The alternative to roaming bill stings


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In the last year, Brits as a collective have accumulated over £539 million in unexpected roaming charges according to data from Uswitch. The convenience of staying connected often comes at a steep price — but it doesn’t need to be that way. Here, Hamish White, founder and CEO of eSIM SDK provider Mobilise, explores a solution to this common travel pitfall, and how travel companies can take advantage of the opportunity roaming charges present to them.

Pre-Brexit, Brits did not need to worry about using their mobile devices when travelling in the EU. But, following the UK’s exit, the ‘roam like from home’ policies have undergone a gradual phaseout. Despite the significance of this, especially for those travelling for long time periods, UK mobile operators have kept pretty silent about it with communication with consumers remaining minimal.

Times have changed

Since the UK’s EU exit, many mobile providers have introduced daily charges that, while seemingly modest at first glance, can accumulate to significant amounts over the course of a trip. A charge of around £2 a day for EU roaming may appear reasonable, but during a two-week holiday, this could easily result in an additional expense of £28. Venture beyond Europe’s borders and costs can rise to £7 a day.

A recent study by Ofcom revealed that nearly one in five holidaymakers are unaware they could face extra charges when using their mobile abroad and 18 per cent do not research roaming charges before travelling. As a result, Ofcom is proposing new rules and guidance that would require all UK mobile companies to offer greater clarification to their customers to ensure they’re aware of the charges they now face when roaming abroad.

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As part of the proposal, mobile customers would receive personalised alerts when abroad detailing the roaming charges that apply, any mobile spend caps that the customer has in place and where to find more information. But this system is just a proposal at the moment — and Ofcom won’t make a final decision until early 2024. Meanwhile, consumers are continuing to get stung by unclear operators.

Enter the travel eSIM

As the challenges of traditional roaming persist, a promising solution has emerged: the travel eSIM. An eSIM, or embedded SIM, is a digital SIM card that eliminates the need for a physical card by downloading network credentials directly onto the device. This allows users to switch between mobile carriers without swapping physical SIM cards.

eSIMs for consumer applications have been around since 2016, and a growing number of mobile operators are offering them as standard for mobile contracts. But aside from regular mobile subscriptions, eSIM offers an additional, cost-effective, convenient way for travellers to get connected through specific travel eSIMs, with specific roaming packages available for a range of international destinations. Upon arrival, travellers can select their destination, purchase a plan for an established time period and gain immediate access to a local network without incurring the steep costs associated with traditional roaming.

The primary allure of travel eSIMs lies in their cost savings. Travellers can opt for data plans that suit their needs, often at a fraction of the cost of traditional roaming charges. Rather than paying inflated fees for each call or megabyte of data, travellers can experience transparent pricing that aligns with local rates. This not only reduces the financial burden of staying connected but also offers peace of mind that no unexpected charges will be added to a consumer’s standard phone bill upon return to the UK.

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Embedded opportunity

The travel eSIM market presents a huge opportunity — a recent market report from Kaleido Intelligence estimates that it will rise by 500 per cent and account for over 80 per cent of total travel SIM spend by 2028. In turn, this presents a great opportunity for service providers — not just from telecoms, but all industries — to expand their service offering and acquire an additional revenue stream through eSIM.

It’s logical to assume that travel companies, such as airlines, hotels booking sites and any other service provider within the travel and tourism industry, would make an ideal travel eSIM provider due to their proximity to travellers. If travelling abroad, consumers are likely to already be in touch with a travel company, who could offer eSIMs as an add-on service.

If a travel company decides to embed connectivity through its mobile application, it has two tasks. It needs to partner with a connectivity provider — a mobile network operator or a roaming aggregator. Then, it must work out a way to connect its application with that connectivity provider and provide a way for its users to connect to the internet. While the first task is straightforward, the second one takes considerable time, effort and resources.

Instead, travel companies could bypass these stages by partnering with an embedded connectivity provider. Mobilise offers an eSIM software development kit (SDK), which enables service providers to embed travel eSIM capabilities directly into their existing mobile application in as little as two weeks. The solution is pre-built and can be easily plugged into any app through APIs. For service providers, it’s another offering for customers to make their travels more seamless, while for consumers, it enables them to arrange their international connectivity in just one tap.

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While the UK adjusts to the end of roam like from home, the transition period shouldn’t have to result in extortionate charges when a more cost-effective option is available. eSIMs present an opportunity for travellers and travel providers alike to benefit from a new stream of revenue and get connected without an unexpected sting.

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