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Roaming Data Plans: Culture Shock, maybe, but Bill Shock no more!


December 8, 2014 - 0 Comments

There is immense parental pride in seeing your child receive her University diploma. As I watched my daughter walk across the stage on the campus quad last year, bittersweet thoughts floated by – she’ll be leaving the family nest, striking out on her own, facing the challenges of finding a job, moving into her own apartment, paying bills. It was sad to think of innocence lost, and the real world barking at her door. With these thoughts I embraced her, and then she said “Dad, guess what, I’ve decided that I’m gonna do a gap year in New Zealand and Australia!”

A “gap year” is a way to defer all those serious milestones I was imagining for my daughter by taking a year off to travel and do fun things. Oh, and could I also take care of her cat, her car, and start making her college loan payments while she was gone? Oh well, I was actually very happy – and envious – about her quest for self-discovery.

So we shifted focus to new challenges, like getting travel medical insurance, selecting the right backpack, managing money needs, where to find jobs along the way, getting temporary work visas. And what about keeping in touch? I looked at my mobile operator’s roaming rates, and saw that the countries she was planning to visit could be as low as $0.20/minute with a monthly international plan, while other countries would cost her $3.00/minute or more. And what about mobile data – should she just hunt for inexpensive Wi-Fi, or would it be best to add a monthly plan with data allowance, or even opt for a Pay-as-you-Go rate? There were online calculators to examine options, but the process was bewildering and trade-offs were unclear. We did nothing about it, and off she flew.

Roaming Data Plans

Fast forward one year to the present. My daughter has just returned home from the trip, no money left, but brimming with confidence, maturity, and self-sufficiency. I realized that her lack of a roaming plan turned out to not at all be an impediment to regular communications. Thanks to a mix of WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime, Instagram, Flight Tracker, FB Messenger, and other apps, we stayed in touch continually, as we at home followed her adventures vicariously.  She also had a prepaid “burner” to use as needed for in-country calling – but I never needed to call that number even once to reach her. I used all those OTT apps to stay in touch, even counsel her through emergencies like a kidney stone attack, an impacted tooth, various illnesses and travel snafus, often face-to-face over real-time video. Roaming challenges? We had none!

So is this a microcosm of user behavior that spells the end of operators’ attempts to monetize subscribers while roaming off the home network? Subscribers are already wary of using their smartphones while visiting other countries because of high roaming tariffs that operators typically charge. Over-the-Top (OTT) apps like those that my daughter and I used allow subscribers to circumvent these tariffs. But operators can avoid lost revenues by offering subscribers reasonably-priced and simple roaming bundles for mobile voice, text, and data usage. Offers that enable customers to avoid unanticipated high roaming charges will provide operators with additional revenue and increased customer satisfaction.

Vodafone U.K. allows users to take their existing mobile plans abroad – text message units, voice minutes, and data quotas – for a daily charge of £3. Affordable for short trips, but maybe a bit expensive if roaming abroad for some weeks. SFR had taken roaming plans even further earlier this year, though limited to the first 10,000 subscribers who signed up. SFR’s Carrée Europe series offered a single tariff for the whole of the European Union (EU), providing unlimited calls and SMS/MMS with 3 GB of data services/month. That tariff – simple and appealing – unfortunately has since been replaced by alternative, more complex plans.

Many countries have mandated Bill Shock prevention measures, requiring operators to send consumers a message containing details about roaming charges as soon as they turn on their phone while abroad, and to set financial limits on data roaming at €50 or less (including notifications to users who near this limit). Operators who offer attractive roaming data plans are going to see an increase in ARPU by encouraging data usage from those subscribers who might otherwise avoid using these services while roaming. See how Cisco can help operators achieve these goals in this 2-page overview of Roaming Data Plans.

Back to my roaming daughter. She’s put roots down, found a good job, and is searching for an apartment with friends. We’re happy to have her back on the rebound for a while, but her cat has definitely worn out its welcome.

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