UK operator Virgin Media O2 pledged to retain free roaming for its customers travelling within the European Union (EU), making it the only one of the country’s major service providers not planning to reintroduce the charge.

In a statement, the company confirmed it was sticking with its position of providing free roaming in the EU, a policy initially adopted by all four of the UK’s operators in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. Vodafone UK, EE and 3 UK have since backtracked and plan to impose fees later this year.

During 2021, as rivals one-by-one revealed intentions to revive the charge, Virgin Media O2 stayed tight-lipped. It did, however announce a related fair usage cap.

Virgin Media O2 noted its analysis of rates planed by rivals suggested a family of four could be charged more than £100 in fees.

The operator said the latest pledge was part of its ambition to be the “biggest telecoms challenger in the market”, an aim outlined on its formation from a merger of Telefonica’s mobile operation O2 UK and Liberty Global fixed provider Virgin Mobile.

CCS Insight director Kester Mann commented Virgin Media O2 had “blown the roaming door wide open” and “its decision to hold firm will raise eyebrows across the sector and is a blow to rivals. As EE, Vodafone and then 3 each confirmed they would reinstate the dreaded fees, it left the door ajar for Virgin Media O2 to break rank and disrupt the market.”

“This move could hit 3 UK hardest,” Mann added. “It was the first to begin to phase out roaming in 2013 and has assertively promoted its Go Roam offer as it looked to differentiate by overcoming common customer pain points. If it goes ahead with plans to bring back roaming in May, it risks undoing much of this effort.”

Prior to the UK’s departure from the EU its operators were bound by legislation banning surcharges for roaming within the economic bloc.