EU member states have delayed abolishing mobile phone roaming charges from the end of this year until at least 2018, but insisted customers would still get a fair deal.

Roaming charges vary enormously between telecoms operators, and many users complain they pay exorbitant rates to make calls when travelling in the European Union.

In response, the bloc has steadily whittled down the charges and the European Parliament last year approved a "roam-like-at-home" package which would have ended them altogether from end-2015.

However the European Council has decided to send the package back to Parliament for further discussions, arguing that a new pricing mechanism should in the meantime mean lower costs. 

"Within certain limits to be determined, consumers could make and receive calls, send SMSs and use data services without paying anything extra on top of the domestic fee," it said in a statement.

"Once this basic roaming allowance is used up, the operator may charge a fee but this fee will be much lower than current charges," it said.

"As the next step, the (European) Commission will be asked to assess by mid-2018 what further measures may be needed with a view to phasing out roaming charges."

Guy Verhofstadt, President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in Parliament, condemned the decision as favouring the telecoms companies over consumers.

"This is extremely disappointing ... the only winners from it are national telecoms operators themselves. Member States should hang their heads in shame."