In recent years we have seen networks and devices evolve to offer customers faster and more reliable data services than ever before. Customers have become accustomed to accessing their photos, playing games and watching videos and much more from their smartphones in their home markets. Despite this, when it comes to international roaming, only a small proportion of consumers are enjoying these services when they are abroad.
As of June 2012, only 30 per cent of our customer base is currently using data when roaming (almost 80 per cent of consumers are using data domestically) – although this is a 60 per cent annual increase in data roaming services. This market is growing rapidly, demonstrating the appetite for such services.
The operator opportunity to grow the international data roaming market and deliver affordable data roaming services so that more of their customers’ can enjoy these services is clear. To unlock this potential however, operators need to tackle the barriers – real and perceived head-on and focus on continual improvement of the customer experience – making it clear, affordable and easy. Innovation, therefore has never been more important.
However, convincing customers that using data services abroad is affordable is one of the biggest obstacles operators face, despite the reality that prices have decreased by 50 per cent in our own experience in the past year due to a combination of innovation and regulation. We believe that there are further opportunities for the industry to be bold and creative to overcome this challenge.
As one of the first operators to offer roaming bundles back in 2009, Orange has placed innovation at the heart of its roaming offers. We have championed a segmented approach that meets the needs of a variety of usage patterns from the occasional to the frequent roamer and the business user. Starting out with voice roaming bundles, over the years we have extended these to data as the market evolved and this year rolled out our ‘combined’ bundles across Europe, incorporating data, voice and text in one, simple tariff.
Whilst operators have a duty to continue to drive down the cost of accessing data when abroad as the market matures and we would expect innovation in pricing to continue, there is much scope for innovation in other areas.
There is no doubt that empowering the customer with information and knowledge about accessing data abroad most be a focus for all operators. This in itself provides great scope for innovation particularly in developing consumer-facing tools to educate them, demonstrate transparency and in turn, encourage greater usage.
To this end Orange recently re-vamped its Orange Travel website to act as a central hub for our customers across the world, enabling them to access information on Orange’s roaming services. It includes an animation targeted at consumers providing guidance on what to do before going abroad and what to do when they are abroad, including accessing wifi networks when available.
Earlier this year, Orange launched the ‘Orange Travel App’, which helps customers track their data usage whilst travelling anywhere in the world. Customers can easily monitor in real-time their data and SMS roaming traffic and can then compare this within the app to their local tariff plans to ensure that they are within their limits.
In both cases, the aim is to educate and empower our customers so that they are able to get the most out of their phones whilst travelling abroad. On one hand this encourages consumers to use roaming services, but on the other, it also helps removes some of the associated and perceived cost barriers. We believe that by implementing such schemes the industry can proactively demonstrate its leadership in overcoming these obstacles.
Orange believes that its innovation has had a direct impact on the growth in data usage abroad we’ve seen – an increase of 131% from 2009 to 2011. Overall, we have added over one million new roaming customers in 2011, bringing the total up to 25 million Orange Travel customers.
We are convinced that innovation in all areas will be key to operators’ success in untapping the potential in the market and will continue to be important when the the European Commission’s structural solution comes into force in 2014. From an operator’s point of view, we recognise the industry’s concerns around the proposed structural changes intended to pave the way for greater competition. Indeed having new players in an industry can be interesting and can bring new opportunities such as the case with the introduction of low-cost airlines 15 years ago.
However in an international roaming context, the business case for a new player is limited given that the roaming retail tariff will be at least halved by 2014, so the European Commission’s desired effect of delivering even greater competition may not be realised. For now though, the priority for existing operators should be to open opportunities by removing the real and perceived barriers by customers thereby regaining their trust.
For roaming to be successful, the industry must approach innovation beyond regulatory requirements to ensure that we have a sustainable, long-term roaming proposition for consumers.
The future is exciting for customers and operators alike if innovation in roaming continues to flourish. Data roaming in Europe has never been more affordable and as an industry, we have a duty to highlight and make this available to more customers than ever before.