By Guy Reiffer, Vice President Marketing and Corporate Strategy, MACH
Towards the end of last year, we announced the results of our annual analysis of roaming traffic. It painted a positive picture for the state of the global data roaming market, showing that data download volumes have increased by 97 per cent year-on-year. For the first time, our analysis showed that subscribers are using data more than voice when roaming. But now is no time for operators to rest on their laurels. The simple fact of the matter is that the volumes of data consumed while roaming remain a fraction of that consumed on the home network. In fact, it is worth noting that subscribers use around 300 times more data at home than they do when abroad. This represents a huge opportunity for operators, but it is an opportunity that can only be realised once operators have worked out how they can encourage subscribers to keep up their data consumption while on their travels.
For this to happen, there needs to be a sea-change in how data tariffs are set for the roaming environment. To a great extent, this will be achieved by providing greater transparency to subscribers over what they are being billed for. Such an approach will effectively remove the fear of bill shock which has, for far too long, made subscribers wary of switching on their data when abroad. So how can this be achieved?
Simply stated, operators need to remove all confusion around roaming charges. Today, the majority of operators structure their tariffs on price-per-megabyte, a model that shares some similarities to the way in which voice calls were charged as a total of minutes used. The problem with this approach is that far too few subscribers actually know what constitutes a megabyte; they have no frame of reference to judge how much they are using. In addition, many smartphones and resident applications continue to consume data even when not being used by the subscriber. This leads to a disconnect between the service that the user perceives that they have received and the bill that they are asked to pay.
Increasingly, operators are instituting transparent, service-based charging packages that are tailored to the individual needs of the subscriber. Business users, for example, have an email-only package which would give them access to their inbox at an economy rate, with additional services such as web surfing carrying a higher cost. MACH’s own studies show that the majority of people want either email, social networking or web browsing, or a combination of these three. By providing an opt in service, the user is protected from background processes consuming their data allowance and the fixed price of these schemes means there are no hidden charges.
The opportunities presented by data roaming constitute what is arguably the most important revenue growth area for operators with MACH’s own estimates indicating the market to be around 900M Euros per annum for the operator community. If it is to be realised, however, tariffs will need to be more granular, transparent and personalised. The way subscribers consume data has changed radically in the world of smart devices we now find ourselves in. The challenge for operators is to adapt their tariffs to this new environment and do everything they can to encourage subscribers to keep on accessing data regardless of where they are.