Mobile Operators Claim Falling Data Roaming Prices in Europe

In an effort to avert price caps on data roaming charges by the European Union, mobile phone operators said Wednesday that the market is expanding rapidly and that prices are coming down of their own accord.

Data roaming allows travellers to access multimedia services using their mobile phone or laptop. It also includes services such as sending and receiving SMS (Short Message Service) messages via a mobile phone.

Viviane Reding, the European telecoms commissioner, is considering a plan to cap data roaming charges in the same way she capped the price of roaming costs on making and receiving phone calls last year.

The average retail price of data roaming fell by 25 percent in the year to April 2008 in the E.U., said the GSM Association (GSMA), a trade group representing mobile operators.

E.U. data roaming traffic grew 75 percent over the same period, said the GSMA, citing findings by researcher Wireless Intelligence and consultancy AT Kearney. The average price of text messaging roaming services fell 18 per cent in the year to April, the GSMA said.

The GSMA said the E.U.'s mobile data market, excluding SMS messaging, grew by 40 percent to €7 billion (US$10.8 billion) last year, and that mobile operators invested more than €20 billion in enhancing their mobile networks and services last year.

The GSMA added that in the year to April, the number of third-generation, or 3G users in the E.U. doubled to 112 million. "Europe has adopted 3G faster than any other region of the world," the trade group said.

The proportion of people in Europe using 3G is 22.5 percent compared with 18.4 percent in the U.S. and Canada and 3.7 percent in Asia-Pacific, according to Wireless Intelligence.

Commissioner Reding is expected to decide whether or not to cap data roaming costs in early July.