Although a large majority of European Union residents are aware that roaming surcharges were abolished on 15 June, a majority of those who traveled within the EU since that date are still restricting their usage in some way, according to a survey by Eurostat. The survey, which was conducted in late August across all 28 EU states, found that 71 percent of people know about the end of roaming charges, and of those who have traveled to another EU country since 15 June, the figure is 86 percent.
Thirty-one percent of respondents said they used mobile internet as much abroad as at home since 15 June, compared to 15 percent of those who traveled in the EU before the changes took effect. The number who do not use mobile data abroad fell to 21 percent from 42 percent. More than twice as many also made calls abroad (24 percent versus 11 percent.)
However, 60 percent of those who traveled after 15 June said they made an effort to either turn off their phones, turn off data roaming or buy an alternative SIM card or roaming package. Of those who traveled before 15 June, the figure was 66 percent.
After all the hoopla attending the debate over roaming charges within the EU and the eventual, long-awaited abolition of such charges, one would imagine that European mobile users would be reveling in their new-found freedom to “roam like at home.” And yet as this survey shows, significantly more than half of travelers are still acting as if there were a reason to avoid using mobile services, especially data. Considering the small physical footprints of most EU states and the frequency with which EU residents cross borders, this is a serious issue.
While mobile operators generally opposed the end to roaming charges on the grounds that they were a rich source of revenue, non-utilization of services cannot be good for operators. If the surcharges were in fact keeping subscribers from using services, ending those charges should eventually have a positive effect on revenue.
However, it is clear that user behavior has lagged behind changing realities, most likely for no other reason than that old habits die hard. Since this usage pattern represents a shortfall in both revenue and network utilization, it should be addressed aggressively. MNOs should be thinking creatively about how to raise awareness and publicize the advantages of roaming. And if information alone is not enough (and it may not be, given that the vast majority of users say they know that the surcharges have ended), then something more may be necessary. Operators may wish to consider promotions offering incentives to those who keep their data switched on while traveling abroad.
Another thing that operators could do, which does fall under the heading of providing information, is to make clear to users that the service caps that are in place under the new regulations are not set at a level that would interfere with ordinary use, especially during short-term travel. Since users are often unaware of their usage levels per unit time, a clear explanation could help in this regard.