Operators launch mobile roaming rate comparison site

Responding to criticism from the European Commission, mobile operators launched a Web site where customers can compare international roaming rates, the European arm of the GSM Association said on Monday.

The Web site lets customers select their home country, their network operator and the European Union country they plan to visit. It then displays the cost of a two-minute call and a text message on each of the local operators' networks. The site, which can be found at http://www.roaming.gsmeurope.org/, includes some results from special roaming offers that operators might make.

Customers can search for roaming rates in the 25 E.U. countries. The site could begin to include other popular destinations such as Croatia, Turkey or Morocco but adding non-E.U. countries also adds complexity, said Eirini Zafeiratou, a spokeswoman for GSM Europe. The site was initiated by GSM Europe, which is an association that includes operators in the E.U. The group would have to reach out to operators that are not members of the association in order to include results about roaming to other countries. However, the group will consider adding more countries based on user feedback, she said.

Of the 85 operators that are part of GSM Europe, six or seven, including Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.'s 3, did not participate in the new Web site. Some of them said that their own Web sites offer enough information, Zafeiratou said. 3's rates are listed in search results but customers can't choose 3 as their home operator in order to determine their roaming rates.

The new site is better then other existing comparison sites, including one hosted by the Commission (at http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/roaming/tariffs/index_en.htm), because those sites are usually infrequently updated, feature static tables and don't always include all special offers, Zafeiratou said. Operators will update the new site individually each time they introduce changes to their roaming offerings.

International roaming has been in the spotlight since the Commission began work on a new regulation that will force operators to reduce their roaming rates. The Commission has criticized European operators for charging exorbitant roaming rates and for making it difficult for users to figure out how much they'll have to pay when roaming. The new Web site aims to address the transparency issue, Zafeiratou said.

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