(Pocket-lint) - The UK has left the EU, and through 2020 was in a transition period, following EU rules. so the interesting part is what will happen from 1 January 2021 when the UK is no longer governed by EU rules.
There are two aspects to continued free roaming after that date - firstly, the legal perspective from the Government and secondly the perspective of the networks themselves - in other words, are they actually planning on introducing roaming charges?
So let's look at what's going on from the legal point-of-view first and then check out what each network has to say about the potential impact.
What does the legislation say?
Through the transition period the status-quo will continue, so in another EU country (including the EEA countries of Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) you can make calls, send texts and use data at the same cost as you would if you were in the UK. From 1 January 2021 this position will change, but some of the EU legal protections remain in place.
Currently EU mobile operators are mandated to apply a financial limit for data roaming usage tp €50 euros - this is £45 in the UK. This will remain in place from 1 January 2021 for the UK, so there's no change there. Operators are also required to send an alert once you've reached 80 per cent and 100 per cent of your own data roaming limit - wherever in the world you are.
The Government has legislated to "retain in UK law" the EU Roaming Regulation that ensures networks must help their customers avoid inadvertent roaming. This will be a key problem in Northern Ireland where, obviously, it is easy to roam onto an Irish Republic network if you have roaming turned on.
However, it can also be an issue in other areas - before roaming was standardised across the EU there were numerous stories about people inadvertently roaming onto French networks on the South coast of England, particularly in Kent.
Will roaming charges return?
The certainty of so-called "surcharge-free" - or free-roaming - will end according to the Government: "The guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end. Check with your phone operator to find out about any roaming charges you might get."
The "trade deal" that has been agreed on - but still to be ratified - does not continue the previous arrangement with the EU. That will mean that those in the UK could be subject to roaming charges if their network or tariff charges for those things.
What do the UK networks say?
Broadly-speaking there is a common theme, saying they currently have no plans to change what is on offer.
However, the keyword there is "currently". After 1 January 2021, networks will be able to impose roaming charges if they see a need to do so. There are a number of factors here, for example the deals that UK networks have with networks in the EU, preferred roaming partnerships and so on. These positions are likely to change and we will update to reflect changes as and when they happen.
We've listed comments from all the key UK networks below:
"Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and beyond, and we don't have any plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome. So our customers travelling to the EU will continue to benefit from inclusive roaming."
"We’re committed to providing our members with great connectivity and value when they travel overseas. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe."
"We’re committed to providing our customers with great connectivity and value when they travel overseas. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe. We will be working closely with the government and other European operators to try and protect the current arrangements so our customers can continue to enjoy free EU roaming."
"Sky Mobile customers will continue to be able to use their data plans as they do today, in over 30 European destinations at no extra cost from 1 January 2021."
“Tesco Mobile is committed to giving our customers the very best value and service wherever they use their mobile. There are currently no plans to change our Home From Home roaming at no extra cost.”
"We will look to retain this customer benefit [free roaming] in the EU post-Brexit allowing our customers to continue using their usual allowances when they travel."
"We currently have no plans to change our Roam Like Home offering. Virgin Media mobile customers can continue to enjoy their inclusive data, minutes and texts while abroad in 43 European destinations. Should we need to make any changes to our roaming services, we'll let our customers know in advance."
"It’s too soon to assess the implications of Brexit on roaming regulation, however, we do expect competition will continue to drive good value for customers."
Note that a couple of sources have claimed that Vodafone will definitely stick to free-roaming after Brexit. In response, the network has told Pocket-lint that it stands by its statement above.