Treaty of Roam finally in ashes: O2 cracks, joins rivals, adds data roaming charges for heavy users in EU

That's £3.50 per GB for anything over 25GB

Updated We didn't see this on the side of a bus. Five years to the day that Britain heard the results of the Brexit referendum, O2 has caved as the last of the UK's Big Four networks to re-introduce roaming charges in Europe for its customers.

For its pay monthly punters, each gigabyte of data over 25GB will now be charged at £3.50 per GB.

In a message sent to customers, the carrier wrote: “As your monthly UK data allowance is over 25GB, you can still use your data in our Europe Zone. But it’s now subject to a Roaming Limit of 25GB. Once you’ve reached this limit you’ll be charged an additional cost of £3.50/GB.”

The mobile carrier is the last of the big four to crack.

Vodafone already bills customers £3.13 per 1GB for any amount used beyond 25GB, even if they have "for example".. a [domestic] plan that includes 100GB data a month."

EE currently allows customers "with a domestic data allowance greater than 50GB" to use "up to 50GB while roaming in the EU" and "pay as you go or Flex" customers with "a domestic data allowance greater than 25GB" to use up to 25GB of the monthly amount while roaming in the EU. Anything above that portion is subject to a charge of £0.0036 per MB. For comparison, that's £3.60/GB*.

As for Three UK's customers, meanwhile, can only use "up to 20GB" of their domestic data allowance in Go Roam in Europe destinations. Use over this "fair use limit" is subject to a surcharge which appears to vary depend on when a customer's contract started, but can be as much as 10p per MB [PDF].

Mobile carriers Data cap beyond which you'll pay extra when roaming in the EU Price per GB above that cap
O2 25GB £3.60/GB
Vodafone 25GB £3.13/GB
EE 25GB/50GB (depending on cell plan) £3.60/GB
Three UK 20GB 12GB A spokesperson has since clarified the surcharge is £3.07/GB/GB**.

The EU scrapped roaming charges in 2017. However, this was not carried over into the trade deal between the UK and EU agreed in December of last year. It merely said carriers should have “transparent and reasonable rates” when roaming.

After the referendum, the four main UK operators were noncommittal about whether they would re-introduce dreaded roaming charges, which saw punters rack up massive bills without even realising. In 2018, each said they had made no concrete plans, but their protestations were worded in a way that gave sufficient wiggle room for future changes.

Each made similar claims in 2019, towards the end of the transition period, when the UK would no longer be subject to the rules of the single market, and would embark upon its new relationship with the European Union.

Although 20GB/25GB seems like a relatively high bar to crack, it is conceivable you could inadvertently blow pass this by bingeing high-definition video, or through normal usage over the course of an extended trip.

With international tourism and business travel virtually non-existent at this point, these scenarios currently feel more hypothetical than anything else.

If it's any consolation, last year, the UK government introduced a £45 monthly cap on roaming charges, in an attempt to limit “bill shock.” This cap renews each billing cycle, and punters can opt out if their pockets are deep enough.

We’ve asked O2, Vodafone and Three UK for comment. ®

Cash note

* An EE spokesperson said, “From January next year, EE will introduce a new flat fee of £2 a day for customers wishing to roam across 47 European destinations (with the exception of ROI which is included in domestic plans), allowing them to use their plan’s full data, minutes and texts allowance. This will apply only to new and upgrading customers signing up to EE from the 7th July 2021 and will support investment into our UK based customer service and leading UK network.”

“Customers travelling abroad for longer will be able to use a 30-day Roam Abroad Pass. Essential plan customers will be able to take the Pass for £10, while Smart or Full Works plans customers are able to include the same pass as part of their plan.”

Updated to add at 16:37 UTC, June 24, 2021

The original article said that roaming prices abroad (once fair use limits are hit) vary according to plan, which is what Three UK's website reflected at the time of publication and still reflects at the time of this update. They can be as much as £100/GB, according to this document [PDF], or £10/GB according to this one [PDF] here.

A Three spokesperson said the fair use Ts&Cs on Three UK's website were outdated and that the surcharge was actually "£3.07 per GB".

They added: “Following a review of our fair use policy, we are making some changes to our Go Roam policy in the EU to bring it in line with our Go Roam Around the World fair use policy.

"This means from July 1 our fair use limit for data while in the EU will reduce from 20GB per month to 12GB. The new fair use limit is still more than enough for holidaymakers to use their phone like they would if they were in the UK." The spokesperson added that data usage over 12GB (up to the customer’s allowance), will "remain subject to a small fee of 0.3p per MB."

The spokesperson said this would translate to £3.07/GB.

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