3, the 3G-only mobile operator, says it has reached the milestone of one million mobile broadband customers in Europe, showing demand is strong for mobile broadband in all 3's territories, including the UK, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Austria.
Christian Salbaing, Managing Director European Telecoms at Hutchison Whampoa, said, "This milestone shows people everywhere want to access our mobile broadband services. Since we launched our offers late last year we have seen phenomenal growth from customers who are using it to both supplement and replace their fixed line broadband. For many customers, it is their first personal broadband connection."
However, due to the high wholesale data roaming costs charged between mobile operators in Europe, it remains very expensive for consumers to use mobile broadband while travelling abroad and roaming onto other (non-3) networks.
"Mobile broadband's greatest strength is its mobility, yet consumers are rightly fearful of the excessive charges faced when they roam off our networks. Some networks are charging the equivalent of €12 to watch a three minute YouTube clip or up to €180 to download an hour of television, this could inflict serious harm on a growing market," said Salbaing.
"Typical retail roaming prices are literally hundreds of times what customers expect to pay domestically. A European consumer might pay around one Euro cent per megabyte at home, yet pay a premium of 360-times that simply to cross a border."
European regulators are currently deciding on what action, if any, they will take to reduce international wholesale data roaming rates, which means that using mobile broadband abroad will remain expensive and at risk of "bill shock".
Salbaing adds, "The EC has an opportunity to bring the same clarity and value to data roaming as it did so successfully with voice last year. The difference between domestic and roaming data rates is far greater than with voice, only wholesale action can put an end to charges that are sometimes hundreds of times greater than our customers pay at home. A million connections in a matter of months from a comparatively small business makes it abundantly clear that mobile broadband is already a mass market proposition."
3's European networks offer ‘3 Like Home' tariffs allowing customers to roam using their domestic price plans while on 3's sister networks abroad. This means 3 customers pay as little as a fraction of a Euro cent to access the internet abroad. (Elsewhere 3 charges around £3 (€3.79) per megabyte to its customers, based primarily on the wholesale rate charged.)
Removing these international roaming costs has increased data roaming volumes between 3 networks by 2500% over twelve months and 96% of 3's data roaming is now between 3 networks. European citizens clearly want to use mobile internet when they travel within Europe, but most can only afford to do so within their own country.
3 has demonstrated its commitment to bringing down the price of roaming across the EU by offering Europe's mobile networks a reciprocal wholesale rate of only 25c per megabyte, compared to the current average of nearly €4. This offers even greater scope for compelling retail rates than the European Commission's suggested wholesale level of 35c. Just five networks have agreed to take up the offer - suggesting a clear need for intervention, says 3.