By Nassos Stylianou
SUCH is the prohibitive cost of using a mobile abroad, more than one in four Europeans admit to switching their phones off for the duration of a trip elsewhere in the EU… except Cypriots that is.
Cypriots are the most indifferent at the risk of “bill shock”, with just one in ten switching their phones off and only two per cent saying they turned data roaming off when in other EU member states. Among the most cautious nations are Austria and France, with more than two in five respondents from those two switching off abroad.
In fact, a European Commission survey suggests that telecoms companies are missing out on a market of around 300 million phone users because of current pricing strategies.
Roaming charges, which are a premium a mobile operators imposed on its customers when they use their smartphone or smart device in other European Union countries to call, text or go online, have led to excessive prices over the years thanks to the deadly combination of a lack of competition and regulation.
The European Union first started capping prices in 2008 and the retail costs of SMS and calls are down by 80 percent, while data roaming is up to 91 % cheaper.
After going unregulated until two years ago, in 2012 the cost to of using one MB of data online on your mobile while in another EU country was €0.70, falling to €0.45 cents in 2013. By this summer, when roaming charges will come down again for the seventh consecutive year, this is expected to drop to €0.20. However, the horror stories abound and consumers are still very conscious of how they use their phones abroad.
The evidence that many users are restraining themselves in their mobile use abroad while the “overall uptake and enjoyment of mobile data services is increasing at home”, is exposing a worrying trend towards a missed growth opportunity on the part of mobile operators, something that is also hurting the emerging app economy.
Savvy frequent travellers, the most lucrative section of the potential market, are more likely to switch-off their mobile phone data roaming capabilities than occasional travellers, according to the research.
When it comes to social media, Swedes have learnt to limit their use of Facebook and Twitter on their travels, as just two percent consume social media in the same way abroad. Only 1 out of 20 would use social media in the same way as at home. One in four Cypriots admitted to using social media as often as in their home country, with the EU average standing at 7%.
In terms of email, half of respondents said they would never use e-mails in another EU country, while just one out of 10 would use e-mails in the same way as at home. Romanians are by far the most prepared, with one in three purchasing a local SIM card in the country they are visiting to avoid the risk altogether, compared to an EU-wide average of one in ten.
The Commission is aggressively pushing for a single telecoms market in Europe and aims to completely eliminate roaming premiums so that by 2016, customers throughout the Union can “roam like at home”.
Under rules adopted in 2012, from July 2014 onwards customers will be able to leave their domestic operator when travelling and take cheaper roaming services from a local operator in the visited country, or a from rival roaming provider in the home country, without changing their SIM card.
The fragmented telecoms industry – which according to the Financial Times has more than 1,200 fixed telecoms operators and nearly as many as 100 mobile networks – has seen an accelerated decline in revenues, which they partly due to the regulation of roaming charges.