LTE: Data roaming traffic is a force to be reckoned with

Driven by the availability and capability of LTE (Long-Term Evolution), over recent years the mobile industry has been witness to a massive data roaming uptake. This is largely thanks to eager subscribers looking to access high quality, next-generation services abroad, and the availability of these data and mobile broadband services which are now offered across most major markets around the world.

LTE: A significant investment

LTE has been a significant investment for operators around the world, from the initial spectrum purchase through to the provisioning of technology, marketing and launch. We have now reached the point where LTE customer penetration in developed markets has reached 60 per cent of the smartphone population according to the GSMA’s Mobile Economy Report 2015.

Mobile users around the world have demonstrated an insatiable appetite for data services supported by new technology such as apps, video games, on-demand video entertainment, and social media platforms. Consumers have become accustomed to watching streaming video content on their computers and tablets, and the shrinking screen trend has evolved further with users now wanting to watch content on their mobile devices. For video streaming services to access the large data capacity needed to function at its maximum potential, LTE coverage is an absolute necessity.

Providing a seamless experience

Mobile users’ enjoyment of LTE does not finish at domestic borders, as the demand for data services now travels abroad. In order to meet demands of data-hungry subscribers, operators have launched a range of roaming services. This particular area of the market has seen astounding growth over the last two years, with one wholesale carrier reporting triple the volume of data traffic across its global network, year-on-year.

In order to make the most of the increasing number of use cases for LTE, mobile operators have employed the help of business intelligence and analytics services. From their results, operators are able to offer personalised roaming experiences and monitor the network for silent roamers. An example of a strategic business move made by operators using mobile data intelligence are the carefully tailored tariff bundles designed to encourage travellers to avoid silent roaming, and instead use cellular data when abroad.

There are around one billion mobile subscribers worldwide who are now benefiting from a seamless roaming experience thanks to agreements made by wholesale carriers. Working together to create expansive footprints, forward-thinking operators have arranged LTE roaming agreements and put the relevant technical interconnections in place to provide the perfect platform to offer their users the complete range of voice, messaging and data services in a wide range of countries.

The world’s first LTE roaming service was launched towards the end of 2012. Since then, the number of destinations has increased dramatically and pricing has dropped significantly. In 2014 double-digit monthly growth in LTE roaming traffic was seen. Jump forward to 2016 and this figure is tripling year-on-year, comprehensively illustrating a growing demand for high-speed data. Operators such as Three UK have launched initiatives like ‘Feel At Home’, which allows its subscribers to call the UK for free and use their data bundles from 26 partner destinations.

Farewell to roaming charges

Recent EU regulations have also encouraged the growth of data roaming this year. Following news that Members of the European Parliament have voted in favour of eradicating mobile roaming charges for subscribers across Europe, the telecoms industry has braced itself for change. However, with usage levels growing exponentially, potential revenue loss for carriers has been buffered.

Even with service providers now receiving a decreased margin per unit, revenues have not suffered thanks to the sustainable explosion in traffic volumes. A decreased number of silent roamers and an increase of individual data roaming usage has balanced potential revenue losses, and with European holiday season about to peak, operators are preparing to service holiday-makers venturing across international borders, armed with their mobile devices and the desire to use them abroad.

The reduction in roaming costs has also opened up the international marketplace to app-based internet service providers including WhatsApp and Skype, and small virtual mobile operators looking to take advantage of the increased number of subscribers using data roaming by providing cross-border services.

If operators are prepared, there is a huge opportunity afoot thanks to the demand for data roaming. By collaborating with new players introduced to the ecosystem, traditional operators can ensure ubiquitous services are offered to all their subscribers, and eventually this will result in true global connectivity, and ultimately, complete customer satisfaction.

With the reliance on LTE rapidly increasing to support the plethora of innovative services available to mobile users, operators must ensure they are one step ahead in order to deliver on the market demand both for domestic and roaming services.

Accurate data analytics tools are key to enabling this and, if used to their full potential, service providers can accurately track and forecast usage to make the most of this increased revenue opportunity.

Mikael Schachne, VP Mobile Data Business, BICS