Mobile devices are becoming increasingly more powerful, and able to consume and generate more data traffic than ever before. Cisco’s VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast estimates that a typical smartphone generates 24 times more mobile data traffic than the typical basic-feature mobile phone, and that a tablet device generates 5 times more traffic than a smartphone.
With such capabilities, users are becoming increasingly aware of how such high data usage affects their mobile data charges, especially while roaming onto other operators’ networks. A recent global survey by ZDNet found that 96% of respondents said that operators’ data-roaming charges were "too high" or "much too high". A typical subscriber doesn’t know how much mobile data he or she has consumed at any point. To avoid billing surprises, users will often simply disable data roaming, decreasing roaming revenues for operators. Alternatively, users may purchase a local SIM card from another operator in the visited country – again with a negative impact on the home operator’s revenue. Of course, most smartphones also support Wi-Fi, providing users yet another alternative to avoid mobile operators' data roaming charges.
Roaming charges have been a concern particularly in Europe, where the demand for mobile data roaming is quite high given the ease of cross-border travel. In 2007, the European Commission enacted Roaming Regulations which set a subscriber’s maximum roaming data charges at €50 in order to prevent “bill shock”. The intent was a first step in giving users more transparency and control of their mobile roaming costs . In addition to limiting maximum user charges, another area of concern is the price per MB charged to users. Believing that data roaming retail charges are still too high, the European Commission seems prepared to go much further with a new draft Roaming Regulation that, if voted into law, would establish a retail price cap of €0.90 per megabyte in July 2012, €0.70 per megabyte in 2013, and €0.50 per megabyte by 2014. And the proposal also aims to bring more competition to bear on data roaming prices with a requirement for operators to separate the selling of roaming services from their domestic mobile services by July 2014, thus allowing a subscriber to purchase roaming services from an alternative roaming provider.
Leaves Are Falling All Around…
…and it’s time I was on my way – but can I ramble on without worrying about data roaming bill shock? Operators who provide Roaming Control services protect their subscribers from accidentally running up large bills when using mobile networks from their smartphones, tablets, or laptops while visiting another network. Roaming Control services not only enable subscribers to confidently consume mobile data without fear of unanticipated bill shocks – they also help operators gain new revenues and increase customer satisfaction. An operator can offer users proactive notifications at regular intervals (potentially even customizable by the user) as they approach data roaming limits – which becomes an opportunity to up sell in real-time new data plans tailored to roamers, such as time- or quota-based data roaming bundles or even per-application roaming plans that leverage the application awareness and policy enforcement of the operator’s intelligent mobile packet core. Such transparency, flexibility, and value-pricing for roaming plans can lure those SIM-swappers back onto the home operator’s network for new revenues.
I'm Goin' 'Round the World
…and I can affordably take my smartphone, because many operators are investing in the intelligent mobile packet core and Policy and Charging Control solutions necessary to protect subscribers from unanticipated roaming charges and comply with government regulations where required. For example, Telenor Norway’s “SurfControl Abroad” sets an automatic cap on data usage at 450 NOK – and users can set other limit amounts if they prefer. There is no charge for the protection, and users receive an SMS when they reach 80% of the cap. Once the cap is reached, the mobile data connection is temporarily blocked. Swisscom offers special time and quota-based roaming rates and plans, for example, a day pass for roamers (“Data Travel 24h”) with a 50 MB quota, and priced by geographical “zone”: Zone A costs CHF 24, and Zone B costs CHF 49, and Zone C costs CHF 149. Swisscom also offers a Data Travel 30 day plan. Vodafone smartphone subscribers can purchase Daily (€5, 5MB quota) or Monthly (€15, 20MB quota) Mobile Internet Roaming plans effective throughout the European zone. Daily and Monthly tariffs are also offered for mobile broadband laptop users.
July 2012 update: More and more operators are offering innovative global data roaming plans. T-Mobile USA announced an international mobile broadband roaming service, providing 500 MB of "non-throttled data access", and unlimited access at curtailed speeds, for $50 per month across 28 European countries. And Verizon Wireless' new Global Data Plan offers U.S.-based customers 100 MB of data for $25 a month, covering 120 countries and destinations, including all of Europe, South America, the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada.
When offering Roaming Control services based on an intelligent mobile packet core and IP networks, mobile operators can drive new revenues and increase customer satisfaction by providing personalization and choice for roaming users. For more information, see the Mobile Internet Monetization Showcase for case studies, data sheets, and other information on a wide range of revenue-generating "Use Cases" that operators can offer.
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