European regulators begin Roaming Regulation assessment

Starting this week, European operators are looking at the development of a coherent strategy to prepare for the arrival of roaming MVNOs in 2014. From May 14 to June 3, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) is holding a public consultation on draft guidelines in relation to regulated retail roaming services.

The latest set of regulation proposals, if implemented, will bring fundamental change to the structure of the European roaming market, requiring European mobile network operators to open their networks to providers of voice and data roaming services acting as MVNOs, from July 2014.

The new Roaming Regulation includes a provision to allow retail customers to request roaming services from a separate roaming provider than the one providing their domestic mobile services – a process known as decoupling. In particular, domestic providers are required to enable their customers to access regulated voice, SMS and data roaming services provided as a bundle from any alternative roaming provider. Domestic and alternative roaming providers must also allow their retail customers to access local data roaming services provided directly on a visited network – known as decoupling in the visited country.

Two types of decoupling models are considered in the regulation. For the first type of decoupling, where regulated voice, SMS and data roaming services are provided as a bundle, the Single-IMSI solution has been chosen. Under the Single-IMSI proposal the separate sale of roaming services is technically still provided by the domestic provider , which serves as the host mobile network operator to the alternative roaming provider. The separate sale of roaming services is provided on a wholesale basis to the alternative roaming provider, which resells the services to the roaming customer at the retail level. This basic option of resale of retail roaming services does not allow the alternative roaming provider to control which visited networks are to be used in preference to others.

For the second type of decoupling – data roaming services provided directly on a visited network – the basic requirements are the implementation and activation of the processing of data roaming traffic in the visited network and the requirement not to prevent the manual or automatic selection of a visited network.

Paul Lambert, Senior Analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, said that based on past experience with roaming-regulation proposals, operators should expect the roaming market to change as of July 2014 in the ways described.

But he notes that although the proposals lay the foundation for an intensifying of competition in the European roaming market, there is at present little appetite – if any – among telecoms and non-telecoms firms to enter the market as roaming MVNOs. “Although this is likely to change as July 2014 nears – presuming the regulation in its current form comes into effect – European operators’ roaming revenues don’t look set to be eroded by new roaming MVNOs until 2015 at the earliest,” he said.

The main strategic choice operators face is whether to actively recruit roaming MVNOs for voice and/or data services, or simply comply with the bare-minimum requirements of the regulation.

“Operators have to decide if they see a benefit in extending their reach into other European markets by setting up their own roaming MVNOs.
“Given the strong likelihood that the regulation will come into effect in its current form, operators should seriously consider whether their roaming interests will be best served by actively pursuing agreements with the companies that would most benefit from entering the European roaming market as MVNOs,” Lambert added.

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