A new deal between the European Parliament, European Council and the European Commission could change the way mobile phone owners use their devices when travelling across the continent.

Under new rules, travellers will be able to select a separate roaming contract from an overseas operator before they travel and keep the same number when they arrive in a country, instead of bolting it on top of their existing tariff at home (at inflated prices). The agreement is expected to drive competition between operators and work out more cost-effective for consumers.

The deal follows an EC proposal submitted in July 2011, which was drafted to reduce the high cost of using mobile phones and smart devices whilst travelling in the EU. The European Parliament is expected to approve the agreement in May 2012 and the European Council in June, bringing the new rules into effect from July 1.

However, consumers will be forced to wait until summer 2014 to shop around for the best deal.

As a result, operators are expected to offer more competitive deals in the roaming market, opening their business to customers from overseas to provide a separate mobile contract designed specifically for roaming.

The EU says:

Each time the customer crosses a border, his or her phone will switch to the network of the roaming provider which they have chosen, without any further action on their part. Customers will also have the option to directly select a local mobile network for data roaming in the country they are visiting.

From July 1, 2012, virtual mobile operators and resellers (carriers that do not provide their own networks) will have the right to access other carriers’ networks at “regulated wholesale prices”, so they will be able to provide roaming services to their customers. The EU believes it will increase domestic competition and provide incentives for them to offer more attractive roaming deals.

With the new roaming rules coming into effect in July 2014, the EU will fix price for calls, text messages and data use when roaming across Europe until June 30, 2017.

The price change in July will see consumers pay no more than:

  • 29 cents per minute to make a call
  • 8 cents per minute to receive a call
  • 9 cents to send a text message
  • 70 cents per Megabyte (MB) to download data or browse the Internet whilst travelling abroad (charged per Kilobyte used).

It gets a little more confusing but as the EU prepares for the new roaming deals, it will lower the above prices so that by July 1, 2014, consumers will pay “no more than 19 cents per minute to make a call, no more than 5 cents per minute to receive a call, a maximum 6 cents to send a text message and 20 cents per megabyte.”

To remind roaming customers, operators will send people travelling outside the EU a warning text message, email or pop-up window when they are nearing €50 of data downloads. This will come into effect with the new pricing on July 1, 2012.