Roaming revisited – why there's still money in dem der bills

For many years roaming was a lucrative service for European mobile operators until the EU removed the ability of operators to charge more for intra-EU roaming services on 15 June 2017. In the 18 months since, mobile operators have seen the amount they can charge for roaming services plummet, but the transparency and predictability of Roam Like Home is starting to have another effect, at least according to BICS’ VP Mobility & IOT Business Mikael Schachne. “We’re seeing nice growth in roaming volumes – including the EU,” he says.
Although roaming data volumes are growing, European operators cannot now charge a large premium as before. What’s an operator to do?
The answer partly lies in converting silent roamers into active roamers according to Schachne. He says the majority of customers still turn off their phones rather than incur roaming charges, even in the EU.
BICS calculates that although the number of customers using roaming services in Europe has doubled in the last two years, around 60% are still silent roamers
What’s more, 15% of roamers have experienced billshock, which adds uncertainty and fear, and discourages them from using their phones while abroad. Business customers have become just as savvy as consumers when it comes to avoiding billshock – attaching to WiFi rather than mobile networks – as enterprises tighten up on expenditure.
But what is causing billshock in the Roam Like Home era?
It can arise from inadvertently roaming along borders or when travelling by plane or boat. Money Saving Expert recently recounted the tale of Rahime Sulja who was charged over £3,000 when O2 welcomed her to Slovenia and informed her that calls and data would be within her UK allowance. Except she wasn’t in Slovenia, but in Kosovo, which isn’t covered by the EU regulations.
Meanwhile according to the Irish Times, an Aer Lingus passenger racked up a $300 bill because he forgot to switch off his phone while on a transatlantic flight, even though it was in an overhead locker. A 12 year old boy used his phone while cruising between Kiel and Oslo and racked up a EUR12,500 bill because his phone attached to satellite rather than mobile networks. And a customer was charged £43 for checking a map on her phone while on a ferry in Greek waters, because she picked up a Turkish network signal. Confusingly, some networks don’t charge a roaming premium for Turkey (which is outside the EU) and others do.
Steve Buck, SVP Products and Operations at Mobileum’s Security Business Unit comments that the ease of use and convenience delivered by Roam Like Home brings new dangers that customers now have to manage. Ultimately, he says this is a problem for operators to tackle and not just their customers.
“Travelling in the EU has never been so easy when it comes to our mobile phones. However, much of the world, including countries which border with the EU, have roaming tariffs which can result in excessive costs. Consumers when travelling near borders should consider switching roaming off where accidental roaming is likely. Operators, however, should also look at solutions to avoid it, in order to prevent unnecessary billshock and provide a better customer experience.”
Schachne notes that this problem cannot be avoided or ignored, particularly as the number of connected devices carried by travellers is increasing and the Internet of Things expands. He says BICS is seeing operators begin to innovate around roaming tariffs. “With the increasing adoption of IoT, guaranteeing connectivity whatever the location of the device is often desirable and sometimes essential,” he says. “A reliable service – irrespective of the location – can be even more important for IoT devices than for travellers themselves.”
This points to another way in which B2B operators can make money from roaming – connecting not just roaming people to the internet, but Things as well, combined with innovative roaming tariffs for business customers, such as the one recently introduced by Telenor Denmark. This service allows business customers with more than 50 employees to get free voice calls, SMS and MMS, and use data in 78 countries. It was designed in consultation with 45 of Telenor’s business customers to provide ease of use and simplicity and is in our opinion at Omnisperience a promising step in the right direction.