4G, WiFi and Roaming – Three Things That Should All Be ‘Free’?

Gary Barton

Gary Barton

Summary Bullets:

  • Premiums for mobile roaming and 4G will prevent business users from taking full advantage of other paid-for services, such as hosted applications and remote access services.
  • Business customers should begin to demand voice over WiFi as a standard part of their mobility solutions.

In a recent statement from Neelie Kroes, the vice president for the digital agenda in the European Commission, she spoke of her “dream” to see a “true, integrated single market.”  Kroes went on to add that “in such a market, there is no roaming.”  The fine details are a long way from being agreed upon, but this statement is a clear indication that the EU intends to go beyond capping mobile roaming fees within the EU and actually prohibit them altogether.  The devil is always in the details with such legislation and business customers will undoubtedly hold suspicions that they will end up paying for roaming one way or another.  There is no such thing as a free lunch and we all appreciate that MNOs have to make a profit.  Vodafone UK, for example, has announced that it is investing GBP 900 million in rolling out 4G and upgrading backhaul and network infrastructure to cope with the rollout.  As this is the investment required for only one European country, the task of convincing operators that it is in their interest not to set too high a price for 4G, and similarly roaming, might seem daunting.

However, Vodafone’s own marketing also speaks of its strategy of delivering ‘converged’ services that ‘integrate’ fixed and mobile.  The word ‘integration’ is the key.  A mobile tariff that sets punitive charges for mobile voice, data and/or SMS usage is not a business-class solution in 2013, because it makes users afraid to make the most of their smartphone’s potential.  Similarly, business customers should be prepared to ask mobile operators what incentive an enterprise has for adopting 4G.  If the answer is to make smartphones and tablets more able to take advantage of remote access services and cloud-based applications (as well as watching cat videos on YouTube), then these are services for which businesses will pay extra.  Businesses therefore should be prepared to say to mobile operators that, as 4G is a means of increasing their overall mobility services spend, so 4G connectivity itself should not come at too costly a premium.  Free WiFi is also an important part of the same integrated connectivity puzzle.  Voice-over-WiFi applications are not new, but adoption is patchy.  WiFi is especially important as roaming outside the EU is not subject to the same regulation and therefore tends to be significantly more expensive for both voice and data.  Voice over WiFi therefore offers businesses advantages even when/if roaming within the EU is ended.  For the MNOs, use of WiFi also offers a way of avoiding the payment of termination charges from other mobile providers.  In addition, businesses will continue to pay for voice over WiFi if it is still less expensive than pure mobile voice.  On the data side, the advantages of pushing data usage away from the mobile network (i.e., offload for congested networks) are self-evident.  An integrated solution in 2013 should include fixed services, 4G, WiFi and the ability to roam free.  Businesses cannot expect premium services to be entirely without cost, but it is fair for businesses to play hardball when they are paying for multiple mobile connectivity services and using those same connectivity services to increase their overall ICT spend.

About Gary Barton
As an analyst on the Current Analysis Business Network and IT Services team, Gary covers Business Telecoms Services for the UK and Ireland, with a particular interest in SME and public sector services. Gary’s responsibilities include updating and maintaining Current Analysis’s competitor assessments for the major telecoms companies operating in the UK and on a Pan-European basis.

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