One of the things I was hoping to see at Mobile World Congress last week was the beginning of the end of roaming tyranny. And I think I did. The demise of ‘roaming’ will be good for customers, good for competition and good for OTT relationships. The whole subject has been dragged into the spotlight, by the BBC and others. There were some ‘solutions’ on show already. At first glance, the life of these price competitive solutions might seem short lived. Prices will tumble anyway. Presumably, though, further innovations and products are in the pipeline for companies such as Goodspeed and Globalgig. Both provide a personal hotspot for mobile data networks.
Now that the prospect of customers being able to choose the network they want when they travel in Europe is here, there will be many changes. Competition via Local Break Out will force prices down and improve the overall customer experience. Operators will offer ever more competitive and creative roaming packages. If they do not then the national operators will take their customers for the duration of their visit. It will, perhaps, become a short lived, hyper competitive market as not just three or four operators try to seduce customers, but potentially many more. Advertising space in the Arrivals Hall of airports will be at a premium.
Europeans are very good at regulation. This particular regulation is to be commended. While we can hope that the European example will be copied around the world, there are signs of movement in other parts of the world without it. For instance, across the Asia Pacific region, several operators have formed the Bridge Alliance, which offers customers unlimited data for $20 a day, as long as they choose an Alliance partner.
But there is another aspect, one which impacts customer experience but from a different perspective.
The end of roaming will mean that OTT players will find it much easier to offer their services to customers as they travel. A travel web site, for instance, is suffocated when they try to offer innovative services to customers who are roaming – travel updates, flight information, special offers etc – when most of them have switched their data off. Even when the travel web site says that they will pay the roaming charges, it does not work because there is still the fear that some other service – that unwanted software update – will bankrupt you in the middle of the night. With the end of roaming comes the end of restrictions of services that OTT players can offer which points to a better, stronger partnership between them and the operators.