Saturday, 21 June 2014

Mobile roaming

There are a couple of interesting news items of late, which talk of mobile roaming charges.

One is MEPs vote to scrap mobile roaming fees in Europe which basically says you would pay the same for calls/data/etc when roaming within the EU as you do at home. Another is 'National roaming' plan to tackle mobile phone blackspots which calls for UK inter-operator roaming.

These both have some interesting consequences.

Firstly, if the cost of using a phone on your home network really does end up the same as roaming for normal phone contracts, then the huge advantages that foreign visitors already get by being able to use any UK network becomes even more crazy. It means it will be better to deliberately get a mobile on another EU countries network even if you only ever use it in the UK - it will give exactly what the second article talks about, which is being able to use any UK operator on your phone. In fact it would be better as there would be no need to force operators to do that (already done by roaming agreements) and it would not just be in "rural areas" where coverage is poor, but everywhere.

One of the things that concerns me is how it may affect the services A&A offer, as we now do SIMs, and from next month expect to have roaming SIMs as well.

We are expecting that out cost prices for roaming and non roaming will be different, so I do have to wonder how the legislation will be drafted.

Our prices are simple, for calls on O2 in the UK is is 2p/minute for the mobile leg, and we expect roaming costs to be simple too, the same price for all EU roaming, but a higher price than 2p/min.

If we are actually forced to make roaming the same price as non roaming that means we will be forced to increase the cost of non roaming, which is crazy. Hopefully the way we do things will fall outside the rules by some means and we won't be forced to increase prices.

Of course we have even more complexity as to what is and is not roaming as our roaming SIMs can either have "O2 UK" as their "home network" or switch to "Vodafone NL" as their "home network" if no O2 coverage (or on a menu), so we have cases of a UK user "roaming" to a UK network on a SIM they buy from a UK company, but only some of the time. The calls/text/data costs depend on which setting the SIM is using at the time.

I wonder if I need to have a chat with OFCOM. There is also stuff about 0800 being free from mobiles some time soon, and that may be an issue too as we don't charge differently for any number dialled. The mobile leg is to get you to your choice of SIP gateway, and if that allows "normal calls" then an 0800 would work but we'd still charge for that mobile leg.

I do hope these rules are not going to stifle innovation. I think we have a really cool service with SIP2SIM and it would be a shame if regulations got in the way.

12 comments:

  1. It's fairly typical myopic legislation as far as I can see: they think a rule "roaming prices must be the same as domestic" means "roaming prices must come down", without thinking about the reverse. I would hope the domestic roaming might be done reciprocally rather than expensively, but wouldn't bet on it.

    I seem to recall at least one UK mobile company giving cheaper calls from your home location - if that's still available, will it be banned? Or will we get an absurd situation like Scottish university tuition fees, where they charge more for someone from London than from Lisbon: cheaper calls from my own street and from Rome than from work 20 miles away?

    I would suspect you could get out of the 0800 bit by saying it's a SIP call from my handset to my Asterisk server: you don't even *know* the number I dialled, let alone care, for billing purposes (I might be using 0 for an internal prefix, so '0800' on my sip2sim line is actually extension number 800 on my own system - or a genuine 0800 number would actually be '90800...' - or indeed '00800', '20800'...)

    If I forward my home number to an 0800 one, then you phone me at home, you're making and paying for a call to a regular landline, even though it ends up reaching an 0800: the same should apply to a call from a mobile to an Asterisk server, whether that server forwards the call on to an 0800 number or not. I'd like to think even Ofcom could grasp that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's good legislation, IMO. The end objective is "pricing to use your phone should be the same throughout the EU"; instead of trying to legislate a mechanism that is expected to lead there eventually, they've legislated the end objective, and they're going to let the market work out the best way to get there. Maybe that means more expensive calls for everyone; maybe it means less profit for the mobile operators.

      And cheaper calls for a specific location is still permitted, as long as the location isn't defined in such a way as to try and bypass the rule that you don't pay more for using a roaming network. So, a discount for (say) using your phone within 40km of the billing address is legit, as is a discount for using your phone while within range of a femtocell you provide backhaul for. What wouldn't be allowed is (say) cheaper calls from within the UK only.

      Delete
  2. Not convinced UK roaming is a great idea, say you're on a train and you go through a temporary blackspot (tunnel etc), at which point your phone starts searching for another networks and in the process ends up taking much longer than it would have to reestablish a signal, or maybe you get bounced onto a network that has worse overall coverage for the rest of your journey. Plus if your IP address keeps changing it has the potential to break invalidate sessions on many websites. Informed users can turn it off, but it's just going to complicate things for ordinary people.

    Also worried about (a) lack of competition (b) long term shortage of capacity. Several telcos are trying to push people towards "wi-fi calling" in poor coverage areas (at their own expense of course) – is everyone only interested in 4G masts in major centres now?

    By the way, what precisely is the reason you have to charge 2p+VAT / MB for data - can you not buy it in gigabytes at discount, or will o2 etc. only sell it to you at that rate / they make you pay per SIM? And if so is there a legal argument that it's anti-competitive?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mobile data is still quite expensive. The only reason you can get it in bundles is because so many people don't use their allowance. Wholesale price is per usage regardless and still quite expensive.

      Delete
    2. The handset will actually associate with alternative networks regardless, even now - except it's limited to emergency calls only at present. That's why in a blackspot for your own network, you will sometimes notice handsets displaying a message like "112 only": they've roamed to a network other than your own, on which you can only make emergency calls.

      Remember, even when you have a good signal from your current base station, the handset will be watching out for alternatives as well: that's how it hands off smoothly between towers as you move around.

      Even when roaming you'll be connected back to the same APN, so I suspect would appear to be on the same IP address whether you reach it via O2 or EE - just like your phone number stays with you when roaming. (RevK, is there going to be an A&A APN to connect to rather than the Chameleon one at some point?)

      Delete
    3. Yes, the mobiledata APN should get to us soon. I am just working out details of how we handle that as we need to improve the way we handle the IP allocation for SIMs

      Delete
    4. "Not convinced UK roaming is a great idea, say you're on a train and you go through a temporary blackspot (tunnel etc), at which point your phone starts searching for another networks and in the process ends up taking much longer than it would have to reestablish a signal, (etc)"

      Turn off Roaming on your handset. Problem as you see it, solved.

      "or maybe you get bounced onto a network that has worse overall coverage for the rest of your journey."

      Yes possibly, but turn roaming off.

      "Plus if your IP address keeps changing it has the potential to break invalidate sessions on many websites."

      it shouldn't do - data is tunnelled back to your home provider anyhow. When you're in (say) France on SFR, I still get a Three UK IP/session.

      "Informed users can turn it off, but it's just going to complicate things for ordinary people."

      ...or give them something instead of nothing. I haven't checked but I believe you can make it select home networks as a preference and I suspect the operator can "home roaming" disabled per subscriber if they wished anyhow to solve it (could be opt-in not opt-out)

      "Also worried about (a) lack of competition (b) long term shortage of capacity. Several telcos are trying to push people towards "wi-fi calling" in poor coverage areas (at their own expense of course) – is everyone only interested in 4G masts in major centres now?"

      I believe that it's in most networks interests to deploy 4G more anyhow (it's much more efficient spectrum)

      Delete
  3. Rather than buy from AAISP, could one instead buy a sim from AAISP (Ire) or whatever country you get the cheapest price from and get national roaming?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think you overestimate the advantage roamers will have, simply because quite a few of the phone companies operate or have partner networks Europe wide anyway. Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile brand being a good example of this. What I suspect will happen is that they'll just limit people to roaming to the networks they own where they have operations in a country and partners where they don't, thus minimising costs to themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You could possibly get away with it by saying 0800 calls *are* free but the SIP2SIM service itself carries a charge (which is not related to the number called).

    OTOH after seeing the trouble you had with 07 numbers I'm not convinced Ofcom are open to reasonable arguments..

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think the EU roaming idea is a disaster waiting to happen, Ofcom often get caught out with policies that have obvious loopholes. The obvious one here is that UK prices will rise to subsidise the cheaper EU call, so the two will meet somewhere in the middle, no way will mobile companies just take the full hit, they will claw the money back.

    ReplyDelete