Central Europe operators rethink pricing as RLAH takes effect

Tuesday 13 June 2017 | 13:51 CET | Background

The imminent introduction of ‘roam like at home’ in the EU has led a number of operators in central Europe to rethink their pricing. Several operators have introduced new, more expensive plans, while withdrawing previous offers, and others opted to impose fair-use limits on data, such as limited volumes or speed reductions when roaming. The confusion for consumers has already raised concerns among regulators and politicians. Telecompaper’s Central Europe correspondent provides an overview of the changes.


Austrian incumbent A1 Telekom Austria increased prices on a variety of tariffs, mainly older mobile subscriptions, which the company said was in response to rising data volumes. Hutchison Drei Austria introduced new, bigger data packages, but only a part of the volume can be used for EU roaming. At its low-cost brand Eety, the operator offers affordable data packages, but no roaming is included.

T-Mobile Austria followed with price changes, cancelling some older tariffs and making some cheaper, while others become more expensive. While most customers will benefit from RLAH without surcharges, those affected by the price changes have the option to cancel without penalty and are being encouraged to move to new plans. T-Mobile’s second brand Tele.ring updated its tariffs to offer a portion of the mobile data package for roaming.

T-Mobile Austria also will require registration of pre-paid cards to provide EU roaming without surcharges. The other two operators A1 and Hutchison Drei Austria will not require registration. T-Mobile’s measure is in line with the Austrian government’s plan to register prepaid cards for security purposes. The number of prepaid SIM cards in Austria increased in 2016 by 16.2 percent, driven mainly by the success of the new MVNOs such as Hot and Spusu.

MVNOs may profit from the price increases at the bigger operators, winning over more new customers. Customer growth will be needed to offset the costs of RLAH, said Michael Krammer, CEO of Hot. He noted that small providers will suffer on the regulated wholesale roaming prices, which put a GB at EUR 7.70 compared to a domestic price in Austria of around EUR 1.70.

Czech Republic

Czech incumbent O2 also introduced new tariff plans at the start of June, promoting free roaming in the EU on the most expensive offers. Its website still refers customers to roaming add-ons with most offers, which they must activate before benefiting from RLAH or reduced roaming prices. The operator also introduced a roaming offer for destinations outside the EU.

T-Mobile Czech Republic began selling new RLAH-based tariffs already in April. Since 11 June, all units from the new tariffs can be used freely in the EU without surcharges.

Vodafone Czech Republic also introduced new tariffs with bigger data packages. RLAH applies from 11 June, without surcharges. However, on-net calls will not be considered on-net in roaming but charged as calls to other networks. The MVNO Fayn also changed its conditions, so that roaming calls will be considered calls to another network, even when calling an on-net number.

T-Mobile’s MVNO Mobil.cz also presented a new RLAH offer. The main difference with plans used at home is that data services will be stopped after using up the package, rather than just a speed reduction.


Orange Slovakia introduced a new tariff series a month before RLAH took effect. Customers could choose from 100 MB, also for use in the EU, or a bigger data package only available at home, with surcharges for EU usage. This coincided with the withdraw of older tariffs, but after criticism from customers it restored the previous offers. From 15 June, some of the older plans come with RLAH, while others carry a surcharge still.

O2 Slovakia applied to the regulator for an exemption from RLAH, so it could continue charging extra for roaming. The company said that it meets the criteria for an exemption as outlined in the EU regulation. The operator also withdrew some of its biggest plans for new customers, while existing subscribers can benefit from RLAH.

Slovak Telekom introduced its new roaming offer and said it would implement roam-like-at-home fully, with only some fair-use measures to protect against misuse. The MVNO Tesco Mobile took a similar approach, with only two exceptions: data services will be stopped when roaming rather than the speed reduced after using up the package and a surcharge will apply on its daily data plan.

The regulator RU warned operators that non-compliance with the EU roaming regulation from 15 June may result in penalties up to 5 percent of revenue. At the same time, the regulator actively communicates with operators about the new rules, prepared guidelines and organised a workshop for the operators.


Of the four countries surveyed, Poland has perhaps faced the most difficulties, with politicians already weighing in. According to the Polish Minister of Digitisation, implementing RLAH in Poland will be difficult due to the low domestic rates. She noted that incumbent Orange Poland, which was the only operator to implement RLAH consistently (while still using a FUP), could afford it because it’s part of an international group and can cross-subsidise, unlike the other national operators. The minister said she would talk with the European Commission about how to tackle the issue.

Other operators have taken a more mixed approach, with the cost of roaming depending on the type of package. Some tariff options include roaming, but rarely for data. Some roaming packages are billed on an annual basis, and the data beyond the package is charged on a per-unit basis.

T-Mobile Poland introduced a new roaming offer on 7 June. Calls, SMS and MMS which are unlimited in national subscription are also unlimited and without surcharge in the EU. However, the operator limits how much data can be used for roaming. After spending the monthly package, customers can choose from three options: continue using data up to the domestic package limit but for PLN 0.04 per MB; block data in roaming; or buy an extra data package. T-Mobile applies RLAH principles both for pre-paid and post-paid services.

Overall, retail prices for roaming are expected to fall 20-70 percent, depending on the service and tariff plan. Polish regulator UKE's Chairman Marcin Cichy outlined the expected impact on operators at a meeting of the Parliament's Commission for Digitisation, Innovations and Modern Technologies.

He underlined the specifics of the Polish market and how low retail and wholesale prices may create difficulties with the implementation of RLAH in prepaid offers and especially at MVNOs.

Grazyna Piotrowska-Oliwa, CEO of Virgin Mobile, who also participated in the meeting, said that the company’s costs of providing roaming exceed PLN 100, compared to a monthly subscription of no more than PLN 30 paid by its customers. The EU’s requirement to show a 3 percent EBITDA loss in order to obtain an exemption from RLAH may work for operators with their own network, but is a big barrier for MVNOs, operating with lower margins. Wojciech Pytel, representing the group Cyfrowy Polsat, also said he expects Polish operators to lose money on RLAH.

The UKE chairman said the regulator will monitor implementation closely and may impose fines for any violations. He noted further that the implementation of RLAH means the risk of 90 percent of Polish mobile users subsidising the 10 percent of Polish mobile customers who use roaming.

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