New rules dealing with international roaming within the European Union came into force on 1 July and some of their detail has potentially significant implications for Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) who have already been in operation for some time, as well as for new ones.

The third roaming regulation, like the previous two, places wholesale and retail price caps on roaming within the EU. In a potentially much more significant move, however, it introduces new “structural” measures which aim to create a whole new market for roaming services by forcing mobile network operators (MNOs) to open up their networks so as to provide wholesale access to service providers (ie MVNOs) who want to offer roaming services to their customers.

Article 3 requires MNOs to offer access to their networks, on reasonable terms, to roaming providers and it also obliges them shortly to publish a “reference offer” (ie a wholesale access contract). Berec, the pan-European regulatory advisory body, has published a consultation with draft guidelines for how this will work and it is this that has implications even for MVNOs that are already well established, at least insofar as they offer international roaming services (within the EU) to their customers.

The obligation on MNOs to offer wholesale access on reasonable terms is already in effect and the draft guidance makes clear that this would cover any MVNO buying a wholesale roaming service – ie including ones that already buy such a service today.

The guidelines suggest, for example that:

  • The access agreement should include a Service Level Agreement, with guarantees;
  • The MNO should produce a periodic report comparing quality of service received by the MVNO to that received by other MVNOs and also with that received by the MNO itself;
  • MNOs must offer all services “without which a retail roaming services would not be practical” (for example credit control services allowing the MVNO to manage pre-pay credit). This might also include obliging MNOs to offer a service to MVNOs allowing them to comply with other EU legal requirements such as the obligation to provide “Advice of Charge” messages to roaming customers even when travelling outside the EU;
  • The MNO can’t ask for information beyond what’s strictly necessary for the services being provided;
  • The MNO can’t penalize the MVNO for failing to meet forecast traffic volumes.

Existing MNOs and MVNOs, then, might both consider auditing their current wholesale access arrangements, at least as regards EU roaming services, to ensure, respectively, that they comply with their new obligations or that they take advantage of their new rights.