Five ways Asian operators can revitalize the roaming business

Malcolm Chan / BICS

Even as Asian consumers travel overseas extensively, the region’s operators struggle to address roaming demand. With a lack of attractive bundles to address their needs, many roamers have opted for local SIM cards, others use ‘over-the-top’ internet services such as WhatsApp and Skype over Wi-Fi and many others just fall silent when abroad.

To reverse the trends of stagnating revenues and minimal ARPU growth over the years, operators urgently need to seek out new ways to rejuvenate the roaming business. The good news? Increased smartphone adoption, 24/7 internet use and increased travel have created unprecedented demand for international roaming. The number of international mobile roamers is expected to exceed one billion by 2022 – a 36% increase from 2017 according to Juniper Research.

Struggling to boost the roaming business

There are a number of reasons why Asian travelers do not opt for roaming services. A key one is fear of bill shock: Asian roamers are wary of incurring huge bills by accident if they leave their phones switched on while overseas. They are switching to roaming service alternatives at very competitive prices because they do not equate the value of using roaming to current pricing. 

Competition from operators offering new, tailored roaming packages, alternative service providers with specialized roaming SIMs or digital service providers offering over-the-top alternatives are perceived as equivalent alternatives to roaming, serving as another dampening factor. Often, gaps in quality of experience lead to subscribers switching off while overseas.

Defining a nexgen roaming strategy

Operators must focus on innovation as the mechanism for driving new, revenue-generating usage. So, with this in mind, here are five tactics operators can use to rejuvenate the roaming business:

Focus on customer centricity and offer ‘personalized roaming’

Through data analytics, operators can understand subscriber preferences better and identify those services they engage with the most. They can then offer tailored packages that enable them to continue accessing those services while abroad. These could include access to preferred applications and content at a reduced rate.

Timely communications to prevent bill shock

Asian subscribers are particularly sensitive to unexpected bills. To build up trust, operators must keep track of subscribers’ overseas usage in real time. They must then use proactive communications to send timely alerts, usage caps and transparent, proactive communications to reassure subscribers and protect them from bill shock.

For example, a subscriber who travels frequently between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur could be offered a tailored roaming bundle in these two locations for a fixed daily fee. The operator can send proactive warnings or offer the subscriber the option to cap usage or buy more once this limit is reached.

Optimize the subscriber experience with steering strategies

Operators are hampered by the lack of control they have over the user’s experience once the user leaves the home network. For business subscribers especially, quality of experience is a key driver of roaming use. To gain control over the roaming experience operators can proactively steer roaming customers to carefully selected partner networks to guarantee quality of experience.

A defined steering strategy creates a reliable network of preferred partners, optimizing both quality and tariffs. This would be particularly suitable for frequent business visitors to financial centers like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Sydney, who would need a ‘premium business’ bundle with priority high-quality access to voice or other specific high-use applications.

Simplify the extremely complex roaming model while creating value

Creating and managing a global roaming footprint is a highly complex proposition. The traditional ‘bilateral’ model where operators establish one-to-one roaming agreements takes a long time to establish and is expensive to do. It may not even be accessible to some operators without the required ‘clout’, particularly MVNOs or newcomers.

Operators can explore hub-based or sponsored roaming models to achieve multilateral linkages through a single technical and commercial relationship. Comprehensive one-stop solutions are available today, allowing the management of roaming infrastructure including connectivity, clearing, analytics, and voice / messaging / data services to be managed as a service.

Identify and capture opportunities to ‘transform’ roaming

Finally, our mobile ecosystem is changing fast and global connectivity is an enabler to stimulate growth of our mobile industry. New players from the IoT ecosystem, digital service providers, and MVNOs, need global connectivity to deliver their value proposition everywhere, creating an opportunity for operators to transform their roaming business through these new streams.

A supply-chain provider, for instance, can be offered international coverage via a sponsored roaming solution. Through this service the operator can provide seamless connectivity that can expand to any geography based on the enterprise’s needs.

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. However, by asking the right questions and identifying the right tools to address the challenges ahead, operators can identify their own priorities. Once those are in place, the required approach to deliver upon the next generation of roaming opportunities will become clear.

Malcolm Chan is managing director for Asia-Pacific at BICS

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