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.