Though mostly by accident or, occasionally, necessity, we’ve all been there. While we don’t realize it at the time, we feel the impact when we get the bill. In the last 12 months, British mobile phone users have been subject to a staggering £573 million in roaming charges, mainly due to Continental European travel. Aside from caps, charges, and laws, it’s safe to say that all of us, at some point in our mobile communication lives, have fearfully encountered the charges, barriers, and dropped calls brought about by roaming. The first European roaming call was made between the Finnish PT and Vodafone in October 1991, and the first international roaming agreement was signed only a year later. And though the concept has become the bane of our existence outside national borders, what about the word itself?
Often associating it with modern electronics, many are oblivious to the fact that the word roaming is quite a bit older than that late 90’s Nokia flip-phone gathering dust in one of your drawers. Demonstrating why it has been recycled into a technological meaning, the initial definition of roaming involves the action of wandering or moving aimlessly (such as outside of a network’s coverage area). Coming from Middle English and first appearing in the 1300’s, the origin of the base word “roam” is still unknown. It could have possibly originated from the Old English ramian, or the Old Norse reimuthr, both of which mean “the act of wandering.”
The first known use of the word is from the late 1300’s in a tale about St. Augustine that was chronicled by Carl Horstmann and published in German language under the title Sammlung Altenglischer Legenden (A Collection of Old English Legends) (1878), where it is written “As he passed one field by, on his roaming.” Jumping forward a century, to 1984, we see the first use of the modern meaning of the word in a June 20th release from PR Newswire, which seeks to introduce a new definition to the word: “Roaming allows a cellular customer to obtain service outside of his home calling area.” Finally, as a forewarning to those currently stuck paying the £573 million in roaming charges, a 2003 Holiday Which? issue suggests that, “Before leaving the UK, you must contact your operator to set up your phone for roaming, if you want it to work at all.”