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According to recent analyst studies, global roaming revenues in 2012 were a staggering $45 billion dollars.
However, this is just the starting point for projections by Informa, Visiongain and Juniper Research who forecast roaming revenues to significantly increase to over $80 billion by 2017 (see Figure below).
What are the catalysts driving this growth and how can mobile operators maximize their opportunities here? Before answering these questions, let’s do a little research on roaming itself.
Roaming has -- and always will be -- a cornerstone of wireless industry success. Imagine if cellular phones couldn‘t roam outside a single cell site, or if subscribers were restricted to using their home networks only.
In my opinion, the simplicity of U.S. domestic voice roaming plans can be traced back to one key event: the AT&T Wireless launch of a revolutionary service called Digital One Rate back in May 1998.
Most us forget what a breakthrough that event really was, because prior to Digital One, a consumer had to worry about local rates, high roaming fees, and extra long distance charges. Digital One easily consolidated everything into high buckets of minutes at one flat fee so consumers no longer had to fear bill shock when a “Roaming” icon was on their phone.
Digital One was a big win-win for all parties: the plan became extremely popular, with new consumers quickly adopting wireless phones as part of their everyday use. The numbers speak for themselves in the table below:
Fifteen years after the Digital One Rate Plan was introduced, the mobile industry again is set to transform the way consumers interface and interact with their devices. This time around the transformation will be around data roaming. The driving forces behind this growth opportunity are likely to be:
My gut tells me that Wireless Carriers are again at a pivotal inflection point, one that is likely to play out over the next 15 years. Three key questions remain to be answered:
On a personal note, two weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I discovered that the voice and data plans are still too expensive to allow me to freely call or text while in Brazil. I found myself constantly monitoring my phone, switching off the data when not needed. Where possible, I leveraged Skype over WiFi to avoid paying $100s of dollars in roaming fees.
But where does this leave the service provider? They are letting an OTT service bite into their core business. For the future, I’m hopeful that International plans will closely replicate the simplicity offered in today’s domestic plans, and allow my one phone to become a true global device.
Over the next few blogs I will dive into these and other strategic issues impacted by Roaming Management, in particular data roaming.
Copyright 2013 Black Swan Telecom Journal