Telcos should get real and embrace WiFi roaming because where they don't, their users roam free internationally and click onto the WiFi from other providers. Ian Scales reports.
Why don't national operators offer WiFi to their customers when they roam abroad with their smartphones?
There's clearly the old cannibalisation conundrum at work here. In summary: "But if we offer WiFi people won't use mobile data and we'll lose revenue." To which the reply: "But they're not using mobile data when abroad anyway, so you're probably not losing anything except possible WiFi roaming revenue."
Of course the calculation is a tad more complicated than that. For one thing pushing WiFi in your telco roaming partner's territory invites all sorts of retaliatory responses, so not wanting to upset the neighbours must be a factor. But sooner or later the sums (and the customers) tell their own story and according to WiFi and 'telcom monetisation specialist' MACH, the tipping point has been reached. The cunning calculation is that telcos should offer roaming WiFi it says.
MACH has conducted a survey in the UK through YouGov which, it claims, shows that there's a clear revenue advantage for telcos to push roaming WiFi. It found that over half (58 per cent) of smartphone/tablet roamers do not use 3G data services while abroad, fearing 'bill shock' when they got back home.
On the other hand, 68 per cent would like transparent WiFi services at about the same cost from their operator, with the item appearing on the bill without fuss. If available they'd take that in preference to using an alternative provider.
Lokdeep Singh, Chief Technology Officer, MACH, points out that the survey results offer a clear opportunity for operators. "When roaming subscribers move to Wi-Fi, the operator effectively loses sight of them and therefore misses out on the ability to sell further services... Operators should look today at how they can successfully market new Wi-Fi offerings, both to gain market share of existing Wi-Fi users, and to address the untapped market of smartphone and tablet owners who are currently not using data services when roaming.”
For users (at least those who notice these things) WiFi is not a desperation measure but a rational choice when on the move.
When asked why they prefer it abroad, 35 per cent cited their wish to avoid bill shock as their prime motivator; 33 percent claimed cost benefits and 19 per cent stated that they prefer Wi-Fi because it is faster than 3G for data downloads.
“These are interesting results," says Singh. "If operators can provide a seamless experience for the user to log onto Wi-Fi and also integrate billing into their overall service capability, then their addressable market can be significantly expanded."
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