Unlike the internet, the cost of mobile telephone network subscriber packages varies widely across and within operators. Voice, SMS and data incur different charges; incoming and outgoing calls may cost different amounts depending on where you are, who you’re calling – and even who’s calling you. It all makes for a highly diverse and potentially confusing charging situation – and nowhere is this more marked than when roaming.
Roaming, whereby a subscriber moves physically from the coverage area of one operator into that of another, is a convenient way of ensuring that subscribers are able to maintain seamless access to mobile services. The catch is that making the transition from one network to another can cost a lot. This is damaging to both sides: angry subscribers either cancel or severely restrict service use whilst travelling; operators may be forced to instigate debt collection procedures or deny access to roaming subscribers.
What’s behind bill shock? Ironically, it’s the very seamlessness of the roaming experience itself. Data tariffs in a roaming environment are commonly at complete variance with home network tariffs, but there is no signal to alert users to this. Poor data visibility leads directly to extreme subscriber discontent, high rates of churn, and declining roaming revenues, even within the lucrative corporate market.
Roamers are becoming less tolerant of what is increasingly perceived as operator greed and increasingly prefer cheaper alternatives such as Wi-Fi and VoIP. Further, new EU regulations are requiring operators to cap their prices. One of the most recent, Regulation (EC) no. 544/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council, represents a 60% drop in prices for roaming SMS messages within the EU.
Control through automation
What can the operators do? Like many complex problems there’s no single solution, but a first step could be simplified roaming plans, where tariffs are simpler and more visible, without reducing flexibility or coverage. For operators, any potential loss of revenue could be offset by increasing the number of outbound roamers and the extent of their usage. This in turn could be achieved by negotiating lower IOT (inter-operator tariffs) rates with preferred partners, making it possible for both operators to offer transparent tariffs with lower rates.
Smart IOT negotiation requires both knowledge of the user numbers hosted by the roaming partner networks and the potential increase in that number which could be achieved. Control of data at this level is difficult but possible. There are services available that provide access to and control of vital user data: they empower subscribers to personalize and control mobile data usage and services, and to track real-time data, SMS and applications usage, as well as voice and roaming charges. In conjunction, the services provide customers and operators with complete transparency of roaming data usage on a real-time basis. This degree of automation generates critical market intelligence and opportunities to generate additional revenue through subscriber tools which support prepaid roaming and lower call costs.
Telephone technology is no longer new, and although mobility remains an area of innovation it is no longer a justification for exorbitant charges levied on invisible and hard to control services. Subscribers are rightly demanding clearer, more consistent and more manageable services from network operators, and it is time to respond. With thought, planning and the right technology, it is possible to provide a better user experience and continue to generate new revenues.
Abraham Punnoose, Vice President - Marketing & Business Development, Roamware