The increasing politicisation of telecoms – which has become the Space Race of the 20s – means that the sector has a far higher profile and has become the source of many wild conspiracy theories.

Amidst all the talk around certain network equipment manufacturers, G-based competition, and posturing on FTTP/FTTH, the UK government has warned that Brexit might spell an end to free roaming for Brits travelling in the EU.

The warning is carefully worded in that it says the “guarantee” of free roaming will end on 1st January 2021 (the end of the UK’s transition period).

The story has been extensively covered, but in Omnisperience’s opinion it may be click bait, but it’s also a huge red herring for both strategic and commercial reasons.

The first problem for any UK operator seeking to reintroduce roaming charges is that unless the entire industry acts together it will stimulate huge amounts of churn. It has to be pointed out that not a single major operator has indicated that it has plans to reimpose such charges – with all four reassuring customers they have no plans to do so.

The bellwether here is 3UK which differentiates itself partly due to its 71-country free-roaming offer. It seems highly unlikely they would start charging extra for countries in which they’ve already negotiated commercial agreements for free roaming. If 3UK holds to its guns, it makes it extremely difficult for the other networks to reintroduce the charges.

The other main factor here is the role of OTT players and WiFi. Roaming charges were already looking anachronistic in the era of data-based communications and free WiFi. Free roaming has meant that more subscribers have stayed on-net when travelling – giving operators a chance to make some revenue from them and enrich the offer. If roaming charges were reintroduced then inevitably these subscribers would go back to seeking WiFi plus free OTT messaging apps such as WhatsApp. This really would be a case of the industry shooting itself in the foot.

What government has failed to communicate is that there may not be a legal mandate for free roaming post January 2021, but there are certainly strong commercial and strategic reasons why it will continue. That’s why we’re issuing this Red Herring Alert.


Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa is the Chief Analyst at Omnisperience and has over 25 years' experience in the telecoms and technology markets. She is an expert on SME and enterprise telecoms, and has considerable vertical market expertise. Her research focus lies in helping B2B telecoms firms become more commercially successful by better understanding and meeting their customers' needs. She is a judge of the GSMA Global Mobile Awards (GloMo's) for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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