Mobile phone users in Northern Ireland, particularly in border regions, may incur international roaming charges without ever leaving the country.
This is called inadvertent roaming. It occurs when the signal from your domestic UK network is weak or unavailable and your phone picks up a stronger signal from a mast in the Republic of Ireland. In these cases, rather than paying domestic rates, mobile phone users are charged more expensive international roaming rates that can lead to unexpectedly high bills.
Tackling inadvertent roaming
EU legislation requires that mobile operators take reasonable steps to protect their customers from paying roaming charges for inadvertently accessed roaming services while situated in their home Member State, and make information available to their customers on how to avoid inadvertent roaming in border regions.
Operators have taken different kinds of action to tackle the problem for customers living and working in affected areas of Northern Ireland.
Reducing the cost of inadvertent roaming
Depending on how much your phone roams, there are a range of measures available from operators that may help you reduce the cost of inadvertent roaming to varying degrees.
Consider special discounted roaming tariffs
Some mobile operators offer tariffs, which, for some users, may provide a saving over their current monthly roaming costs.
Consider using smartphone apps
If you have access to a Wi-Fi network, there are some smartphone apps available which could help save you money. For example, O2’s TuGo app allows users to make calls over Wi-Fi networks using their standard minutes / text allowance. Apps such as these may also be useful if you live in an area where there is limited mobile coverage.
Adjust your handset settings
You can also change the settings on your phone to prevent your phone from roaming onto another network. This is important for smartphone owners especially, where apps can be downloading data even though the user isn’t actively using them. You can avoid these charges by turning off data roaming in your phone’s settings.
Finally, users can avoid incurring voice roaming costs by switching their phone to manual rather than automatic network selection, which is the default setting on most phones. However, while stopping inadvertent roaming, this does restrict your use of the phone when you cannot pick up your own network.
Check your coverage
Mobile phone operators are investing in improving their networks to improve their coverage. You can find out more about reception in your area via coverage checkers on operators’ websites.
Ask your operator
Operators are also required to give their customers information on avoiding these charges. They often publish it on their websites. We encourage consumers to check, and to contact their operator if they are not sure.
Information correct as at 15 January 2014