GSMA Chairman Puts Free Roaming on the Agenda

Posted Mar 2017

Perhaps it is a factor of its timing so early in the year, but Mobile World Congress often seems to set the mobile industry’s agenda for the year ahead. New products and services get announced and there is more than a touch of razzmatazz about the whole shindig.

But this year, as well as the hype surrounding retro products like the rebirth of the Nokia 3310, the headline news for me was far more policy-based than it was product-related.

In his keynote address at the conference, incoming GSMA Chairman Sunil Mittal, founder of Bharti Telecom and probably the most influential businessman on the Indian sub-continent, announced his ambition to abolish roaming changes worldwide during his term in the industry’s hotseat.

It’s a bold, sweeping vision, and one which many businesses, consumers, and no doubt regulators worldwide will welcome. The audience at the show certainly did. But, without in any way wishing to question the judgement of one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, I’m not sure many of those in the operator community will welcome the move without some reservations.

In fact, what appears to be a relatively simple visionary statement contains a wealth of commercial and technical challenges that will need to be overcome. Commercially it will be about balance. Those roaming calls still cost money, so how will the burden of cost be shared fairly? For example, small island operators with a tourist economy will be providing services to visitors from richer operators and will expect to be paid.

The consequences for those consumers who live near land-borders where the roaming signal might be stronger than that of their home network is unclear. Certainly, the abolition of roaming charges is likely to see an increase in border roaming, whether accidental or deliberate.

On the whole, however, we like the ambition of Mittal’s vision. And we can’t help but think that our experience of providing value-added solutions to operators – including one that targets and helps bring border roamers back to their home network - might turn out to be very useful indeed.