Is voice roaming bad for business?

Is voice roaming bad for business? SIMs that can roam in country are a key part of Machine to Machine (M2M). For example, an O2 SIM that can also use EE and Vodafone if there happens to be no O2 available. This is very attractive- it can create a more robust mobile connection for that last over air 2 or 3km. It cuts down on survey costs and can make preparation for a large scale roll out much easier. Once the estate is out in the street then swap out becomes easier and billing and backhaul should be unified- lowering running costs.

One of those few occasions where you get better for less. So why not apply that to Voice?

The pull of being on network wherever you are is a big one. Despite all the arguments the Networks threw up against the Governments plans, they largely missed out the most important one; If access is available to all then there is no incentive to invest in the network. Everyone would simply buy the cheapest airtime they could find because once that network is swamped due to lack of investment, they could simply roam on to a network that wasn’t swamped. Government forced roaming would mean that there was no return on investment in network performance or capacity. It all would quickly be reduced to the lowest common denominator- a nationalised mobile network where price is the only factor and dissatisfaction is high.

Why then is in country roaming allowed in M2M?

First of all, it there are controls that are put in place to regulate roaming. At its crudest some roaming contracts are simply overseas SIMs brought into the country that can roam on all networks the same way your phone can when you go abroad. The danger here is that the original network may have a rule that unless the SIM returns ‘home’ after say three months then the SIM is disconnected. Even if it doesn’t, there has been a rise in the last year of the ‘roamed onto’ network recognising that a SIM has outstayed its welcome and refusing access after a period.

Even with full M2M Roaming SIMs there are still rules such as PLMNs for pointing connections onto preferred networks by the SIM. These can be got around by hardware configuration. But you also may experience “Steering” applied by the home network which will have an impact as it is outside of the control of the SIM, the hardware and the roaming network.

The other restriction is that the pricing structure supports low data usage – 256k to 2mb a month. Sometimes this is stretched to 100mb or in some cases 500mb per SIM per month. Gig roaming or bigger bundles are normally the province of Mobile Broadband tariffs with all the usual restrictions, chokes and filters that a fair usage policy brings.

Put all of these together and the controls are already in place so that no M2M SIM becomes too much of a burden on the host network. Making the most of those controls, making sure you don’t fall foul of them is something that Mobius has more experience of than anyone else in the UK- we supported a roll out of a full large scale Urban Traffic Management and Control system with Real Time Passenger Information all on roaming SIMs back in 2011. It meant that Dorset CC could cope with the 300,000 extra people coming in every day for the Olympics utilising any available capacity on all of the networks. The project never made the headlines because it all worked.

Voice would have a very different experience. 

Written by

Douglas Gilmour

Douglas formed Mobius in 2003 after twenty years’ experience in the Semiconductor industry. He was driven by the idea that airtime could be better and more secure.