We hate to say we told you so. No, wait, we love to say we told you so. Since the EU actually, literally, finally got tough enough to scrap roaming charges in the EU, roaming has soared by 800% according to an annual survey carried out by BICS, which fully expects those numbers to increase again this year.
The extra increase is because people are still mistrustful of ‘free’ roaming, and BICS reckons about 20% of roaming customers haven’t used the ‘roam like home’ facility.
The path to the end of roaming charges across the bloc took about four years longer than the EU thought (and said) it would. It took three, if not four Commissioners to see it through.
Mainly the delay was through the barriers put in the way by Vodafone and others (and their lawyers). We followed the game with something approaching glee.
The EU Commissioner would say that, without any doubt, roaming charges would end in 2014. Then Vodafone executives in black suits would visit Brussels, and, lo and behold, the EU actually meant 2015.
Then 2016. “Honestly this time – we mean it!”
Vodafone’s argument (other mobile giants are available) was that scrapping (completely artificial) roaming charges would stifle their ability to invest in their networks.
The EU’s argument was that Vodafone wanted to be most powerful player in Europe and were not playing fair anyway.
Our argument was “Why wait?”
Even back in 2015, we were writing about what would happen if roaming charges were scrapped. At that time, companies like TripAdvisor and Expedia were crying out for the charges to be scrapped. As customers switched off roaming as they landed, TripAdvisor and Expedia watched, frustrated, as they could only serve their customers in hotels or public Wi-Fi hotspots.
Gone were the opportunities to provide the answer to which of the three restaurants a couple is looking at is the best. Gone were the opportunities of game-playing kids playing games online while on the beach or in the car. Gone were many other opportunities. TripAdvisor and others were crying out to partner with operators, and they were more than happy to pay the roaming charges themselves. So, instead of innovation, the continuation of roaming charges merely brought about groaning noises from industry observers.
Now that they are gone, no wonder that roaming is up 800% and heading north, fast.
So, while this may be a happy ending, there are at least two lessons for our beloved industry.
First, regulators need to modernize, chill out and relax. Everything is better than it looks.
Secondly, operators need to modernize, chill out and relax. Everything is better than it looks.
We all need to continue to modernize our thinking as we plunge further into the Digital Age. The Digital Age is an age of plenty, if we let it be.
So, for the first (but probably not the last) time – we told you so.