As Mobile Networks Double Back on Roaming Charges, How Should Businesses React?

‘No more fun in the sun’

Perhaps it was inevitable, and we should have seen it coming. However, it’s hard not to feel disappointed by the reintroduction of roaming charges from a barrage of UK mobile network operators (MNOs). For the average customer, the charges likely mean one less Cornetto around the pool. However, businesses gearing up for international expansion may face more significant consequences. Here, Ginelle Bell, UK country manager at VoIP call provider Ringover, explains how UK businesses can overcome roaming reintroductions. 

The holiday is over. For the past five years, the UK has enjoyed a hiatus from roaming charges, thanks to its position in the European Union (EU). Since 2017, mobile networks in EU countries have been banned from charging customers extra to use their phones in other member countries. When the UK officially departed from the EU earlier in 2021, MNOs including EE, Three and Vodafone, all pledged that they wouldn’t reintroduce the charges, even though they could.

However, over the course of the year, the plans of all three providers have changed course. Currently, O2 is the only remaining MNO of the “big four” UK operators to stick to its guns. 

Global growth

Now, UK customers who wish to use their phones in European countries may soon either have to pay to use their phone’s data allowance, or start paying for data once they hit a certain cap, which either didn’t exist before or was previously higher.

Changes might not seem too significant, but they have stung people in the past. Before the EU’s Roam like at home legislation, travelers frequently hit the headlines after falling victim to unexpected charges. One person, a chef sailing the Greek islands, was infamously charged £8,000 for just 40 minutes of data roaming in 2017. Their phone inadvertently connected to a Turkish mobile network whose signal was transmitted apparently from Turkey or a passing boat — using 455MB of data.

It’s a history lesson nobody would like to be repeated. At the same time, if projections for the UK’s economy become true, more business travelers could risk being affected by roaming than ever before. Research by Globalization Partners in 2020 revealed that 45 per cent of businesses are either currently expanding globally or only slightly delaying their expansion, even after the pandemic. 

Those wanting to grow their overseas presence most certainly won’t want to worry about being stung by unexpected charges. For companies growing teams — or setting up entire branches — abroad, having access to technology that facilitates simplified, effective communication will prove key to their success.

The VoIP era

One thing businesses can do to prevent hefty roaming charges is ditch phone calls altogether. And many already are. Recent analysis by Ringover into the latest Ofcom data, indicates that the office landline will become extinct by 2028. Business landline numbers fell by 370,000 in a year to just 4.98 million in 2021, and numbers could drop to below 1 million as early as 2026. Suddenly, having a traditional phone system sounds a lot less appealing.

Instead, businesses are opting for Cloud-based replacements such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) call solutions. The demand for unified communications (UC), which encompasses all collaborative communication tools, enjoyed a 60 per cent year on year growth across Europe in 2020 as more businesses invested in voice solutions. Because VoIP technology relies on the Internet to make and receive calls, and it can be configured to support text messaging capabilities, it’s clear to see why businesses are keen to ditch the landline.

When choosing a VoIP service, businesses can select either a fixed or non-fixed number. Both options work in similar ways, and can lower the cost of communication by as much as 30 per cent. However, there are some differences that customers should consider. A fixed VoIP number is linked to a physical address and is assigned by a service provider with a network linked to the common public switched telephone network. 

Fixed VoIP numbers are Internet-based, but they remain similar to traditional phone lines in that they require a physical address to be provided in exchange for service. This can give fixed VoIP numbers better credentials, as customers may feel more inclined to pick up calls from known addresses. 

Non-fixed VoIP numbers, however, are not linked to a physical address. They have the same calling capabilities as fixed numbers, but are not tethered to a geographical location.  As a result, accounts can be created to service any desired address and businesses can contact customers all over the world with ease. 

Businesses may want to establish non-fixed VoIP numbers if they want to grow a local presence overseas. Because non-fixed VoIP numbers aren’t linked to a specific location, businesses can adopt a local address in the country they wish to target, even if they’re not physically located there, which could prove a cost-effective solution to international expansion. 

Non-fixed numbers can lack the authenticity of fixed VoIP numbers. However, if a business’s main goal is to expand overseas, and then prove its credentials, it offers a cost-effective solution that eliminates reliance on expensive fixed lines. Whichever option is right for your business, having access to the right provider is crucial. Ringover, for example, provides calls to 110 destinations, offering precise, transparent rates for all destinations outside the UK.

Changes to roaming charges won’t just affect holiday-goers. Any business that wants to expand internationally will need to consider how their global business will communicate moving forwards. It could be wise to ditch traditional telephony methods altogether, and embrace a reliable, easy-to-use VoIP solution.