By Nigel Portley, product strategist at Tango Telecom

From 1 July 2014, the roaming market in Europe will open up to offer mobile subscribers more choice, better service and better value.

The European Commission has dictated that all EU mobile operators will make technical enhancements to their networks to allow subscribers to move some or all of their services to an alternative provider or providers while roaming.

This regulation places the subscriber firmly in the centre and in control, allowing them to choose mobile services from a number of different providers and to ultimately design their own roaming experience.

But if the European Commission states that the subscriber is king, where does this leave the mobile operator?

The fear is that this regulation may seriously devalue the operator’s roaming revenues by opening up this highly lucrative market to other players that do not have the large capital and operating costs of the traditional mobile network, and that can move more nimbly to seize some, if not all, of the operator’s roaming revenue.

Meanwhile, the operator is busy dealing with and paying for the technical headache of regulatory compliance.

Today, 75 percent of travellers do not use the data services of their home providers while roaming. Not one kb of data is used with the mobile roaming option on their phones remaining firmly and decidedly in the off position.

The key is not to focus too much of the 25 percent who actively roam, but the 75 percent who do not. Who are they? Where are they? How can we find them, attract them and keep them?

The missing data roamer is the student adventurer who sacrifices mobility to use free Wifi wherever he can find it. The missing data roamer is the business traveller who pays for internet access at her hotel because, even though it is expensive, she knows exactly how much it will cost. The missing data roamer is the holiday-maker who switches off roaming before he even gets on his plane because, while he is unsure how much using his phone abroad will cost, he is very sure that it will be expensive and not worth the price.

These and many others are the missing data roamers and they represent a huge untapped revenue potential for operators willing to rise to the challenge.

It is time to start thinking less about the technical requirements of the regulation and more about the potential for subscriber acquisition, about the subscriber’s experience, about placing the subscriber in the centre and in control.

What will make these missing roamers come out of the shadows and start using data outside their home network? 

The answer is deceptively simple – a value for money data service while roaming that is simple to understand and easy to use. 

The facilitation by the European Commission of services such as local breakout for data roaming gives mobile operators a very effective lure for these elusive roamers.

The implementation of a Local Breakout Service for data roaming allows operators to proactively pursue inbound roamers with easy to find and easy to use data services. 

How to find the missing data roamer? It is important to understand the behaviour of the roamer from when they begin to plan their trip to find the best points of acquistion.

It may prove most effective, for instance, to enable the roamer to opt-in before they even leave their home country and begin their trip. As data roaming becomes another part of the travel itinerary like car-hire, hotel and travel insurance, mobile operators will need to think and act just like these other travel industry vendors.

The provision of smartphone apps which can be advertised on and downloaded from airline websites, hotel websites, on-board airplanes and ferries, etc., will make the services easy to find and provide a familiar format for the subscriber.

The use of recognisable payment channels such as iTunes, PayPal and the operator’s own existing portals will offer a trusted and simple to use subscription method.

Data packages should offer choice to the roamer and be easily understood – based on time or activity and not on volume. The roamer can better comprehend a package for a day or a week or a package for social networking or email access rather than one based on 30mb. 

The new roaming market poses challenges but also opportunities for EU mobile operators. Indeed there are lessons here to be shared with the global market.

By placing the subscriber in the centre and in control, offering easily understood roaming packages at rates comparable to home data access, mobile operators will successfully attract and retain these lucrative missing roamers.

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