Cashing in on mobile data growth

By : |May 13, 2011 0

While mobile data usage on home networks has seen an unprecedented rise in recent years, fueled by the growth of smartphone deployments and the greater variety of feature-rich content available for such devices, we are still some way off from a corresponding rise in mobile roaming data use globally.

Cost, along with associated complex pricing structures, is still the biggest barrier to the uptake of data roaming, both in the country, as well as abroad, with around 40 per cent of enterprise customers choosing to switch off their data capabilities while travelling rather than run the risk of incurring high phone bills, according to operator statistics.

This situation has created a huge potential to take data roaming into the mainstream and generate significant additional revenue for operators. To realise this potential, operators will need to develop innovative and transparent pricing models with lower costs for end users while evolving charging capabilities and delivering service innovation.

Granular charging

Some of the biggest changes will take place in the way network operators charge for roaming services. Increasing the take up of data services involves lowering cost points and simplifying pricing models, but the key really lies in gaining an intimate understanding of customer behaviour and creating micro-segmentation around this.

If data roaming is to be a success, network operators will need to achieve a granular view of subscriber roaming behaviour right down to the IMSI, or even the equipment type (IMEI) level (for example creating roaming packages designed specifically for the iPad, or tailoring roaming tariffs based on regions most often visited by a corporate customer).

A further evolution lies in providing these end users with greater visibility and control of the amount of data they are consuming. By introducing a pre-paid for post paid (pay-as-you-go) approach to roaming, data use management can effectively be carried out by the subscriber via self-care portals or phone applications, allowing them to be in control of the pre-paid element at all times and spend only what they can afford.

Additionally, operators will need to introduce elegant service management processes which will allow subscribers to add more credit or terminate a session when they run out of credits. Consumers are thereby given the confidence that they will be informed when they reach certain thresholds, removing the headache of unknown data charges.

Data Roaming for All

To maximise data roaming revenues, the service must also be available to pre-paid customers. At present most operators have around 50-100 pre-paid relationships with partners, but in the main these are based on voice and SMS services, neglecting data roaming. To some extent this is down to the high cost associated with upgrading BSS environments and the complexity of the CAMEL V.3 upgrade process- which was historically required to deliver intelligent applications over a roaming network.

Roaming has now evolved where pre-paid roaming can be facilitated without the need for partners to coordinate through CAMEL V.3. Simple third-party mobile data hubbing services can offer a ‘plug and play’ approach for operators to provide roaming across a global partner network for their pre-paid subscribers.

Service aware charging

One final charging evolution we are currently seeing lies in the addition of a new layer of intelligence to charging platforms. Service aware charging and application specific roaming are leading a step change in the way in which consumers will be charged for the services they consume.

With service aware charging, services can be rated differently according to the end user group, the operator is targeting. There could be, for example, a Facebook package in which Facebook access is charged at an economy while other services, such as email or YouTube come at a higher cost. This allows operators to offer services highly tailored to the needs of their subscribers.

Application-specific roaming works by putting the subscriber in control of the applications that they want to use. In essence it allows the user to define a white list of applications that they wish to use when roaming. For example, a user might wish to use Twitter and email but does not want the phone / tablet to automatically update software in the background whilst roaming. Application-specific roaming does away with this by allowing the operator to define packages which might only allow one application (such as Twitter or email), as prescribed by the customer. Orange has already announced it will be implementing such an approach for its domestic market, the next step lies in extending this functionality to the roaming market.

Service platform evolution

By installing a seamless and comprehensive data-roaming solution, operators will be able to deliver an optimum customer experience that further encourages take up. For a truly world-class roaming platform, Inter-standard roaming will be necessary. The ability to roam between competing network standards, over either pre-paid or post-paid will open new roaming markets for network operators and further grow revenue.

Nor will this simply be a matter of roaming between GSM and CDMA – canny operators should also look to provision services over any technology be it WiFi, WiMax or LTE to offer consumers a complete roaming experience. In fact, the ability to operate between standards elevates this approach beyond its roaming heritage. Operators can use the same solution to offload domestic traffic onto WiFi, helping to reduce congestion on the radio access network.

Data roaming is coming of age. We are increasingly living and working in a global village, and require the best services roaming can provide. For the first time now, tools are available to create flexible tariffs that encourage users to take advantage of the full functionalities of their phones.

Quite simply, as the number of new subscriptions dry up it will be in areas such as roaming that MNOs can secure continued growth. In short, the revenues promised by an effective mobile roaming strategy are too good to ignore.

(The author is regional vice president Sales, India at MACH. The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of CIOL).

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