EE is to bring back roaming charges for new UK customers travelling in Europe, becoming the first mobile operator to reintroduce the fee since Brexit.
The BT-owned company said on Thursday that customers joining after July 7 would from January be charged £2 a day to use their data, voice or text allowances in the EU, a previously widespread practice banned by Brussels in 2017.
The move marks a departure from EE’s previous stance on the possibility of a return to roaming charges now the UK has left the European single market. Alongside rivals Three, O2 and Vodafone, EE early this year indicated it would not reintroduce the levy in European countries.
“This will apply only to new and upgrading customers . . . and will support investment into our UK-based customer service and leading UK network,” EE said, adding that it would sell 30-day roaming passes at £10 for customers staying abroad for longer stretches of time.
Mobile operators pay each other fees whenever a customer connects to a different network abroad. The EU ban meant companies were forced to absorb the costs.
O2 said on Wednesday it was introducing caps on free roaming within the EU, which brought it in line with rivals.
Karen Egan at Enders Analysis said EE’s move had been “somewhat inevitable” given UK operators had faced a “significant” financial impact from free EU roaming.
“Free mobile roaming in the EU for all mobile customers is not commercially logical,” she said. She added that since the bloc’s “regulatory intervention disappeared with Brexit, operators . . . have been somewhat reluctant to be the operator who takes that first step given the potential negative press involved.”
However, Egan said she did not expect a “rapid return” to widespread roaming charges for UK mobile customers travelling in Europe.
UK customers had become accustomed to free or cheap EU roaming, she said, a perk that had become a headline benefit on most mobile packages offered in the country. “Operators are treading carefully when seeking to deviate from that starting point.”
BT shares closed up about 0.2 per cent on Thursday.