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For enterprises, building the right mobile communications budget can seem a challenge but changes are in the pipeline that could simplify the task.

Staying in touch with the office while on the road, calling clients during a business trip, keeping on top of email, accessing the corporate intranet, searching for information prior to a meeting – the latest smartphones and tablets have made all of these activities straightforward. But a lack of transparency in roaming and data charges mean that “bill shock” is still an issue for business.

Thankfully, things are changing.

Since 2007, the European Commission (EC) has overseen a series of regulated price cuts in an attempt to address the issue of roaming charges. First it capped outgoing call charges at €0.49 and incoming charges at €0.24 per minute, representing a 60 per cent drop on average charges before the legislation came into effect. By 2011, call charges had been reduced to their current limit of €0.35 and €0.11 respectively; the price of sending a text had been capped at €0.11 (cutting average costs by two-thirds); and access to voicemail had become free anywhere in Europe. Attention had also turned to data services, with a cap on wholesale data prices and agreement to disconnect consumers from the internet once they spend €50, unless otherwise agreed with the network.

Nevertheless, research conducted by Eurobarometer at the start of 2011 revealed that although 61 per cent of frequent travellers were aware that roaming prices had decreased, 72 per cent continued to limit their mobile voice calls while abroad because of cost worries. One in five had also cut down their use of roaming services over the past four years, again because of the perception of the cost.

This has informed the latest shake-up to roaming charges, announced in March 2012, which is designed to iron out differences between roaming and national telecoms tariffs by 2015. From 1 July, consumers will pay no more than €0.29 to make a call, and €0.70 per MB for data downloads across Europe – the first time a retail cap has been placed on data. By 2014, these are expected to fall to no more than €0.19 and €0.20 respectively.

Bigger competition

The new agreement also aims to boost competition in the mobile market. The EC wants to allow consumers to choose their mobile operator when they cross borders – which could lead to more roaming offers and sustained lower prices, and a market governed by competition rather than regulation after 2014. Neelie Kroes, the EC vice-president for the Digital Agenda refers to this as a “long-term structural solution with lower prices, more choice and a new smart approach for data and internet browsing.”

These advances only apply within Europe however, and although the EC is making efforts to improve transparency of pricing in non-European countries, the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is also taking up the fight. In February, it urged governments to take action to increase competition and help bring down the price of mobile data roaming. The Cisco Visual Networking Index has seen mobile data traffic double every year for the past four years and predicts monthly traffic will exceed 10 exabytes by 2016, yet the OECD highlights that some travellers are paying costs of up to $25 per MB while abroad.

The OECD recommends pricing regulation as a last resort, but wants improved transparency and awareness of the costs and availability of substitutes, and greater protection for consumers through agreed financial limits.

Vodafone Global Enterprise is always looking to provide solutions that not only comply with the changing regulatory landscape but to provide even better value. Ultimately, all of this translates into a simplified deal for mobility both in the EU and around the world – which is the best possible outcome for businesses and for the future of business communications.

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