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European mobile roaming charges to be axed. Pity the Swiss (who just have a Swiss phone)

Yesterday the European Commission announced that EU residents should soon be able to make calls and use data without any additional charges while travelling in another EU country. Countries outside the EU, but within the European Economic Area (EEA), including Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland’s neighbour Liechtenstein, will be included in the deal.

Mobile Roaming Switzerland

© Quintanilla |

Günther H. Oettinger, EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said: “Today’s draft rules ensure we can end roaming charges as of 15 June 2017 for all people who travel periodically in the EU, while ensuring that operators have the tools to guard against abuse of the rules.”

Open to abuse

According to the Guardian, mobile phone costs vary significantly across the EU, with prices in Latvia around a sixth of those in Ireland. Mobile operators are worried that people will buy plans in the cheapest countries and then use them permanently in their home country. In effect permanently roaming. To guard against this, the new rules allow operators to cut off users if they notice insignificant domestic traffic compared to roaming traffic, long inactivity of a given SIM card associated with high roaming usage, or sequential use of multiple SIM cards by the same customer while roaming.

Pity the Swiss

None of this matters if you are Swiss. Because Switzerland is in neither the EU or the EEA the new rules will not apply. For Swiss-based mobile users the news represents a double indignity. Not only are Swiss consumers already paying well over what most in the EU pay, they will miss out on this new deal.

Some numbers

Soon most in Europe will pay nothing to roam. By comparison, Swisscom charges customers CHF 0.45 per minute to make a call when in the EU, and CHF 0.27 cents for the pleasure of receiving one. Salt’s EU roaming costs are even higher: CHF 2.00 a minute to make a call home and CHF 0.80 to receive one from some EU countries. Sunrise won’t come to your rescue either. A call from France back to Switzerland, on the freedom classic package, will cost CHF 1.30 a minute, while an incoming call will set you back CHF 0.80 a minute.

All of these companies offer packages that include roaming, but these are expensive by EU standards. Vodafone in the UK, currently has a special offer of £25 (CHF 33) per month with unlimited calls at home and abroad, 25GB of data at home, plus 4GB of data while roaming. In Switzerland you’ll pay over double, even triple, for something similar. Salt is currently offering unlimited calls at home and in the EU, plus unlimited home surfing with 1GB abroad for CHF 69 per month – this plan normally costs CHF 89. Swisscom offers unlimited calls at home and the EU and 12GB of roaming data, for CHF 119 per month, more than three times Vodafone’s offer, or an extra CHF 1,032 a year.

Something as striking as the high prices, is how Switzerland’s main mobile operators all openly engage in age discrimination. 30 is the magic age at Sunrise. Unlimited surfing and Whatsapp usage comes with a price tag of CHF 60 for key tapping millennials. Digital non-natives need to dig out an extra CHF 40 and pay CHF 100 for a similar package. Salt uses the same age cut off as Sunrise, while Swisscom downgrades its customers after they celebrate their 26th birthday. Vodafone UK offers a 10% student discount, but you have to prove you are a student. And there is no age restriction.

Swiss Alphorns

Before phones were invented, Alphons were used to communicate across Swiss valleys © Swisshippo | - Click to enlarge

EU resorts just gained an edge on Switzerland

Not only will mobile Swiss mobile surfers continue to suffer. Soon EU and EEA visitors will have to add Swiss roaming to holiday costs when comparing Switzerland with other EU destinations. Not helpful for a sector already smarting from a strong Swiss franc.

While European visitors can dodge the cost by choosing to holiday in a neighbouring EU country instead, perhaps the only option left to the poor Swiss consumer is to switch off his or her phone and scream. An Alphorn anyone?

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Investec is a distinctive Specialist Bank and Asset Manager. We provide a diverse range of financial products and services to a niche client base in three principal markets, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia, as well as certain other geographies. Investec’s strategic goals are motivated by the desire to develop an efficient and integrated business on an international scale through the active pursuit of clearly established core competencies in the group’s principal business areas.
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