Last week the European Commission announced that as from 1 July 2012, the European Union's mobile roaming regulation will be extended to include price caps for data downloads which will mean significant savings for those using maps, email and social networks when travelling.
Overall, the improved EU roaming regulation – taking into account calls, SMS and data - will deliver consumers savings of 75% across a range of mobile roaming services, compared to 2007 prices.
Since 2007 the EU has placed price caps on calling and texting. Now data is being brought under the same system. The new prices caps, which will enter into force on 1 July 2012, are:
Downloading data previously cost more than € 4 per Megabyte from many operators in July 2009 – now those prices will be cut by around six times. By 2014, as prices are cut further, the maximum cost of downloading data will be just 20 cents per Megabyte, plus VAT, a saving of 90% on many current rates.
Operators are free to offer cheaper rates. Price caps are a maximum level, acting as a safeguard, and competition should drive them lower.
Furthermore, to help avoid "bill shock" from 1st July 2012, people travelling outside the EU will get a warning text message, email or pop-up window when they are nearing €50 of data downloads, or their pre-agreed level. Consumers will then have to confirm they are happy to go over this level in order to continue their data roaming.
For the last 5 years mobile users in the EU have benefited from these lower mobile roaming rates. However the lower rates only made it cheaper to call, receive calls and send SMS. The use of data on mobiles, mostly to access Internet, was not lowered until it became clear that the use of Internet on such mobile devices as smartphones and tablets was increasing significantly, fueled by the increasing use of social media.
Figures published by the Malta Communications Authority prove that the Maltese have responded favourably to these new roaming tariffs. 28.7 million roaming minutes were consumed by Maltese mobile users in 2006. This jumped to 36.7 million roaming minutes in 2007 as soon as the lower rates were introduced. In 2010 this rose further to almost 48 million minutes.
As from this year data is also being brought into the regime of lower roaming tariffs. The Maltese mobile companies all say that Internet use on their network is increasing consistently and in the past few months have announced upgrades to their networks to cater for it, providing more speed and better packages.
However the same companies indicated they are not going to invest into faster 4G networks or LTE, given that their 3G networks have enough capacity to cater for today needs and those of the near future.
The latest smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone 4S, are already being launched with 4G capabilities.