Roaming has been a contentious topic within Europe since its inception. Operators seemingly decided that anyone that could afford the luxury of foreign travel could also pay the exorbitant charges for making and receiving calls when outside of their home country.
While operators have slowly reduced their voice roaming charges, helped along by the large boot of the European Commission (EC), their approach to data roaming has been little more than a money-grabbing exercise, hoping few would notice.
The objective appears to have been to extract the maximum return almost regardless of the damage it did to customer relationships, while discarding any thought of trying to provoke higher usage with innovative tariffs.
But at least Deutsche Telekom (DT) has now had the courage to stand up and admit that this strategy might not have been the most sensible one.
The company's senior vice president of mobile products, Rainer Deutschmann, has acknowledged that this approach to data roaming promoted users to turn off the service when travelling abroad. "This hurt DT and our app developers," he said recently at the Open Mobile Summit in London. "We needed to lower our tariffs and create transparency so subscribers could easily establish how much data they had downloaded and at what cost."
Starting 1 July the company will offer T-Mobile subscribers across Europe the chance to purchase data roaming on a daily or weekly basis. This new service can be purchased online, with users then able to buy additional days or data bundles as needed. Real-time usage can also be monitored using the same online service.
Deutschmann accepts that this move might go some way toward restoring trust within its user base. "This new service has been developed to meet a simple customer need--transparency," he said. "We now have a road map, at least, for data roaming in Europe."
While DT looks set to lead the European operator community with this fresh approach to making a data roaming a more appealing service, the EC is also expected to announce new proposals that will again see ‘the boot' applied to less enlightened operators.
One aspect of the EC's proposals is sure to focus on the reduction of data roaming tariffs--accompanied by the predictable howls of pain from the operator community. But another cunning plan seems sure to provoke fear and loathing within the operator community, and that is to allow MVNOs to have access to networks in other European countries on fair and reasonable terms.
This would effectively mean, for example, that Virgin Mobile in France could insist (with the weight of EC rulings to make it happen) upon access to DT's network in Germany for Virgin Mobile customers.
The net result would be significantly more choice for customers when roaming, and price competition among more operators.--Paul