Roaming Goes a Step too Far

A few years ago, Jo Waring, TelecomAsia’s wise editor, asked at a conference what operators will do when boundaries and borders become things of the past. The immediate answer from CSP panelists was to remain silent. Oddly, that is exactly what their strategy has been. While that was several years ago, the question now is whether we have reached the point where there’s more value in offering international data roaming packages with Bill Shock protection than there is in surprising customers with hefty roaming fees

As my learned colleague Ed Finegold points out here, inertia is a profitable strategy for telcos around the world. They know that their most profitable customers will use data while roaming because their businesses and careers depend on it. They will slowly (insert cartoon of big baby being dragged kicking and screaming into the bath tub) create packages that make it look as if they are looking after their customers. Such packages are the well known ‘pay us a flat fee and we will charge you as if you are at home’ ones that actually make sense to people like me. Then they make you angry because you realize that you are still using their network, just in a different country. They will throw armies of lawyers into Brussels and Washington to trip up the regulators so that they will not be forced into dropping the artificially high charges any sooner than they have to. And, if you believe the gossip, some will even go as far as offering huge ‘donations’ to trade associations so that they will not move large trade shows to another country – the roaming revenues are just too darn good.

But we must now, surely, be reaching the volume/value tipping point. We know that a large percentage of people who travel turn off their data as they leave their home country because of the fear of BillShock. Just two days ago I saw a tweet from a very clever IT person furious that she had just been advised that she had racked up $100 of charges because her phone had decided to use the 3G network not the WiFi one to download the ever so critical software update. We also know that most people would love to use data when roaming. Sitting by the pool reading a book is great. Sitting by a pool playing networked Angry Birds with guys half way across the world is, to many, much greater.

A press release today made me think we are nearly at the tipping point. It made me think we might be about to see an operator take advantage of the huge marketing opportunities of the ‘looking after you abroad like we do at home, aren’t we great’ variety. The company is Volubill and it has just announced new functionality in its software  that “delivers a series of functions critical for monetizing local break out (LBO) of data services.” The release points to the European Commission’s roaming regulations that come into effect next year, but the people at Volubill are clever people and you don’t spend however much money and time it takes to develop software unless you have thought it through pretty carefully. Indeed, Volubill CEO John Aalbers believes that “convincing customers who normally turn their data roaming off the moment they land in a foreign country, out of fear of bill shock, to instead use the service without fear,” is a huge and immediate revenue opportunity and one that several of his customers will be implementing in the near future. Surely now it makes more sense to encourage usage with packaged offers that create more revenue and more predictable revenue streams, as well as opportunities to offer services suited to the international roamer whilst they are abroad.

While the regulator may push, I have this feeling that one or two operators will break cover some time this year. I hope so, not just because roaming is a completely artificial way for operators to shovel cash into their coffers but because I would like someone to finally answer Jo Waring’s question.

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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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