In 2017, I changed my mobile operator for the first time. I had been with T-Mobile and EE for over a decade, but their roaming deal at the time was well below Three’s “Go Roam”.
Three first launched its offering in 2013, allowing customers to use their voice, text and data quotas in 7 countries – a number that ultimately grew to 71 thanks to wholesale offers and legislation. of the EU.
It really was a game-changer and as a journalist who frequently traveled to the US and Europe for work, it was a very attractive proposition. This anecdote isn’t meant to be complacent but rather to illustrate how Three has used roaming to create a competitive advantage and get its competitors’ customers off the ship.
Three roaming in the EU
The company has positioned itself as a challenger brand since its inception and roaming was at the heart of its recent identity. This was one of the key messages in its high profile “Make it Right” marketing campaign featuring Jackson the Puppet and the company was proud to have saved “millions” of customers as a result.
So the news that it is reintroducing fees both in the EU and elsewhere is quite a turnaround.
In the months and years since the EU referendum, the four mobile operators have repeated that they have no plans to reintroduce charges. As recently as 2019, Three sent a bus adorned with a message saying it would protect roaming in the EU even in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit in Parliament.
However, one by one, all four have changed their position since the end of the transition period in early 2021. In June of this year, O2 and Three imposed data caps while EE introduced a range of add-ons. . Vodafone said he had no plans to follow suit, but changed his mind in August.
Now Three will charge customers £ 2 a day to use their phones in the EU and £ 5 everywhere else. This leaves O2 as the only operator not to charge a fee for roaming in the EU – for now.
The reasons for the reintroduction are obvious. Operators within the EU are no longer obliged to provide regulated wholesale tariffs to their UK counterparts, while the pandemic has meant that roaming revenues from countries outside the EU have all but disappeared.
Combined with the need to invest in 5G infrastructure at a time when traditional revenue sources are shrinking and the possibility of charging for roaming within the EU suddenly becomes very attractive.
End of an era
“We know that Go Roam has always been important to our customers, and we were hoping to retain that advantage, but unfortunately there are now too many unknowns, which makes us commercially unviable to continue,” said Three.
“This includes changes in the underlying cost of roaming, which means that we now have no visibility on the maximum amount it will cost us to provide a service that allows our customers to use their phones on their own. abroad.
“We are investing billions of pounds in improving our network and infrastructure and already have some of the most cost-effective offerings on the market. The implementation of separate roaming charges will allow us to continue to do so. “
Despite the business realities of the situation, the development is hugely disappointing from a consumer perspective given Three’s previous statements on this matter.
The operator could hardly have been expected to predict a global pandemic, and there has been a change of direction since the bus incident, but the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has been constant for the past five years.
The UK government’s failure or reluctance to include roaming in Brexit negotiations is not the fault of mobile operators, but it was not unexpected.
Of course, EU law has nothing to do with most of the 71 “Go Roam” destinations outside of Europe. It also doesn’t impact territories where Three’s parent company CK Hutchison actually owns mobile networks and makes up the bulk of the home countries covered by the offering.
TechToSee Pro asked the operator for other reasons behind the decision and why it felt it was unable to enter into or renew wholesale deals.
It must be emphasized again that Three is not the only one to change its policy, but none of its competitors has given it such importance. Forcing customers to pay for something they were used to will be a big blow and it will be interesting to see if that impacts the churn rate.
That’s not to say that Three’s legacy shouldn’t be ignored. The original ‘Feel at Home’ offer truly revolutionized the industry, helping to standardize the idea of using phones abroad – years before EU law came into force.
Previously, many consumers would turn off their phones or frantically disable data access on their device the second the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac, for fear of exorbitant fees. The market was positively disturbed.
Roaming is much cheaper and less complex than it was in 2013, but it remains to be seen how much convenience it will provide the next time Three’s customers go on vacation.