Ten Years of Innovation

Amit Daniel, VP Marketing at Starhome, looks at the evolution of Roaming over the past decade

Starhome Amit Daniel Think back to the 90s what mobile phone did you have? What could you do with it? Not that much! Local calls, SMS that was about it. Your mobile phone was only mobile so long as you used it within the coverage area of your home network. Handy at home, not much help when you had to travel abroad and needed to make a call.
Mobile networks in the 90s were in the early stages of development, and service capabilities were limited. The potential existed to build a global network for outbound roamers, but roaming Value Added Services (VAS) solutions were still in their infancy.
Lets take a look back at the major milestones and the evolution of mobile roaming to see how far weve come. 

1999-2002 – The Arrival of the Virtual Home Environment 
After the first successful roaming call was made in the early 90s, the race was on to sign and reach as many partner networks as possible, in order to extend coverage for potential roamers.
In 1999, the first Virtual Home Environment (VHE) solution made its debut in the roaming world. VHE allowed outbound roamers to access their VAS while roaming abroad using shortcode dialling applications and, later on, through call-correction applications.
These seamless applications provided roamers with simplified dialling, and satisfied the needs of 92% of users, who, at the time, said that a solution that would allow them to dial their voicemail box and access their VAS from abroad would be very useful. Welcome SMS solutions were introduced and enabled operators to promote their solutions and services to both inbound and outbound roamers.
The Vodafone Group launched the VHE with Starhome in 2001. The solution was a major breakthrough and allowed Vodafone to offer enhanced services to its users. Before VHE was launched, roamers access to services such as voicemail and customer care, was confusing, with dialling obstacles and mobile-phone related challenges. However, the arrival of VHE introduced a new dimension to the roaming experience. Roamers abroad were able to benefit from seamless access to the VAS they used at home wherever they travelled, all within the Vodafone footprint. Vodafone was the first global group to offer these services to its roaming customers and continues to use the VHE service across its global markets.
The ability of the Intelligent Call Assistant (ICA) to analyze and correct dialling mistakes made it an essential tool for optimizing operator revenues. Mobile One – Singapore, was one of the operators to reap the benefits of these new and innovative solutions, as its representative, Tiong-Heng Tan, said: ICA is able to correct more than 65% of the failed calls on a monthly basis, which otherwise would be lost. Revenue and traffic at Mobile One increased by 65 – 75%.
Feel at home while you roam solutions were received by many mobile operators with great enthusiasm and were widely acknowledged as the next big step in mobile roaming. These futuristic solutions led to further developments in the mobile market.

2003 – Steering the Roaming World
The meteoric rise in the number of roaming subscribers prompted mobile operators to take firm control over their roaming revenues and expenses. Operators entered into roaming agreements with partners in order to optimize their potential roaming revenues. However, an obstacle stood between a profitable and an unprofitable agreement operators did not have the means to steer outbound roamers to preferred roaming partners. Ensuing battles commenced as operators fought to gain control of outbound roamers.
The arrival of Steering of Roaming solutions was another major breakthrough. Intelligent Preferred Network (IPN) solutions enabled operators to steer their outbound roamers to preferred roaming partners according to their specific business, technical preferences and priorities. IPN became a valuable aid in roaming negotiation agreements. Developments to offer advanced technological techniques to combine Over-The-Air (OTA) and SS7 (Signaling System Number 7) solutions caused the IPN solution to snowball.
Initial feedback from operators was encouraging. The Telefonica group, one of the first operators to implement IPN, was more than impressed with the solutions capabilities Ms. Ivonne Lopez Pastor, from Telefonica Internacional: IPN widely surpassed the performance expectations we had anticipated. Revenue and traffic increased by 10 – 20% at Telefonica Internacional.
2006 The Shift from Flat to Innovative Pricing Offers
2006 saw the roaming market becoming more and more competitive. Flat and premium rate roaming tariffs were edging their way toward the archives of roaming history, as operators began to focus more closely on devising new and appealing packages for roamers. Sophisticated marketing packages and bundled pricing became a highly effective way for operators to increase revenue and set new market trends. These new packages led to an unprecedented rise in mobile roaming usage. The exorbitant fees charged by operators did not escape the watchful eye of the European Union, however, and it very quickly prompted an investigation.
The announcement from the European Commission to regulate roaming on public mobile networks for voice calls influenced many corners of the mobile market. It followed one of the fastest ever political agreements between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. Mobile operators were forced to offer new price packages, bundles, and special offers for vacation time and peak periods in order to comply with the regulation.
Operators were less than happy at the prospect of reducing their roaming revenues, and looked for solutions that would comply with the new EU regulations. Effective ways to implement damage control on their revenue was also a priority. Roaming tariff notification solutions gave subscribers up-to-date details on their roaming tariffs and allowed them to take control of their mobile roaming usage, as specified by the new EU regulations. Roaming tariff notification was twofold; it increased roaming usage and, in turn, provided compensation for the price reduction forced on operators.

2008-2009 – Actualize and Optimize

Following the fast Internet evolution, the mobile Internet became a new part of the mobile life style. Soaring operator revenues were being fuelled by roamers using sophisticated handsets such as BlackBerrys and iPhones, coupled with the increasing trend towards accessing social networks on the mobile. The ease of use for BlackBerry/iPhone and other high-end handsets resulted in roamers returning home to face outrageously high bills, and the term bill shock was born. 
Bill shock triggered another investigation by the European Union; this time the focus was to further control expenses while roaming, with a specific focus on data and voicemail. The new regulations affected the mobile operators in several ways, including controlling roamers usage; fierce operator pricing competition; and a ban on charges for voicemail deposits resulting from redundant international call legs, (aka tromboning.) Tromboning occurs when a roamers unanswered call is forwarded back to the home voicemail.
Bill shock prevention solutions were released that enabled subscribers to control and manage their data usage while abroad, and also supported complex rating tariffs. Voicemail tromboning solutions satisfied the new regulations by eliminating international tromboning while still maintaining full voicemail capability. Gateway Location Register (GLR) solutions hit the market as the next phase of steering of roaming. GLR solutions updated operators networks with intelligent capabilities to monitor, manage and reduce the amount of signalling messages sent via signalling providers, and therefore enabled the visited networks to maintain their inbound roamers on their networks.
Operators began to realize the potential benefits of investing in their prepaid subscribers, which for a long time was a critical yet neglected corner of the roaming market. However,
operators were not prepared to invest substantial sums of money in CAMEL (Customised Application for Mobile network Enhanced Logic) integration and agreements. Prepaid without CAMEL technology followed. Seamless prepaid without CAMEL allowed roaming for prepaid subscribers in any network with which the home network had a roaming agreement and did not require CAMEL technology.

The Future is Bright
The last 10 years has seen the roaming market jump in leaps and bounds, from basic mobile usage in a Home Public Mobile Network (HPMN) to global roaming in a VHE for both prepaid and postpaid subscribers. The implementation of effective and robust solutions that have answered a range of demands made on the roaming market has each left a unique footprint along the way. 
From recent discussions with operators and key industry analysts, future trends will lean toward dynamic interactive roaming marketing and relations management tools that will better target and offer roamers an improved roaming experience, while generating revenues for operators. 
Moreover, the continual evolution of the mobile market will lead to new needs and requirements for operators and subscribers. A glimpse into the future sees tailored solutions for roaming mobile payments, machine-to-machine and Mobile TV.
The challenge to compete with the past will be measured by the achievements in the future. It leads us to wonder what we will see when we look back at roaming in another 10 years time.