Today, an EU Directive takes force requiring all mobile networks in the European Union to limit data roaming charges to 50 Euros unless the customer opts-out. This prevents bill shock, caused by high prices when using smartphones and laptops abroad. Could these high prices be reduced when roaming abroad on femtocells?
Headlines of extreme cases caused regulatory action
There have been many examples in the media of extremely high monthly fees accruing, such as when holiday makers have downloaded video programs to keep the children happy or a laptop performs automatic unattended backups overnight.
Many others have been surprised at the high charges, although these have not made it to the headlines.
Prices have dropped in recent years
Roaming charges in Europe have already come down in recent years, especially for voice and more recently for data. Vodafone UK for example charges £9.99 (approx $15) for 50Mbytes in Europe, £29.99 (approx $45) for 50Mbytes elsewhere. For simple email checks and limited internet surfing this price competes with many hotel services, but for more extensive video streaming would quickly become prohibitive. Telefonica O2 offer a “bolt-on” option of 10Mbytes for £20 which can be used anywhere.
However, it can be expensive to use data abroad. Prices of €1/MByte across Europe are common, which at a data rate of 21Mbits/s equates to about €3 per second at full speed. In other countries, prices still reach £8/Mbyte (approx $12). Many network operators require activation fees or minimum usage which skews the price somewhat.
You can understand why many people choose to access Wi-Fi instead where possible, something not easily done for those on the move or in more remote locations.
It can also be claimed that simple and efficient email access, for example using a Blackberry, is extremely valuable although not using much data capacity. I’ve certainly checked my email on my phone when abroad and rarely paid more than a few Euros a day.
Should femtocell access be cheaper when roaming too?
There’s been some considerable activity on the internet about data charges when using your own femtocell. Some consider it unreasonable to have to pay both for the wireline internet access and for mobile data when using your own femtocell. ATT defend this position, claiming there are costs incurred in handling data which transits their network.
If we look ahead a few years, when femtocells may be much more commonly deployed in many countries, I wonder if this might change. Perhaps at that time different prices or packages will apply for data consumed on your own femtocell. I wonder whether a reduced rate might apply for visitors roaming onto a femtocell (for example in a hotel or shop as well as private residence).
This could bridge the gap between higher prices for wide area data mobility and the sometimes difficult and clumsy options available using Wi-Fi today. It might be quite attractive for some shops and other retailers to encourage visitors because they have installed a femtocell, much in the same way as they do with Wi-Fi today, but without the hassle of passwords and security issues.
This will need to be factored into any changes in the billing systems (prepaid and postpaid) as well as roaming settlement systems, so would take some time to implement if it happens.