Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that on June 23rd citizens of the UK voted to leave the European Union. The “Brexit” has been the lead story on every news program in just about every country ever since as ‘experts’ try and decipher what it all means. Will dogs and cats now live in harmony? Will Atlantis rise from the depths and assert control over this new world order? Will roaming charges go through the roof?

Oddly enough that last subject is about the only one nobody is talking about. But they should. Because, while there won’t be any immediate changes many people think that by the time negotiations regarding the shape of the new UK/EU relationship are hammered out roaming charges will take a hit.

The End of Free Roaming?

Over the past several years roaming charges for citizens of EU member states have been steadily declining. Free incoming text messages and a flat rate for data allowances virtually even with what you’d be charged in your home country have become standard. The total abolition of end-user roaming charges was also passed recently in Brussels but is not scheduled to be implemented until 2017 (and may not be for UK mobile users now that Brexit is a reality).

But the impact of the EU legislation was questionable anyway, since many mobile providers already have their own policies in place that essentially provide free international roaming now. For instance, Three’s “Feel at Home” program provides:

Free calling and texting to any UK number.

  • Standard data usage charges.
  • Free calls and texts in any Feel at Home designated location.
  • Normal access to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

Vodafone have their own free roaming program in place as well which doesn’t quite live up to Three’s but nonetheless provides:

Unlimited calls, texts and picture messages in 40 European countries.

  • 4GB of free data usage.

Not to be left out, Tesco Mobile has been testing their own free roaming program they call “Home From Home” which provides:

Free calls to standard UK numbers (comes out of your UK allowance).

  • No extra charge for data (also comes out of your UK allowance).
  • Free calls and texts within all Home From Home
  • Standard UK rates apply to additional activity if you exhaust your UK allowance.

Tesco may have been aware something was afoot with the EU referendum as they made their Home From Home program a temporary one that will expire September 3 2016.

Perhaps not surprisingly in the wake of the Brexit vote none of these providers will go on the record stating what impact it will have on their free roaming programs. What they do say is that, since the UK will still be an EU member state for the next 2 years, they don’t really know what’s going to happen. Translation: either they’re being extremely cheeky with the public or they simply didn’t plan for a possible ‘leave’ vote (with the exception of Tesco), which would demonstrate poor corporate governance on their part.

Will Free Roaming Still be Available for UK Mobile Customers?

There’s no shortage of hand-wringing going on among mobile users who now fear they’ll lose their long awaited free roaming privileges. However, any rise in roaming charges now would be hard to defend since the UK mobile industry, as demonstrated above, have made the decision independently to abolish such charges already. Also, if one company (say, Three for instance) decided to abolish their free roaming program customers would abandon them in droves for any competitor that offered their own free roaming option.

So backtracking on free roaming will be difficult. Basically all UK providers would have to agree to abolish free roaming together. But that’s called collusion and would lead to a nasty regulatory response from the UK government.

Conclusion

In the absence of clear guidelines from UK mobile providers any prognostications about what form roaming charges will take in the future are moot at this point. Since the UK is still an EU member state no changes are on the immediate horizon. The big question seems to be whether or not UK mobile providers will abandon their self-imposed free roaming programs. It would certainly seem the lifting of the EU regulatory hammer may provide these companies with an incentive to abandon free roaming. On the other hand, if one company abandons the idea another may offer it just to win over customers. That’s called ‘competition’ and it can be a great thing for those customers.