Surviving the "new roaming"

By rotide
Created 03/03/2023 - 07:16
Dario Betti.jpg

By Dario Betti, CEO, Mobile Ecosystem Forum [1], the voice of the mobile ecosystem, established in 2000 headquartered in the UK, with members across the world.

If you need to visit another country for business, you need to think about more than your travel and accommodation, you need to check the situation regarding roaming. Many travellers to the USA and some European countries have been experiencing challenges: no phone calls or SMS, or even data with specific operators and certain devices (even in areas that were perfectly covered before). Many mobile operators are decommissioning their older networks (2G and 3G) in favour of more efficient 4G and 5G networks and these new networks are not yet fully supported for roaming by all operators.

So, what should mobile operators do to ensure they take the industry forward, not backward and deliver to consumers what they really want and need, which in turn safeguards the future of the industry?

Supporting VoLTE roaming is a must

Not supporting international roaming has multiple effects for high value customers: not receiving an SMS can block a bank transaction or a payment, voice communication is still key for business and private communications. Patchy or non-existent coverage while roaming is unacceptable. Customers rely on mobile devices; both voice calling and SMS are basic and intrinsic services expected from mobile phones. Mobile operators are reducing their value by not providing a consistent connection. Support for 4G and 5G roaming is necessary - or customers will go elsewhere.

Build services

Operators need to build a robust and reliable network in order to provide a universal service. Sign commercial deals that will get customers connected overseas. If customers can reliably travel to any country and use their mobile phone for voice and SMS, they will likely be happy to pay the premium.

Alternatively, and this is better suited to low-cost operators, rather than spending time, money, and resources building a universal network, these operators could build packages of OTT services, such as free WhatsApp messaging and voice calling, so that users can use their data allowance (already carried via the 4G network).

Whichever option mobile operators take, pricing strategy will be very important. Pricing these services needs to reflect the market, the competition, and the level of service the customer can expect. Set prices too low and it threatens to bring the market down. Too high and customers will find alternative workarounds.

Create easy to use international packages

In the age of apps and easier self-service and customer experience, some mobile operators are struggling to share information, and build packages that allow users to feel in control during their international trips. Daily passes, capped spending and many other tools have been created by operators to give customers the level of transparency and worry-free billing that can make roaming easy and enjoyable service. Operators should feel free to copy best practices.

While roaming is a premium service, don't gouge customers

A few operators are giving roaming a bad name, but it is every operator's duty to control and manage their roaming prices. Prices are negotiated by two sides: the originating and the visited network - ultimately it is a common goal to get a fair and affordable price for roaming.  Operators need to do a lot of additional work and maintenance to ensure roaming services work effectively. If a customer is paying a premium, they better receive the service they expect.

Keep it simple and be clear

One of the major challenges from the 2000s was the sheer complexity of overlapping technologies consumers had to contend with. They had to have the right handset with the correct signal banding for the destination country, the right mobile operator with the correct services enabled, and the right products to provide the connection. Today, people don't want to deal with such complexity. These issues were ironed out more than 10 years ago, so people don't expect to have to deal with this complexity anymore.

Whatever solution is chosen (building roaming networks, or putting together OTT packages for roaming customers), it's important to communicate with the customer and let them know what they need to do. For example, allow them to download configuration settings before they set off, tell them exactly what is included in the package or what services work in which countries. For example, some countries, like the UK, are dominated by WhatsApp while others have their own popular equivalent; in Korea the majority of people use KakaoTalk, commonly known as KaTalk.

Keeping pace with technology can be tricky and developments move at a different pace around the world. In South Africa, the majority of mobile users use 3G, with a sizeable percentage still using 2G. In the USA, on the other hand, 3G networks are largely decommissioned. 

But technology should not be an excuse for poor service. Customers can easily compare services across different operators to find one that works, is reasonably priced, and helps rather than hinders them while travelling.

It's time for the industry to take a long hard look at roaming and make a serious commitment to ‘do better' and create a new ‘golden age' of roaming that's good for customers and therefore, by extension, the industry as well. 

For further information visit the Mobile Ecosystem Forum [2]


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