Would 'Brexit' mean Britons paying more for their mobiles?


A vote by U.K. citizens to leave the European Union (EU) may prove beneficial for U.K. telecommunication companies, but could create headaches for consumers, according to industry watchers.

Specifically, the U.K. might find itself exempt from new EU rules that will cut the cost of using mobile phones when abroad, if its citizens vote to leave the union in the referendum on June 23.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

The European Commission (the executive arm of the EU) has ruled that mobile roaming charges must be abolished by June 2017 – but in the event of a "Brexit," telecom providers might continue to levy these charges on U.K. customers and benefit from the additional revenue.

"If the U.K. does not join the European Economic Area (after leaving the EU), the issue of ensuring free roaming for British customers in Europe would appear to be more complicated and may well depend on individual negotiation between mobile operators," a report by U.K. law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn said.

Should the UK stay or go: How to trade a 'Brexit'
British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama walk the Colonnade from the Oval Office to the Residence for a working dinner at the White House in Washington January 15, 2015.
Obama 'Brexit' warning takes hold in sterling trade
Alastair Campbell: Irish must help reject Brexit
The famous euro sign landmark is pictured outside the former headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany.
Brexit can damage European stability: Trichet

However, some telecom companies may opt to reduce or abolish roaming charges for U.K. customers irrespective of whether the country remains a member of the EU.

"International groups such as Vodafone and 3 will seek to continue to compete on package arrangements across their core operating companies to retain high-value roaming customers," Gordon Moir, a partner at Shepherd and Wedderburn, told CNBC via email.

A Brexit could result in another independence referendum in Scotland. Should Scots then vote to leave the U.K., phoning Scotland from England would count as an international call, according to Dave Millett from telecoms brokerage Equinox.

"If you were in Scotland with an English SIM card, you would be making roaming calls. If you check your LinkedIn status, you would be using roaming data. Just how much would that cost you?" "he said in a media release.

Millett also warned that uncertainty over trade agreements in the event of a Brexit could affect the cost of mobile devices.

"Not many mobile phones or phone systems are made here – most of them are imported," he said. "Brexit campaigners say that if we do leave we can negotiate our own deals with the countries that do manufacturer the equipment. Would we get better deals – would the cost of devices go up or down?"

Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.