EU roaming rate cuts yet to spur rise in data usage

European Union-mandated cuts to roaming rates did little to boost travellers' data usage with close to 60 per cent of users still switching data off when roaming, analysis of usage over the past 12 months shows.

Starhome Mach, a provider of cloud connectivity technologies, said analysis of traffic from its 300 mobile operator customers' networks shows 58 per cent of European roamers remained 'silent' while abroad, despite EU efforts to boost usage by cutting costs. Globally, the number of silent roamers stood at 68 per cent.

The company said at least 50 per cent of global subscribers have yet to access any data while roaming. Bill shock remains the main factor in roamers shutting down data, despite users accessing more data while at home due to growing availability of LTE connectivity.

Guy Reiffer, VP of marketing and partnerships at Starhome Mach, said operators can still profit from data roaming despite prices falling due to legislation and competition. "[O]perators can proactively respond by tapping into this significant silent roamer segment with compelling incentives that can change ingrained behaviour."

That change may already be underway. Starhome Mach found the number of global data roamers increased 10 per cent over the past 12 months, although voice roaming declined 5 per cent during the period.  

European operators have reluctantly started to accept the EU-mandated cuts to consumer roaming rates, which saw data costs cut from €0.45 ($0.61) per megabyte to €0.20 on July 1.

Operators including 3 UK, Free Mobile, Orange France, Bouygues Telecom began including data roaming in their tariffs before the July deadline, in an effort to mitigate the effect of the change on their bottom lines.

Mark Windle, head of marketing at next-generation network software provider OpenCloud, previously noted the EU legislation took around 5 per cent out of operator's revenue streams. Operators can bridge the shortfall by offering subscribers "something new, something they value, and something unique to, and owned by, the operator's brand", he commented.

Raphael Glatt, head of signalling at international wholesale provider BICS, said there are two options for operators: accept the erosion of roaming revenues or introduce innovative services and compete for an increased market share.

Starhome Mach's figures are in line with European Commission research released earlier this year, which found 47 per cent of Europeans would never use mobile internet while travelling in the region. The Commission surveyed 28,000 users, and estimated mobile operators are missing out on a potential market of 300 million users by failing to encourage roaming.

For more:
- see Starhome Mach's release

Related Articles:
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3 UK gets rid of roaming charges in 5 more markets
GSMA: Operators tackle roaming costs in Africa and Middle East
UK government discusses national roaming deal with operators to tackle poor coverage
EU survey: Operators missing out on 300M roaming users

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