handset

We reached out to BEREC for more information about how to assess tariffs that include a handset subsidy. You see, a tariff that includes a handset subsidy costs more than a comparable plan without a handset subsidy. Using the full (including handset) tariff in the calculations would imply a higher data roaming allowance for the plan with the handset, when really the data roaming allowance should be the same on both plans.

BEREC told us that providers might take the price of a stand-alone product (sim only) or a tariff with the same characteristics according to the CIR and BEREC Guidelines. In this case, the fixed periodic charge used in the calculations is lower than the charge including the handset, therefore the data roaming allowance is also lower.

Ok, My Tariff is an Open Data Bundle – How Much is My Data Roaming Allowance?

As we mentioned, some providers – Vodafone, notably – are saying they will provide users with the same amount of data when roaming in the EU as they have at home. Not all mobile phone providers are making the same statement.

If your provider will make use of the “fair use” clause to limit your roaming data, it’s important to know what minimum amount of data they must provide. The minimum amount of roaming data is a function of your tariff, calculated as two times your monthly usage tariff (excluding VAT and handset subsidy) divided by the wholesale data roaming cap (approximately £6.78/GB). For example, a £50 per month (excluding VAT) usage tariff should be able to use 14.75GB while roaming in the EU (2*50/6.78).

We've calculated the minimum data allowance for a variety of tariffs (excluding VAT and handset subsidies), shown in the table below. Find your monthly charge to see how much data roaming your provider should give you when you're in Europe.

If your tariff is open data bundle (i.e., unlimited or determined to be "very cheap") then your EU data allowance should be at least:

Monthly Tariff (including VAT)Data Cap (GB)
£102.46
£153.69
£204.92
£256.15
£307.38
£358.61
£409.84
£4511.07
£5012.30

Pre-Paid Credit

The calculation for the limit on data roaming for pre-paid credit is a bit different: remaining pre-paid credit (excluding VAT) divided by the wholesale data cap of roughly £6.78/GB. However, that isn’t the whole story – the outcome of this calculation (gigabytes of data roaming) could be more than your pre-paid credit would naturally buy you in the UK. If this is the case, then the user is only allowed to use data until this credit is depleted – not more.

For example, a plan with £20 (excluding VAT) of credit remaining should theoretically get a roaming data volume of 2.95GB (20/6.78). However, a user might not get this if the per megabyte data charge is high. For example, say data on this particular pre-paid plan cost 10p (excluding VAT) per MB, then a user could only use 200MB (0.2GB) of data at home (£20/£.10) – and in Europe.

Stay on Top of Your Mobile Provider

Use the information provided here to gain an understanding of how much data roaming you should be entitled to. Be sure to inquire with your mobile provider directly to understand exactly what is included in your specific plan. The data allowances discussed here are for "Roam Like at Home" contract plans (except the pay-as-you-go section) - not all plans are "Roam Like at Home," so be sure to understand your individual tariff.

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