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Toueistin mit Strohhut am Sandstrand liegend mit Smartphone in Händen
Image: Kite_rin / Shutterstock

EU roaming - better internet connection

The new EU Roaming Regulation will apply from 1 July 2022 and will continue to ensure roaming without additional costs, with further improved conditions for consumers. This regulation also puts a stop to cost traps in the case of unintentional roaming. Austrians made around 20% more calls abroad than in the same period last year, i.e. well over 250 million minutes of calls and around 12 million roaming text messages in the EU. This trend towards intensive use of smartphones abroad is continuing, and the EU regulation comes just at the right time for the main travel season.

Previous international roaming extended and improved

Since 1 July 2022, roaming services for end customers have not only been guaranteed the same price abroad in the EU (including Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) as domestically for another 10 years until 2032, but also - and this is new - the same quality. A study from February 2021 shows that around one third of EU travellers abroad had a slower internet connection and 28% were downgraded to an inferior radio standard after crossing the border. However, these new quality standards still do not apply to the countries of Switzerland or Turkey, and since Brexit, not to the UK either. There are no bilateral "Roam Like at Home" agreements with these countries.

This means that making phone calls, sending text messages and surfing the internet while on holiday in the EU will continue to cost the same as at home and the same technical conditions will apply from now on as at home. Those who want to use streaming services on a beach holiday in Italy in the usual quality and without jerks can now do so: Since 1 July 2022, providers are no longer allowed to throttle the speed of data transmission abroad. This was unfortunately common practice until now. Just before the main holiday season, it is therefore to be expected that data-intensive services such as streaming films or video telephony can also be consumed abroad without any losses.

The restriction here is that the technologies of the same generation must be available in the chosen foreign mobile network as in the domestic one. For example, if you use 5G at home and it is technically available at your holiday destination, your operator must do its utmost to provide you with a corresponding 5G connection there. In other words, if you surf at one gigabit per second on your mobile phone at home, for example, (e.g. because you use LTE Advanced - see mobile phone standards), and the chosen network abroad only offers 3G, then your internet there is still only a third as fast. Your mobile phone contract or the website of your provider should inform you in such a case how the data service at the destination differs from the one you use at home due to technical unavailability. Such a restriction remains compatible with the new regulation and you cannot file a complaint in such a case. To check network quality on the spot, the EU provides the online tool netBravo.

The other restriction is not new. "Roam like at home" is intended for travel and not for permanent stays. Anyone who stays longer in another EU country than in their country of residence and uses roaming for four months may be charged a surcharge by the telecoms operator.

End of roaming traps at sea

There have been repeated complaints from consumers who have incurred very high costs due to unintentional roaming on ships, planes or ferries. In most cases, travellers did not notice how their SIM card of the device, which was often set to silent, automatically dialled into a foreign satellite network and then received extremely high phone bills when, for example, an automatic software update was started. Until 1 July 2022, however, there were no EU protection regulations. The new EU regulation now forces telecoms providers to warn consumers before connecting to a non-terrestrial network instead of automatically making such a connection.
Caution still applies when travelling to Switzerland. Here, people do not dial into satellite connections, but since Switzerland generally does not participate in "roam like at home", there are often nasty cost surprises on the phone bill. Customers of an Austrian network, for example, who send a holiday photo with 4 MB via a Swiss mobile network can quickly have to pay 60 € for it.

Stricter information requirements for telecom companies

If you use your phone or apps with mobile data, you must be informed about possible charges when crossing the border. In addition, your Austrian telecom operator must warn you if you reach a €60 limit by roaming for the billing period. If additional charges are incurred or you reach another predefined limit, mobile services are automatically discontinued (cut-off limit mechanism) and you may not be charged anything above this. However, you can also contact your operator in advance and deliberately waive this protection mechanism. This regulation applies worldwide!

The same applies when fair-use limits (agreed maximum data volumes or costs) are reached. If fair-use limits are agreed in your mobile contract, then you must be informed again when crossing the border and again when reaching 80% of the agreed maximum data volume or data costs. The EU regulation caps the wholesale costs for data volumes for the operator companies among themselves. This has the following advantage for end customers: if you reach your data limit, you can continue to get data volume while roaming for a very small fee, which may not exceed €2 per gigabyte plus VAT from 2022. In 2027, this cost will gradually fall further to €1.

Beware of special numbers! In addition to the more familiar 0800 prefix numbers, there are chargeable service numbers (0180x), value-added services (0137x) and premium services (0900). Please note that high costs may be incurred when calling special numbers from abroad, as these often do not fall under the "Roam like at Home" regulation. Before the call, you must be told the gross price per minute or per call and there must be 3 seconds between the announcement and the call to cancel the service. Caution - the prices quoted in this way are domestic prices.

Upgrade of the European emergency number 112

The single international emergency number 112 has been around for a long time and is also known in German as the "Euronotruf". It is available in the European Union, Andorra, Faroe Islands, Great Britain, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, Turkey, Vatican City, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Russia, as well as in many countries overseas. When calling, you will be redirected to local emergency services.
New since the July 2022 regulation is that operators must automatically remind their customers of this number in messages when travelling abroad. In addition, information must be provided about alternative ways to reach the emergency services. These can be real-time SMS or push messages in apps. People in emergency situations who cannot call will then have these additional alternatives to calling for help. Telecom operators have until June 2023 to implement this improvement.

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