Roaming scandal: End of charges in sight?

Summary:There must be an alternative to the regulation, frustration and public dissatisfaction generated by roaming charges, says Nick White

Roaming charges are peculiar to comms and wouldn't be tolerated elsewhere. Their existence is all the stranger because scenarios exist that could solve the roaming problem to everyone's benefit, says Nick White.

The whole roaming issue has become a bit of a nuisance to everyone, hasn't it? Network operators, regulators and politicians have all struggled to be rid of this meddlesome priest.

Business users are still angry. The topic certainly generates good business for conference organisers — the International Telecommunications Users Group (Intug) has already presented at two this year. But is the only way forward never-ending regulation, irritated and defensive mobile network operators, political frustration, and increasingly dissatisfied customers? Isn't there a solution that pleases everyone?

Europe is reviewing its current roaming regulation, which expires in June 2012, and will shortly publish the results of its consultation that closed in February 2011. The desire of Commissioner Neelie Kroes in the EU to eliminate roaming charges in the single market is a useful step in the right direction. The European Commission will outline new plans in the coming weeks to bring EU roaming rates in line with national tariffs.

Sources said the cap on the cost of roaming voice calls in the EU would be lowered to €0.24 per minute from July 2014, a reduction of nearly 40 percent from the current cap. From July 2016, higher roaming costs would effectively be abolished for voice calls.

The draft proposal is expected to be signed off by regulators in June.

Benefits of a no-roaming world

The benefits of a no-roaming world are potentially huge. Imagine a world where there are low-cost, profitable, competitive and continuously improving international mobile services.

Imagine a world of low-risk, high-return investment for mobile network operators. Imagine multinational spectrum licences with no stealth tax sting and with no coverage obligations.

Imagine freeing regulators from wholesale and retail price regulation. That sounds great.

But just think of the benefits for the economy and for customers. No cross-border tax for multinational enterprise communications usage. Rapid growth in innovative cross-border business processes using mobile data. A cost-effective platform for machine to machine (M2M) communications in an internet of things. No handset restrictions and no bizarre avoidance behaviour needed to limit the pain. But that's not all — it could be even better.

Suppose you could eliminate notspots, and improve performance to on average 10 times faster 50 percent of the time via access to the best signal, wherever you are, from any operator, at no extra charge. Now that really would be something. You could start nationally, where the FCC has just mandated roaming in the US. And then move internationally, with the EU first, perhaps?

Shared investment

How could this situation be achieved? Well, if rollout costs are so great, and extra capacity costs are volume related, why not share investment and only duplicate infrastructure where there is economic justification? This approach might in some countries make a case for functionally separating access infrastructure for 4G.

By delinking SIM cards from the contracted operator, devices could be designed...

Topics: Mobility

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