Prices for international roaming services

Average standard international roaming prices have tended to rise in Europe since 2018 for Swiss users while prices in the "rest of the world" destinations have fallen slightly. Overall, average data roaming prices show the same trend as for calls: they are declining slightly in the rest of the world while they tend to increase in the EU, with the exception of the beginning of 2020 when they fell sharply in the particular context of the Covid-19 crisis. As regards average standard prices for SMS in 2020, these have followed a slight downward trend compared to the previous year. Only SMS prices calculated for prepaid offers have increased.        


Methodology

Four times a year, OFCOM collects the volumes consumed abroad (voice, SMS and data) and the corresponding revenues directly from the three mobile network operators. From this data, the regulator calculates the average prices paid for roaming services, i.e. voice, data and SMS roaming. The concept of “price” here refers to the quotient of revenue divided by volume, and should not be confused with tariffs for commercial offers. The more attractive the prices of roaming services, the more people use them abroad. For this reason, the prices aggregated in the OFCOM survey are rather low, as they reflect the volumes actually consumed, most likely generated by consumers benefiting from the most advantageous tariffs.

All three mobile network operators offer mobile phone packages with roaming volumes included, but in this case they state that they are unable to break down the revenues specifically attributable to roaming, as the volumes consumed are no longer charged individually but as a flat rate in a basic monthly tariff. This basic tariff generally includes the use of mobile services in Switzerland and abroad with fixed or unlimited volumes (data/voice/SMS). For this reason, OFCOM is currently only working with figures (revenues and corresponding volumes) which do not come from bundled products.

In the case of revenues and volumes from "rest of the world" calls, the distinction between per-unit billing and flat-rate billing has not been requested until now. In recent years, however, subscriptions have appeared on the market that also include roaming for certain regions of the "rest of the world" (e.g. the United States and Canada). For this reason, and given the problem described above regarding the lack of figures for revenues from roaming subscriptions, it is likely that the "price" for the "rest of the world" is underestimated.

OFCOM is currently working to make the roaming statistics more relevant. The new questionnaire to be submitted to operators from 2021 should provide more information on roaming in the "rest of the world" and on subscriptions with roaming volumes included.

 

Average prices of Swiss network providers for international voice roaming services

Average prices, roaming calls

For outgoing calls, calls to Switzerland are the cheapest, with an average price per minute of CHF 0.76 in 2020. Calls to the EU/EEA area cost slightly more (CHF 1.03), while for outgoing calls while in the rest of the world, Swiss customers pay CHF 1.43 per minute actually charged on average per year. Over the last three years observed, the standard price for outgoing calls in the EU has increased, while the price in the rest of the world has decreased; prices in the two areas therefore tend to converge over time.

In Europe, incoming roaming calls are about half as expensive as outgoing calls (CHF 0.40 per minute actually charged). In the rest of the world, incoming roaming calls cost an average of CHF 1.33 per minute in 2020 (see chart below). Again, prices for the EU are increasing slightly and those for the rest of the world are decreasing.

Price devolopments

The following table shows the evolution of prices by region and by price plan (subscription or prepaid). Subscription-based roaming telephony services (without roaming minutes included) within the EU tend to become more expensive, while in the rest of the world prices have decreased over the last four years for both subscribers and prepaid customers.

 
Price devolopments Subscription vs Prepaid

The price difference between prepaid offers and on-bill subscriptions is striking. Since 2016, it appears that users of prepaid offers pay a lower price per minute than subscription holders. This is certainly due to the fact that prices per minute for subscription customers (who do not have minutes included), tend to increase.

Prepaid customers are probably also more price-sensitive than subscription holders and are only willing to use roaming if their rates are low.

It is also worth repeating here that we are not talking about prices in the true sense of the word, but about roaming revenues divided by the roaming units actually consumed. A user with low tariffs usually consumes more, which leads to lower prices in this statistic.

The proportion of volumes linked to prepaid offers has continued to decline in recent years. It now represents only 1% of total volume. The number of prepaid customers is therefore decreasing.

 
Choice of contract type for voice communication, Subscription vs Prepaid

For sustained use of roaming services, it is often useful to activate an option to optimise expenditure. On average, an option can reduce the price per minute by 76% in the European area. In other parts of the world, the acquisition of an option reduces the cost by an average of about 22% per minute (see following illustrations).

It appears that standard prices for the EU have increased in recent years, while they have decreased in the rest of the world. Option prices fluctuate seasonally but have remained relatively stable over the last five years.

 

 
Price developments for outgoing calls Standard vs Option

The per-minute billing for roaming calls has a direct impact on the cost of these services. In 2020, for customers of Swiss operators, the difference between the number of minutes actually consumed and the number of minutes charged by mobile network operators (on a per-minute basis) remains significant. For outgoing calls within the EU and to the rest of the world, the difference is 15% and 21% respectively. For incoming calls, the difference is 16% and 28% respectively.

 

Average prices, roaming data

The average price for data roaming in EU/EEA countries fell again in 2020, averaging CHF 0.14 per MB (CHF 0.19 the previous year).

Data traffic in the rest of the world also became cheaper in 2020, at CHF 0.06 per MB. The fact that prices in the EU are more expensive than for the rest of the world is atypical and can be attributed to the problem described in the methodology section, namely that the flat-rate volumes charged in the rest of the world do not correspond to the respective revenues.

 

 
Price developments for transmitted Data

Compared to the EU/EEA, prices for data roaming services in Switzerland are still high. This is partly due to the fact that Swiss network providers have to negotiate their wholesale rates with their European partners. On average, these will amount to around CHF 0.008 per MB in 2020. In contrast, wholesale prices in the EU are regulated and set at a much lower level (EUR 0.0035 per MB for 2020), which may partly explain the price difference.

The graph below shows the evolution of prices in the EU and in the rest of the world according to the tariff plan. There is hardly any difference between subscription and prepaid offers. In the particularly touristy quarters 2 and 3 (summer months), the prices of prepaid are even lower than those of the subscription holders. In 2020 an MB with a subscription costs on average CHF 0.14 (EU)while it is charged CHF 0.16 with prepaid (EU).

Price developments for transmitted Data, Subscription vs Prepaid

However, the average subscription prices mentioned reflect only part of the reality, as consumers are increasingly opting for subscriptions that include roaming services. This means that roaming is partly or fully charged at a flat rate and no longer billed by unit. As these revenues are not declared by the mobile network operators, they are not included in the statistics (EU). The prices calculated by OFCOM are therefore biased downwards (rest of the world).

 

Average prices, roaming SMS


The observation of average prices for sending an SMS in the EU shows a slight decrease in 2020 (CHF 0.25), which follows the slight increase in 2019 (CHF 0.27 compared to CHF 0.26 in 2018). Prices in the rest of the world are at a relatively constant level (CHF 0.40 in 2020). However, prices differ considerably depending on the type of contract (subscription/prepaid) and the tariff plan (standard/option).   

 

Specialist staff
Last modification 03.08.2021

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