The end of roaming charges in Europe will not hamper Wi-Fi growth
From June 15, just ahead of the summer holiday season, mobile users in Europe will no longer be charged for roaming. When traveling outside their home country, they will be able to phone, send an SMS and get online access from their mobile phone at the same rates chargeable when at home. A major leap forward for individuals and professionals alike, the end of roaming charges will help them use their favorite application, or attend to their work while on the go, without the unpleasant risk of receiving a huge bill.
The end of roaming fees : a user benefit?
Although this statutory new regulation is highly satisfying, the decision from the European Union is, nevertheless hindered by bottlenecks. According to a survey from New Europe, mobile phone carriers cling to their roaming charges by leveraging loopholes in the regulations. Those that can substantiate to their national regulators that they are not able to recover their “actual or projected costs” of providing roaming services, can continue to impose surcharges on their roaming clients. Besides, carriers may also increase their rates, despite the European Union saying it will do everything possible to monitor market evolutions across all concerned countries and ensure that the new rules are complied with. Meanwhile, variances across countries are expected to be seen. Another key issue is that even if users make a phone call and send an SMS at no additional cost, data usage remains limited. Today, the mobile phone has become the vital multipurpose tool that is used 24/7 for communicating, surfing the Web, posting pictures on social networks, playing games or streaming music. If the EU has decided on bulk rates for the volume of data that does not drive extra billing, the end of roaming charges will be the most beneficial to users with a high data usage cap. In France, the average rate for a mobile plan has decreased by 38% in 7 years, from 26.40 € to 16.10 € (source: ARCEP). A mobile user with a plan priced at 16.10 € may be entitled to only 5 Go of data, with any additional Go costing 7.7€! 5 Go actually represents less than 2 hours of viewing a high-definition video of the latest Netflix blockbuster series, and this may be a major source of frustration among users.
A technology created for the user journey?
For heavy data users, the easiest way to reduce their phone bill while traveling in Europe is to switch to a Wi-Fi network. By comparison, Wi-Fi offers solid value with an access that is often unrestricted, free and secure.
325 million public Wi-Fi hotspots are scheduled to be up and running worldwide in 2018, and their number is expected to leapfrog by a factor of 7 over the next 5 years reaching 432 million hotspots. This increase is supported by public initiatives, such as the European Commission’s WIFI4EU project to deploy 6,000 broadband wireless access points across European countries in parks, libraries and public buildings.
But how does one log into a Wi-Fi network in Europe in a secured way? First, refrain from connecting to unknown hotspots that offer free login, then disable Wi-Fi on the phone when not necessary, to prevent it from connecting to unknown, unsecured networks. Next, preference should be given to protected networks, such as hotels providing secure Wi-Fi, catering to their guests only. A captive portal customized to the colors of a brand is also a simple way to enhance user confidence with regards to the safety and regulatory compliance of a network.
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If Wi-Fi remains the most cost-effective method of connection for roaming users in the European Union, services offered by the network may also prove very useful. Indeed, a secure Wi-Fi hotspot offers the possibility to enjoy, in real time, any content or benefit made available by the venue deploying the hotspot: this includes placing online room service orders in a hotel; obtaining additional information about an exhibition in a museum; or even leverage personalized discount coupons when shopping (the search preferences of a user who logs into the network are identified, and this helps the sponsor/provider deliver attractive special offers based on the user’s interests). Wi-Fi is more than just an infrastructure that provides online access or enables data transfer: it also stands as a great way to boost user experience! When coupled with 4G, it allows users to surf from anywhere without the risk of being greeted by a nasty surprise in billing when getting back home!