EU roaming fee return creates opening for eSIM providers

Reintroduction of roaming charges by three of four telco giants sees eSIM providers lining up to take advantage

News that Virgin Media O2 would not be following rival mobile suppliers in reintroducing mobile roaming charges for those travelling in the European Union (EU) has been regarded by some as opportunistic, but the new charges could present an opportunity for eSIM suppliers.

As the UK was gearing up to officially leave the EU, the European Parliament renewed its Roam Like At Home policy for 10 years, meaning no roaming charges for member states. As a consequence, three of the four major UK mobile operators have reintroduced roaming fees for their customers travelling to Europe.

For example, mobile operator EE decided that customers whose plan including a pay monthly handset or SIM started on or after 7 July 2021 would incur a daily charge for using their phone in its European roaming zone. The operator will begin applying the EU roaming charges from 3 March 2022.

Yet Virgin Media O2 announced it will not be reintroducing roaming fees in Europe, making it the only big-four mobile network in the UK not to bring back these charges. Customers on both O2 and Virgin Mobile will maintain their inclusive roaming in Europe Zones, so they can travel to destinations all over Europe and use their data, calls and texts just as they would in the UK. It is said to also be looking to impose a “fair use” charge if customers use more than their data allowance to a maximum of 25GB, charging £3.50 per GB when the allowance is exceeded.

“We’re starting the year by giving our customers some certainty: we will not be reintroducing roaming fees in Europe for customers on O2 or Virgin Mobile,” said Virgin Media O2’s chief commercial officer for mobile, Gareth Turpin. “Unlike all the other major mobile networks that are bringing back roaming fees, we will not be following suit. With many Brits now looking to plan a trip abroad, we’ve got our customers covered and extra roaming charges will be one less thing to worry about.”

And as businesses face cost increases for workers travelling throughout the UK, eSIM providers are lining up to take advantage, offering alternative data plans for UK consumers traveling abroad. eSIMs fundamentally allow modern smartphone users to activate a mobile data plan without the installation of a physical card.

An eSIM data plan allows users to call, send SMS, send photos and videos via communication applications such as WhatsApp, and even connect tablets and laptops. Users can combine multiple eSIM profiles from different operators and switch between them in the device settings. Providers also claim that eSIM offers a safer, more secure connection than Wi-Fi.

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First out of the blocks for eSIM providers has been global cellular connectivity provider Ubigi, which provides eSIM data plans in 180+ countries to travellers with eSIM-compatible smartphones such as iPhone 11/12/13/XS/XR/SE, Samsung S20/S21, Pixel 3/4/5/6, tablets including iPad Mini/Air/Pro, Surface Pro, and a number of laptops operating on Windows 10 and 11.

In what it called a response to UK travellers’ concerns, Ubigi has calculated that by using the average data usage by its UK consumers in July/August 2021 (2.6GB), an average consumer traveling in Europe would be most likely to buy a 30-day 3GB eSIM data plan costing £6, significantly less than what is charged by the traditional operators, even Virgin Media O2.

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