Trufone and Redtea among the first to exploit the Apple eSIM opportunity

Apple’s support of eSIM in its latest iPhones promised to kick-start that market and a couple of specialist companies are leading the way.

UK outfit Truphone, which recently raised £18 million in funding, valuing the company at £386 million, has just launched what it claims is the first eSIM app for the new iPhones. The app exploits the ease and flexibility promised by eSIM to allow users to purchase instant local connectivity for their devices in 80 countries.

“eSIM technology represents a step-change in users’ relationship with their network operator,” said Trufone CEO Ralph Steffens. “By letting people run multiple plans and change operators without having to wait for a traditional SIM card to be delivered, the eSIM is swinging the power balance back in favour of the consumer. By offering our ready-to-go SIM provisioning platform to other mobile operators, we are facilitating a new era of consumer-first mobile plans.”

But Chinese company Redtea Mobile has been doing this stuff for a while too and has a service called eSIM+. It’s a fairly straightforward web platform that allows you to buy connectivity in over 60 countries and requires you to scan a QR code to activate it. Redtea has apparently already activated 100 million eSIMs in China and is now looking further afield.

Possessing only and antiquated Samsung Galaxy S7, we have been unable to put either service to the test, but they both seem pretty straightforward. Trufone’s app seems easier and more intuitive than Redtea’s web platform/QR code combo , but then again you can get 1GB in the UK on eSIM+ for $13, while the deal will cost you £15 with the Trufone app. Both seem worth a look if you have a new iPhone.

Q&A with Lynda Burton, Director of Wholesale at Three

With less than ten days until the MVNOs Europe 2018, the MVNOs Series spoke with Lynda Burton. Director of Wholesale at Three, Lynda owns MVNO, white-label partnerships, bulk messaging, carrier services and international roaming functions. In this interview, Lynda shares her predictions for 5G, its benefits to customers and partners, and the most exciting use cases. 

What are your predictions for 5G and what benefits will it bring to operators’ customers and partners?

We see the launch of 5G as a significant impact upon the market and one from which Three intend to get maximum advantage. We have more 5G spectrum than any other operator and with our plans for a fully virtualised network well advanced, we will be able to leverage all the benefits of 5G. Thanks to the rollout of 5G, our spectrum and new technologies like Massive MIMO, our network will be able to support almost thirty times the data that it does today – that means we can bring on more customers fully exploiting our wholesale business opportunities. It is really exciting for our team.  It also opens up new connected customer verticals, connecting people to people, people to things, and things to things in both business and consumer segments.

Can you also tell us a bit more regarding 5G use cases? Why MVNOs should be excited about it?

In the short term 5G is going to allow customers to do more of what they are doing now but much faster. In the consumer space this could mean a far superior low latency gaming experience and removing the need for fixed broadband – so few millennial customers value their fixed line, it is the natural progression for them to become a fully mobile connected household.
Longer term we see a significant opportunity in connectivity for business applications, whether that is connected health, car or other industries that need high bandwidth, low latency services, or the IOT applications where there are many millions of devices utilising the network.

Finally, our fully virtualised 5G network will allow “network slicing” effectively allocating portions of the network to a particular organisation or vertical. This is cutting edge stuff and the use cases are not fully defined yet, but because of the investments we have made in 5G we have the capability and can work internally and externally on how we bring it to market.

How are networks getting ready for 5G and how that includes MVNOs? i.e. Will operators ensure MVNOs have access to their wholesale 5G networks?

Operators across Europe are working on their 5G plans. At Three UK we have been planning meticulously for 5G for a long time. Our network and IT transformation, moving us to a completely new and fully virtualised core network, increasing the number of data centres, adding new mobile backhaul with SSE and redeveloping our IT systems, is progressing very well. When completed the core network we are building in partnership with Nokia will be a world first. Without this you cannot fully leverage all the capabilities of 5G. We have already secured more 5G spectrum than any other operator and this opens up a significant opportunity for us.

With regards to our MVNO partners, they are already briefed on our 5G strategy and we are continuing to update them. Historically Three UK has always offered our MVNOs network parity with Three Retail and this means that in the future MVNOs will be able to access 5G. We had the same approach to 4G access.  This was quite different to the approach of other operators who sought to retain premium services for their own retail customers, giving MVNO customers a more basic service – some of the larger MVNOs only gained access in the past two years. We don’t believe that holding new technologies back from our partners is a model that works. If we help them to grow, we’ll grow and that’s the model we will bring to 5G.

How can operators help their MVNOs to face the changing ecosystem? i.e. Are operators willing to reduce their wholesale rates if RLAH has a profound impact on their MVNOs’ businesses? Will operators be more flexible and work with MVNOs to negotiate their roaming deals?

That’s a lot of questions! Certainly at Three UK we have always had a flexible approach to working with our MVNOs, whether that is technical or commercial models. We believe that our success is driven from our MVNO’s success, so we are always open to having a dialogue if an MVNO needs our support, and that is on anything not just RLAH. We like to work out challenges together, we really do see our MVNO relationships as partnerships.

With regards to whether we would negotiate roaming deals on an MVNO’s behalf, we already offer a managed service on roaming for our MVNO lite customers, leveraging our roaming relationships with over 190 networks globally.

How do operators tackle the increased data demand from their customers?

Three’s own retail customers use more than 3x the average data consumption each month and our customers have recently voted us the best network for data. Delivering high speed and high bandwidth is our heritage – our network was designed for data.  All the projections have data demand growing exponentially over the next 5-10 years and 5G will help us manage that capacity in a cost-effective way.

What are your views on delivering a fully digital MVNOs? What do you consider the pros and cons of this model?

There a couple of ways that an MVNO could be considered fully digital, it could be that the MVNO can only be accessed via digital channels. So, customers buy online, access their account online and are served through online channels such as webchat. I definitely believe that for the right customer segments this is a model that really works. We only need to look at many of the other digital services like Netflix and Spotify to see that consumers are comfortable in buying service in a 100% digital channel, and I think it’s an area where we will continue to see growth. Obviously, there will be some segments of customers who prefer a face-to-face service, or the ability to call a call centre for help. In the short terms these customers are unlikely to want to migrate to a fully digital experience. But this is at the core of the MVNO ecosystem. MVNOs target different customers segments and offer them an experience which is differentiated from the mass market and serves that customer segment’s needs.

The second way an MVNO could be considered fully digital is if all the calls are handled through digital channels, in app calling, sometimes referred to as AppVNOs. Three offer a product that supports this model, our OTT virtual numbers. This allows organisations to set up a mobile calling experience within an App, for example if you wanted to have a mobile number in a dating app. It’s relatively early days for the product but we are seeing some interesting use cases and as always we are keen to exploit new technologies and ideas for our wholesale customers.

What are the best strategies when approaching customers via new channels? How can MNOs and MVNOs develop and implement their digital strategies better?

Accessing new customers through new and different channels is critical to the success of an MVNO partnership. Our recent partnership with Superdrug is a great example of this. The relationship enables Superdrug to add new benefits to customers within their loyalty scheme giving them a fantastic mobile offer and double loyalty points on all their spend in Superdrug.  For Three, we get to bring new and extremely loyal customers to our network through an entirely new channel.

In the Superdrug example we are using both retail and digital channels, all the joining journeys can be undertaken online, including setting up your SIM after buying it in a Superdrug store. The online account web pages and web help allows customers to service their account and get help through flexible and lower cost digital channels. Much of the infrastructure that supports this has been developed by Three as part of our white label platform, while Superdrug bring their outstanding understanding of their customers and how best to target and sell to them through stores and digital loyalty media. It’s an exciting proposition and opens up more opportunities for brands who may not have considered their loyalty scheme as a channel for telecoms services.

What are your views on network virtualization and its impact on operators?

I have already mentioned that virtualisation is crucial to fully leveraging the benefits of 5G but there are other enormous benefits that it will bring. It will allow us to be far more agile, delivering change in the network faster and ultimately allowing us to develop new products and services far faster than the competition, reacting to the ever-changing demands of our retail and wholesale customers. In short it will give us and our partners a significant competitive edge.

Automation is a key part of our network virtualisation story that will enable many activities that are manual today to be automated in the future, as well as providing instant self-healing capabilities improving network availability and reliability.

Hear from Lynda Burton at the MVNOs Europe 2018, taking place in London, 6 – 7 November 2018. Lynda will deliver a presentation on ‘Preparing for 5G – setting your MVNO up for 5G success’. Book your tickets now.

What defines the European MVNO market?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece the MVNOs Series team investigates the latest trends and challenges facing the virtual network operator market in Europe. What are the lessons to be learnt from them?

The European MVNO market is the world’s oldest, largest and most mature. Boasting more virtual network operators and more user subscriptions than any other region, MVNOs in some European countries command as much as 15 to 20% of the total mobile market.

By 2020, some estimates put the total number of MVNO subscribers on the continent at upwards of 110 million – not far off four times the total number in the USA.

With market liberalisation occuring in some European countries as early as 1995, and the world’s first recognisable MVNO – Virgin Mobile – launched in the UK in 1999, the region’s virtual networks have had close to two decades to emerge, grow and evolve. Operating in a market where 84% of the population owns a mobile phone and the mobile industry contributes nearly €600 billion to GDP, the incentives for European MVNOs have arguably been greater than anywhere else on the planet.

And in the EU, representing a significant proportion of the continent’s domestic markets, including some of the biggest in the likes of Germany, UK, France and Spain, MVNOs have also found a highly supportive regulatory framework.

Yet success brings its own pressures, the European MVNO sector, and the mobile market in general, is intensely competitive. With mobile ownership having sat close to saturation point for a decade or more, vertical growth has become harder and harder, sparking fierce price wars and waves of consolidation. ARPUs first from voice and then from data have tumbled, the product of regulatory intervention and much as competition.

As the market stands on the brink of its 20th anniversary, forces such as Roam-Like-At-Home take part in shaping the European MVNO industry heading into a third decade. The EU’s decision to ban roaming charges within its borders is a question yet to be answered. As we shall find out in the upcoming months, RLAH could deal a significant blow to the industry or, alternatively, present a much-needed opportunity.

Snapshot: The European MVNO Market 2018

Comprising around two thirds of the continent’s nation states and population, it is no surprise that much of  Europe’s MVNO activity is concentrated within The European Union (EU). Around two thirds of all the continent’s MVNOs are found in just five EU member states – Germany, the UK, France, Netherlands and Spain.

Germany boasts one of the world’s largest domestic MVNO markets, with around 48 million subscribers and revenues of US $11 billion. This huge sector enjoyed rapid growth following a wave of operator consolidation in 2014, when the regulators sought to mitigate against price inflation by handing 30% of network capabilities to MVNOs.

The UK, meanwhile, has been described as one of the world’s most crowded MVNO markets, with 13.5 million customers shared out between upwards of 100 virtual operators. However, 86% of these customers are shared out between a dominant ‘Big 6’ group of large MVNOs – Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile, GiffGaff, Lycamobile, Lebara and TalkMobile.

With Sky another sizeable player in the UK market, it is noticeable how big name brands from outside the traditional mobile sphere have used the MVNO model as a way into the UK market. Overall, one in seven UK mobiles are connected via a virtual operator and the sector is worth more than £2 billion.

As in most areas of industry and commerce, no one is quite sure how the UK’s looming departure from the EU will impact on the MVNO sector, both domestically and on the continent. Outstanding issues to be resolved include whether the EU’s Roam Like At Home (RLAH) rules will still relate to UK subscribers travelling in the EU, and how carriers which operate networks both on the continent and in the UK (including Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica) will handle wholesale arrangements in the newly separated markets.

Outside the EU, the biggest single domestic MVNO market in Europe is Russia. Although conditions for virtual operators in Russia have long been viewed as challenging due to the dominance of the country’s big 3 carriers and little sign of regulatory intervention to liberalise the market, MVNOs are now estimated to control 2.6% of the country’s mobile subscribers. Some analysts confidently predict that this will grow to 14 to 15% by 2022.

Carrier Tele2 Russia certainly appears to be taking active steps to increase its MVNO footprint, reporting 831,000 virtual subscribers on its network at the end of 2017. Its model seems to be using MVNO agreements to attract large non-telco players into the mobile space – Tinkoff Bank has this year announced a 1 billion rubles investment into its MVNO spin-off, Tinkoff Mobile, while Moscow-based ISP AKADO Telecom has also announced signing an agreement with Tele2.

Across Europe’s most developed MVNO markets, there are mixed views on the potential for growth. In KNect365’s global MVNO market survey carried out earlier in 2018, some respondents described growth prospects as ranging from slow to stagnant. A common theme was that traditional MVNO models are increasingly being squeezed through a combination of price competition and over-saturation in the market, although there were varied opinions on whether this made it difficult for new players to enter the market or else created new opportunities for innovative entrants with disruptive approaches.

Despite the tough trading environment, more than a quarter of respondents (28.5%) still cited Europe as the region offering the best growth opportunities for MVNOs. Some analysts argue that European consumers, already at an advanced stage of engagement with mobile services, will soon start to look beyond price for increasing levels of specialisation and personalised service. This plays into the hands of agile MVNOs which have the experience serving niche markets while network operators, already faced with dwindling retail margins, are more and more likely to turn to wholesale business models instead.

On the other hand, there is a school of thought that suggests it is becoming harder and harder for MVNOs in Europe to operate out of the shadow of their network operators with any degree of independence. Some insiders told us they see MNOs aggressively targeting traditional MVNO territory in a bid to bolster their own dwindling margins.

As Henrik Liungman, Vice President of Services at ACN Europe, commented: “The trend is clearly towards larger data plans. The MVNO’s are struggling to compete with the MNO’s unlimited data offers on the retail side. 100G plans or unlimited data with caveats are not something MVNO’s can offer with the current cost structures.”

Europe’s MVNOs are looking to brand new markets and brand-new business models away from the consumer sector in business services. In the UK, for example, more than 20% for the MVNO market is now focused on business. In Germany, the connected car market is the most advanced in the world, creating brand new opportunities for agile, specialist operators at the intersection of IoT and eSIM technologies. Yet another significant trend is digitalisation, with the adoption of cloud-based ‘as-a-service’ business models by virtual operators positioning them ideally to make the transition into B2B, and to take a step up the value chain to offer mobile enabling services to emerging IoT markets.

The research-based report Shaping the European MVNO Market looks closely at the impact of consolidation on the market and ask whether carriers and virtual operators alike might not benefit from more collaborative rather than competitive relationships.

With pricing on voice and data having practically become a zero-sum game, it looks at ways MVNOs are diversifying services to seek new value streams and assess the impact of OTT entrants.

The report also explores the impact of new technology, specifically how digitalisation is changing business models and the size of the IoT opportunity, and ask whether over the next decade Europe’s MVNO sector might see a significant shift away from consumer to B2B markets. Download the report!

What is it with telcos and the ‘creative’ approach to advertising honesty?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has once again had to step in to put a stop to telco advertising, this time Three’s efforts, posing a pretty simple question; why do the telcos find it so easy to put misleading adverts into the world?

The latest ruling was surrounding Three’s ‘Go Roam’ claim, which states users are able to ‘Feel at Home’ by using their full data allowance without any extra costs in 71 countries. An investigation from the ASA found postpaid users were limited to 13GB and postpaid to 12GB, before costs were applied. There is text hidden away somewhere on the Three website pointing towards a fair use clause, though the ASA does not believe this is sufficient and Three has been misleading customers.

Three’s response to the claims was relatively simple. Firstly, most of it customers only use 0.75GB per month in a ‘Go Roam’ destination, therefore 12GB was excessive. Secondly, that the claim had been used since 2014 and was strongly associated with their brand, which supposedly makes it alright. It does appear some customers were using it for business purposes, making several trips abroad per month, while the offer had originally been intended for holidays.

This is a perfectly respectable defence from Three, but without informing the customer of these conditions, it doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Unfortunately this is becoming a common trend. Service providers seem to think they can do what they like before pointing to some obscure reference on websites, incredibly small print or a statement made to an irrelevant number of people at a niche event. While Three might have been caught out in this instance, it is not alone.

BT had a complaint upheld regarding its claims on wifi speeds in April. Sky was caught misleading customers in March regarding a price promotion. Vodafone was caught out earlier this month and in September for misleading claims in adverts featuring Martin Freeman. There are other examples, plus the pending investigations with the ASA and also dozens of examples over the last few months of ‘informally resolved’ incidents. Vodafone has ‘informally resolved’ 12 of these complaints so far in 2018, TalkTalk seven and O2 five. Some of these will be down to honest mistakes, but the complaints seem to becoming more common.

Of course the other factor which needs to be taken into account is the ‘up to’ metric which plagued telcos advertisements for years, misleading customers over speeds which can be achieved. Any normal person would have told any of the telco’s marketing team this is not a fair or honest way to communicate with the consumer, but it become commonplace. It seems the telcos are harbouring different standards when it comes to honesty than the rest of us.

Telarix and Starhome Mach merge to offer global wholesale telecoms portfolio

A couple of companies involved in the areas of operator interconnectivity, roaming and general wholesale action have decided to merge.

The combination of Telarix and Starhome Mach inevitably claims to offer a full end-to-end set of wholesale solutions for operators, covering voice, SMS, clearing, settlement and fraud prevention. The new company has 450 customers in 130 countries. All this mucking about with telecoms plumbing also creates business opportunities in BSS, subscriber analytics and that sort of thing.

“CSPs must manage their complex partner ecosystem from negotiation to traffic management, to billing and settlement, while at the same time, providing differentiated services to consumers, businesses and IoT.,” said Telarix CEO Marco Limena. “This merger will enable the development of new  innovative solutions overcoming the complex challenges of today’s digital transformation era to drive desired business performance.”

“Our success in launching SaaS versions of our leading roaming and clearing platforms introduced a variety of other innovative solutions in real-time anti-fraud, Network Function Virtualization and the Internet of Things,” said Starhome Mach CEO, Itai Margalit. “Bringing our offerings together with Telarix’s solutions will bring new solutions to the market and we see a huge opportunity to accelerate company growth.”

“Telarix and Starhome Mach have been very successful in their respective markets,” said Steve Pusey, former Group CTO and Senior Board Advisor to Telarix. “The joining together of this expertise creates a unique opportunity to address the market demand for full spectrum solutions.”

While positioned as a merger this looks more like the acquisition of Starhome Mach by Telarix. Private equity is involved one both sides but only Vista Equity Partners, which is behand Telarix, will remain involved, it will be based in Telarix’s home of Vienna, Virginia, and Limena will be the CEO of the new company, with Margalit becoming President of the roaming silo. You can read further analysis of this move at Light Reading here.

LTE data scores big at this year’s World Cup

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John Wick, SVP and GM of Connectivity and Mobility Services at Syniverse shares some of his company’s recent research into LTE roaming.

LTE is growing globally, and growing fast, and one area in particular that it’s been taking off in is roaming. To better understand this growth, Syniverse has been examining this through a series of studies based on the LTE roaming patterns of our global IPX network. We most recently focused on LTE roaming at one of the world’s largest events this year – the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament – and the findings revealed some important implications for the development of LTE globally in the next few years.

North America leads regions

LTE won a convincing victory over non-LTE at the World Cup, according to our data. The analysis of roaming data shows that 67 percent of data usage was LTE from travelers to Russia over the four weeks of the tournament, compared to the global average of 54 percent of all traffic for LTE roaming usage between major world regions.

Specifically, the analysis found that the largest volume of global LTE usage coming into Russia during the World Cup came from North America (42 percent). The next most popular LTE roaming location was Asia  (19 percent), followed by Europe (18 percent), Latin America (11 percent), and the Middle East and Africa (9 percent). This is surprising given that no teams from North America played at the World Cup, but it points to the strong LTE roaming agreements between countries.

LTE gaining in other areas

The 67 percent LTE data usage we found points to a huge growth trend over the last few years. In developing markets, more and more operators are launching new LTE services, while operators in developed markets are continuing to build out and enhance their networks. In fact, the GSMA forecasts that by 2020 there will be over 3.5 billion LTE connections and approximately three-quarters of the world’s population will be covered by LTE networks.

This growth is reflected in another huge sports event we analyzed this year, the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, in February. According to our findings, of the data usage generated by visitors to the Games, an enormous 92 percent was LTE, versus just 8 percent non-LTE. Not surprisingly, Asia received the largest amount (72 percent) of LTE traffic during the Games. Next was North America (23 percent), followed far behind by Europe (3 percent).

IPX a barrier to LTE growth

In addition to these LTE roaming highlights, we uncovered a milestone, as well as a significant challenge, in LTE growth in a global study we completed early this year. The study focused on roaming traffic between six regions – North America; Latin America; Europe; Asia Pacific; the Middle East and Africa; and India – and the findings revealed that in the last year LTE traffic surpassed non-LTE traffic and now represents the majority of global roaming traffic, having risen to 54 percent in 2017 from 46 percent in 2016.

At the same time, the findings highlight the need for the mobile industry to more urgently prepare for technologies like 5G, based on the eight years that it took from the time that LTE was commercially launched for it to surpass the previous generation of technology. A challenge then is fully enabling LTE roaming on a global scale. But outside the Americas, where most of LTE roaming is concentrated, we found the tipping point with global LTE roaming hasn’t fully occurred yet. Specifically, the Americas represent 79 percent of total volume, while LTE roaming volumes for other regions include Europe at 11 percent, Asia Pacific at 7 percent, and the Middle East and Africa at 3 percent.

In fact, this study revealed that a barrier in providing a consistent LTE service footprint was found to lie in the inter-regional connectivity that an IPX network can enable. This technology in particular has emerged as a versatile network backbone that can provide a single-connection capability to link to multiple networks and greatly expand inter-regional connectivity. For this reason, it offers a crucial asset in expanding LTE roaming coverage, and mobile operators need to have a full-scale strategy for integrating IPX in order to accelerate the growth and maturity of their LTE networks.

Looking ahead

The World Cup and other global events present some of the largest and most complex world stages on which to demonstrate the promise of mobile. How operators manage LTE roaming for these events will have profound implications for their success in meeting the rising demand for high-speed, high-capacity usage by today’s traveling mobile users. With 67 percent of data usage at the World Cup consisting of LTE traffic, and with LTE traffic reaching 54 percent to represent the majority of global roaming traffic, it’s imperative that operators are prepared to meet the new demands of the dynamic LTE-powered future now taking shape.

 

Syniverse John Wick Sep2018John Wick is Senior Vice President and General Manager for Mobile Transaction Services, and is responsible for the management and growth of Syniverse’s next-generation networks, messaging, and policy and charging lines of business. He also leads the product and software development across these lines of business.

Roaming for MVNOs: Opportunities and strategies

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Freelance Technology Journalist Kate O’Flaherty explores how EU-wide regulation allowing free roaming is adding costs for MVNOs. How can they convert this into new revenue streams?

The ‘roam like at home’ regulation has been a boon for European consumers, who can now use their phones without extra charges when visiting EU countries. But it poses challenges for MVNOs, which must pay wholesale rates in order for their customers to roam. Making things worse, MVNOs can’t claw back this cash through reciprocal charges like the mobile operators do, because they don’t receive any inbound roaming traffic.

MVNOs can charge customers for roaming in locations outside the EU. However, they cannot rely on this alone as a revenue stream: MVNOs would be competing with mobile operators such as Three UK, which are offering free roaming in countries including the US and Australia, as well as the EU.

But there are also opportunities for nimble MVNOs to take advantage of roaming to differentiate and target new markets. It requires a unique offering including other value-added services. For example, a user could receive a real-time SMS offering a subscription to a roaming plan based on the location they are visiting, suggests Mikaël Schachne, VP Mobility Solutions at BICS. “This can drive user satisfaction – and with customers signing up to more roaming plans and bundles, MVNOs can enjoy better revenue streams and reduce churn.”

In order to avoid paying wholesale roaming rates, James Gray, Director at Graystone Strategy suggests retail MVNOs can innovate by trying to route traffic over Wi-Fi. “IPass for example sells subscriptions to Wi-Fi hotspots so people can roam.”

He points out that many consumers are already “going Wi-Fi first” when abroad and using services such as Apple’s FaceTime. “If you have access to the Wi-Fi network, all those opportunities are there.”

Some MVNOs are already reducing operating costs by offloading cellular traffic to Wi-Fi for their international roaming subscribers, says Simon Renouf, Head of Product at iPass. “Since the wholesale cost of Wi-Fi data from roaming partners is often lower than that of cellular, MVNOs can boost profitability if they can get more subscribers using this technology abroad,” he explains.

According to Hamish White, CEO at Mobilise Consulting, MVNOs can partner with a ‘roaming broker’ offering better rates than the underlying mobile network operator. “This can be facilitated by a dual international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) solution,” he explains.

For example, some firms offer data offload solutions allowing MVNOs to reduce wholesale data costs while improving connectivity. Depending on the MVNO agreement, services including inflight Wi-Fi can be added to a basic roaming offering.

Business to business roaming

At the same time, internet of things (IoT) is a roaming opportunity for business to business (b2b) focused MVNOs: They can buy wholesale packages from carriers such as BICS – which has negotiated its own roaming agreements – and offer global IoT solutions to connected car manufacturers, for example.

According to Schachne, BICS is seeing a rise in M2M use cases and IoT requirements from various enterprises. “This is where MVNOs can play, providing a customised application, for example climbing the ladder of vertical integration with a specific software solution or service for enterprise or IoT needs.”

He points out that most IoT use cases involve roaming. “Most of the time, when a device is manufactured in one place in the world, it is then shipped to another country.”

John Wick, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Service Provider Group at Syniverse, agrees there is a major opportunity for MVNOs playing in the IoT space. But he points out the importance of wholesale agreements to ensure they can roam as widely as possible.

It is a relatively new market, but some MVNOs are already embracing the IoT opportunity. Schachne cites the example of a new BICS MVNO customer in Asia – which is starting from scratch as a data focused internet connectivity provider, acting as a full MVNO taking control of the platforms and solutions. This involves setting up a new roaming footprint. “BICS is establishing them from day one across the subscriber base,” he explains.

Another BICS MVNO customer is Hanhaa, which is offering an IoT tracking solution for parcel delivery. “They have their own device tracking the shipment and temperature, pressure and shock happening to these parcels. They act as an MVNO, using our solution for global connectivity,” Schachne explains.

Meanwhile, Michael Dargue, Principal at Cartesian, cites the example of Truphone – which offers a single platform for IoT deployments spanning multiple countries – as an innovative service. “They have a lot of the building blocks to offer IoT with multi-country services and also the ability to fit a Sim to a device when they don’t know where it will be shipped afterwards.”

Overcoming hurdles

The possibilities are vast, but roaming use needs to be closely monitored to detect fraud and high spender cases, says Benjamin Grimm Head of Carrier Relations at Mobilcom-Debitel. This is a serious issue for a ‘light MVNO’ without real time access to network functionalities, he says.

MVNOs will also need to prepare for 2019, when there will be additional regulation on intra-EU calls – at least capping the maximum price to be charged to customers, says Grimm. “As an MVNO, we need to think about how to compensate lost revenues, and how to avoid a high wholesale cost for those calls.”

Grimm says regulators need to keep in mind that MVNOs have different economics than mobile operators. He thinks current regulation often “forgot” MVNOs. “This needs to be changed for the future: MVNOs have to speak up and to make sure their interests are known by national and international regulators.”

There are also many opportunities to innovate once issues are overcome. But for now, what do MVNOs need to do? According to Dargue, MVNOs should be cautious about what they offer: “Offering flat rates and all you can eat data is very risky to do nowadays: It’s a very high wholesale cost.”

He says a traffic structure that helps MVNOs to monetise their offering including data usage “is important”.

At the same time, he advises MVNOs to track what subscribers are doing, to help inform future services. “Having analytics and internal dashboard capabilities to track usage, revenue and costs in near real time ensures you are heading in the right direction.”

 

Join the industry leaders at the MVNOs Europe 2018, taking place in London 6 -7 November, for the unmissable opportunity to learn and share your expertise to reinforce your place within the European MVNO market.

Happy birthday roam like at home: Impacts and opportunities one year on

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Mikaël Schachne, VP Mobility Solutions at BICS, takes a look back at the first year of no roaming charges in Europe.

The EU has again picked June for a well-timed summer-holiday-coinciding telecoms-themed announcement. At the start of the month, governors and lawmakers in the European Union proposed capping the cost of calls and texts between Member States.

The yet-to-be decided move follows the abolition of roaming charges, announced in 2017 to the delight of many holidaymakers. In addition to avoiding ‘bill shock’, if signed off in the autumn, subscribers travelling within the EU will pay a maximum of 17p per minute for calls and 5p for text messages.

The EU’s move marks a further shift towards a model of borderless connectivity, which could soon be replicated on a global scale. This shift not only presents opportunities for operators – through encouraging more international calls and less restricted device usage – but also delivers sizable benefits for consumers and businesses.

However, the transformation in telecoms is not without its challenges. These include negative reaction to roam like at home (RLAH) from some in the industry and the need to make up for any losses in revenue.

800% growth in data roaming traffic

RLAH has certainly been a hit with consumers, evidenced by the massive increase in data roaming traffic last summer. The period June to September 2017 saw a 600-800% increase in LTE data roaming traffic in the EU, compared with the same period in 2016.

Note that this is data traffic, which was the main driver in the overall increase in roaming traffic in the EU. European subscribers have clearly been enjoying the same kinds of OTT messaging apps and entertainment services on holiday and on business trips, as they do at home. Since April 2018, this has been made even easier, thanks to the EU’s content portability regulation. Those who hold accounts with OTT content services – like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Spotify – are now able to access videos, TV shows, music etc. on their accounts wherever they travel in the EU.

In addition to humans roaming with smartphones, there is also a growing number of connected devices and ‘things’ which need to remain ‘always on’ as they move from country to country.

Global connectivity is a crucial enabler for machine-to-machine communications and the wider IoT, unlocking a major revenue opportunity for operators. Many businesses will be looking to extend their connected business beyond domestic borders and achieve a global machine-to-machine network footprint. This could encompass anything from tracking packages to ensuring a connected car is able to send and receive data wherever its driver takes it. These new business cases will rely on operators’ roaming services and global networks, helping to drive revenue and replace that lost through the falling use of traditional voice and SMS services.

But what kind of implications will low-cost roaming in the EU have for other regions? Subscribers will quickly become accustomed to a seamless, high-quality service whether at home or away, with border-crossing no longer interfering with or restricting connectivity. Subscribers travelling outside the EU will expect a similar level of service, at a similar price point.

‘GRLAH’?

Fortunately, many operators will be able to offer a similar level of service, thanks to an increase in the number that now support LTE services. Global LTE traffic more than doubled in 2017 with a total of 562 operators offering LTE services; an increase of 25% on 2016. LTE in Africa in particular has really taken off, with a growth in the number of MVNOs and tier three/four operators introducing LTE roaming services in the region during 2017, helping to kick-start wider roll-out.

But just because subscribers can access LTE services in more global destinations, the high cost of roaming in many non-EU countries will result in a high number of ‘silent roamers’ when they travel – or huge phone bills.

This issue was recently brought to the fore, with uSwitch predicting that football fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup could face roaming charges of up to £3,696 over a two-week trip. In response, some operators have launched global roaming packages, where subscribers can pay a fixed daily fee to access the same data, minutes and text allowance in a number of regions worldwide.

RLAH has opened operators’ eyes to the wants of today’s consumer: seamless, high-quality, worldwide connectivity, at low cost. This has in turn opened up the possibility of ‘GRLAH’: global roam like at home. For this to happen, regulators considering implementing similar policies must collaborate with mobile operators and the wider telecoms industry. Dialogue should focus on how overall mobile usage can be increased and should ensure that any changes in legislation (and potential revenue losses) are balanced by methods to boost/future-proof revenues in other areas of business.

Silent roamers: an opportunity worth shouting about

One way to balance the books in light of RLAH is to ‘awaken’ silent roamers outside of the EU. RLAH will have highlighted the comparatively high costs of roaming in many global destinations, serving as a prompt to many subscribers to switch off their data roaming, or switch off their smartphone altogether when outside of the EU.

Operators should draw on the vast wealth of subscriber data they have access to and offer personalised roaming packages which incentivise subscribers to remain connected to a network, wherever they are. This could involve identifying a phone user’s normal pattern of usage and preferred services, and creating a tailored bundle (which is both affordable and convenient) based on the findings.

To allay fears of post-holiday bill shock, operators can also provide subscribers with greater visibility into their data roaming usage. Real-time consumption monitoring, the ability to set and manage usage caps, and notifications relating to this can all help empower consumers and foster a positive operator/subscriber relationship.

Demand for roaming services shows no sign of slowing. Following a positive reaction – and mass uptake – in the EU, subscriber demand for access to low-cost, high-quality services worldwide will also grow. Operators must adapt to this new paradigm by unlocking new opportunities in the provision of IoT roaming services, stimulate mobile usage through tailored services, and optimise the user experience. The industry must band together and maintain an open, ongoing dialogue to deliver global connectivity, and future-proof the business of telecoms.

 

Mikael Schachne 2018Mikaël Schachne joined the international division of Belgacom in 2001 which was then spun-off and merged with Swisscom International and MTN International. After having successfully led the product development and management of new international mobile data services such as Signalling, GPRS Roaming eXchange (GRX), SMS Hubbing, MMS Hubbing, Instant Roaming and Open Connectivity Roaming Hubbing, he’s now in charge of the Mobile Data Business at BICS. The portfolio which has been built across the last 10 years is now supporting international mobile communications needs for more than 400 Mobile Operators and MVNOs across the world.

Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone claim first European NB-IoT roaming trial

Low power IoT network technology isn’t much good if it can’t easily cross national borders, so DT and Vodafone have been looking into that with the help of the GSMA.

In fact the GSMA was the one to make the announcement, claiming the two operator groups “…have successfully completed the first international roaming trial in Europe using licensed NB-IoT technology.” NB-IoT is generally accepted to be the default LPWAN technology, for which Vodafone has been one of the most active cheerleader, so it’s no surprise to see it involved in this.

“The success of these trials is an important milestone in the development of a sustainable roaming environment for mobile IoT networks, showcasing their capabilities as well as ensuring consistent service across geographical boundaries,” said Alex Sinclair, CTO of the GSMA. “The market has matured considerably in a very short time and we anticipate that this will be the year that Mobile IoT scales. Only licensed, managed mobile services can provide the secure low power connection that can meet future demand.”

“Deutsche Telekom has successfully introduced and developed NB-IoT networks across most of its European footprint and we are very pleased to see the ecosystem rapidly expanding,” said Ingo Hofacker of DT. “First commercial offers are available on a national basis already, but now, operators need to satisfy customer demand for international coverage and service continuity as well.”

“This development shows the successful evolution of the technology and I am confident that it will lead to a raft of new applications for NB-IoT, such as the cold chain monitoring of goods across borders,” said Vodafone director of IoT Stefano Gestaut.

The trial used global SIMs from DT on Vodafone Spain’s network and global Vodafone SIMs on T-Mobile Austria’s network and commercial NB-IoT modules. The announcement somewhat redundantly stresses that NB-IoT roaming is especially important for anyone deploying LPWAN devices on a global basis. The GSMA is claiming some credit for creating a mobile IoT initiative that may or may not have played a significant role in this happening.

A new roaming playing field makes Quality of Service and LTE paramount

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Kyle Dorcas, Vice President, Portfolio Market Development at Syniverse, examines the opportunities and challenges presented to operators by the abolition of roaming charges in Europe.

Imagine, it’s just two years ago, 2016, and a frequent business traveler from Germany decides at the last minute to take a weekend vacation to Spain. Although she’s typically a heavy mobile user when at home or traveling for business, for this trip she plans to cut almost all of her mobile voice and data usage during her trip because she’ll be using her personal mobile device.

Fast forward to 2018 – and welcome to a new roaming world. Starting last summer, the German business traveler along with millions of other mobile users across the EU can travel outside their home countries and use their mobile devices just as they do at home, with almost no extra charges for roaming. Since the EU’s abolition of roaming charges went into effect, people from Ireland to Italy can call, text and surf the web without incurring steep charges when traveling around the 28-nation bloc.

These new “roam like home” regulations have completely changed operators’ ability to offer value to customers using a mobile device while abroad. According to traffic measured on Syniverse’s networks, the regulations have resulted in huge growth in the amount of people using their devices while roaming in the EU: mobile data increased 308 percent, voice calls 95 percent, and SMS traffic 34 percent during July, August, and September 2017 compared with the same period in 2016. The new regulations have proven without a doubt that when offered rates they deem more acceptable; people will greatly increase their mobile use when they roam.

Another effect of the end of EU roaming fees is on customers’ usage patterns and service expectations. Crucially, people now expect to be able to use their device and have access to the same high-quality experiences when they travel as they do when they’re at home.

As a result, on this new playing field, the critical challenge for operators is to demonstrate a direct connection with their customers and the unique value delivered to them when they roam. And in taking on this challenge, there lie two areas of opportunity above all others that operators should focus on in distinguishing this value.

A higher quality of experience with real-time intelligence

The first area of opportunity is in optimizing the mobile experience while roaming. With EU customers now not only having uniform pricing for roaming, but higher expectations about using their service the same way as they do at home, there are several challenges in making the value of their connection clear to customers while roaming.

One of the most important of these challenges is the capability to gain a live view of a customer’s connectivity needs and to serve those needs in a relevant, timely way – the concept of real-time intelligence. Improved technologies are now enabling this challenge to be overcome, and based on some of my latest customer work, I’ve identified two best practices that I think will be pivotal.

The first is the ability to act in real time. It’s crucial to have a real-time snapshot of when, where, and how customers need connectivity options – and to be able to act on this on when a decision about connectivity is being considered. If, for example, someone travels abroad and plans to shut off their mobile service instead of investigating roaming options, their home service provider must be prepared to detect their arrival and proactively text them with an offer that entices them to use different roaming services.

The second best practice is empowering mobile users. New technologies now put the power of real-time monitoring of roaming usage control directly in the customer’s hands, and this capability must be taken advantage of. These technologies enable interfaces that allow subscribers to access usage information anytime and anywhere, set spending limits, or apply usage thresholds for data services. The integration of these technologies can not only mitigate bill shock, but also reduce customer complaints and payment disputes.

Reaching the Tipping Point for LTE Roaming

A second area of opportunity in which roaming service can be distinguished lies in LTE. In the next few years, according to the GSMA, the number of people with access to coverage by 4G networks will rise to over 3 billion, and 4G coverage will be extended to almost three-quarters of the world.

And now there’s new promise that mobile service providers can offer a wider range of LTE coverage than ever, according to the results of a study that Syniverse recently released. The study analyzed the regular course, or “trade winds,” of global roaming, and it found that in the last year LTE traffic has surpassed non-LTE traffic and now represents the majority of global roaming traffic. Specifically, LTE traffic rose to 54 percent of global outbound roaming traffic in 2017, up from 42 percent in 2016, but the majority of LTE roaming remains concentrated in the Americas, which represents 79 percent of the total global volume.

The challenge then is to enable LTE roaming on a global scale. Customers’ expectations for using their devices overseas in the same way as they do at home must be fulfilled. But outside the Americas at least, the tipping point with global LTE roaming hasn’t fully occurred yet, and providing LTE roaming service remains a competitive differentiator.

Specifically, the findings indicate that one barrier to a global LTE experience lies in the inter-regional connectivity powered by IPX. This technology in particular has emerged as a versatile network backbone that can provide a single-connection capability to link multiple networks and greatly expand inter-regional connectivity. Consequently, IPX promises to be crucial in accelerating LTE roaming coverage and enabling new services for those companies that fully commit to making it a foundation of their network.

New Playing Field

Europe now has a new playing field for roaming where quality of experience and LTE reach are crucial competitive differentiators. To be able to compete in this new space, mobile service providers must have full-scale strategies for providing these differentiators and demonstrating a direct connection between their customers and the value they deliver when their customers roam.

 

Syniverse Kyle DorcasKyle Dorcas joined Syniverse in 2013 and serves as Vice President for Portfolio Market Development, a role that includes responsibility for Syniverse’s overall portfolio of products and solutions across enterprise, MNO, and MVNO customer groups. Previously, he was Vice President, Policy, and responsible for Syniverse’s policy management business and global portfolio of roaming, real-time intelligence, and policy management solutions. Prior to Syniverse, in a career spanning more than 20 years, Mr. Dorcas served in a number of leadership positions within the mobile industry, which provided him with diverse experience across many sectors of the mobile ecosystem. Kyle began his career helping to introduce new military communication products with General Dynamics. He then worked on the RAN, the core network, and mobile devices during tenures at Nortel and BlackBerry. He is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada.