Surviving the roaming Big Bang

By Isabelle Paradis
November 2017
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Written in collaboration with Telefonica International Wholesale Services


The long-awaited event is finally upon us – the roaming Big Bang, or what is better known as the introduction of roam-like-home in Europe. We have been talking about it for years and it has finally become a reality. As is the case with the primal event that created our universe, the roaming Big Bang in my view will be the start of a new and prolific era for mobile operators in Europe, if they are not afraid to be bold and they play their cards right.

Yes, this new reality is full of challenges and pitfalls, but at the end of the day, the ones that dare to take the necessary steps to monetize this new opportunity will come out of this event with a set of customers that finally receive the service they have been craving since the introduction of mobile roaming.

But before this happens, mobile operators will have to tackle 3 key challenges:

Potential significant loss in roaming revenue
The first obvious challenge will be for European mobile operators to fill the gap generated by the decline in roaming revenue. Mobile operators are forecasting a loss of between 1 and 3 per cent in earnings. Another number flying around stipulates that European telecom groups could lose roughly €7billion in revenue by 2020. These are some staggering numbers to say the least and not really what operators want to deal with, considering that 5G is around the corner and will require considerable investment.

Explosion of roaming traffic
The other side of the roam-like-home coin is the potential explosion of voice and data roaming traffic. That is a definite plus, which could enable operators to make up for the loss of per minute or per Mbyte revenue. However it also comes with a number of downsides for operators who are not equipped to support and transport this sudden spike in traffic.

Not only will the number of European silent roamers decline, from an estimated 40% in 2016 to a forecasted 15% in 2020, but more importantly, the usage per roamer will increase to mirror home habits. Thus, based on our estimates, European voice roaming traffic could grow by as much as 2 billion minutes in 2017, while the data roaming traffic is forecasted to double to reach 206 Pbytes. This will have a significant impact on both international and national mobile networks, to the possible detriment of the quality of experience of mobile users.

Considering that with the initial introduction of VoLTE roaming, all traffic will return to the home network before making its way to its final destination, this increase could have a significant impact on mobile operators and IPX networks.

Unmet customer expectations and VoLTE complexity
With the promise of roam-like-home type pricing models comes the expectation of receiving the same quality of experience, which also means access at all time. This may become increasingly difficult to offer, as the traffic soars on networks that are not built to support it.

Additionally, the introduction of VoLTE in a growing number of markets in Europe adds a level of complexity to the equation. VoLTE roaming’s operational and business models are not yet agreed upon between the different mobile operators and their IPX providers and is a complex affair. The ultimate VoLTE roaming architecture, which is called local break-out, enables the home network to control the call routing, hence its quality.

Nevertheless, this roaming architecture requires for full working IMS structures in each network to be implemented and interconnected and this has led to a delay in rolling out VoLTE roaming. A simpler workaround, albeit with some downsides, has been implemented, called S8HR, which makes use of the LTE data roaming channels back to the home network and attaches the handset to that network as though it was simply connected in the home country.

Most probably a multitude of VoLTE roaming scenarios will run in parallel for some time to come, which will translate into a pretty complex ecosystem. Consequently, the use of IPX providers who support multiple roaming scenarios will be vital for the rapid deployment of VoLTE roaming on a global scale.


This new roaming reality therefore adds a layer of complexity to mobile operators’ daily operation and forces them to move up a notch when it comes to the following requirements:

Cost-efficiency: With reduced revenue and margins comes the need for cost efficiency in terms of network, operations and traffic routing. This can be achieved through virtualization and the use of solutions in the cloud, with pay as you go types of business models.

Flexibility: With rapidly shifting roaming traffic patterns comes the need for flexibility and the ability to quickly activate capacity, all in a very efficient way. Add to this the capability to support multiple technologies, 3G, 4G and WiFi, as well as evolving business models, per minute or per capacity for example. These are necessary steps to ensure the highest quality of experience possible.

Real-time intelligence: We now live in a world where everything is expected now, in real-time, from everywhere and on any device. We also expect a hyper-personalized self-controlled communication experience at all times, at home or abroad.

To deliver this type of always-on high quality of experience, operators must have transparency and real-time information on their customers’ activities, which is a great challenge when roaming. Therefore, real-time intelligence roaming tools are now a crucial part of an operator’s weaponry to provide a true roam-like-home level of customer experience.


IPX providers, by nature, are perfectly positioned to support the different features, tools and capabilities to help mobile operators deliver a true high quality roam-like-home 360º experience. Principally, they offer the following 4 key components to a high quality, efficient roaming service:

Scalable network: Most of the major IPX providers have rapidly scalable, high quality networks already connected to most mobile operators in Europe. This therefore enables them, through their roaming hub, to support exponential traffic spikes, while maintaining high quality and security, almost from day one.

As a result, this reduces the risk of degrading the quality that comes with congested networks, while offering a pay as you go solution.
Simplified complexity: They are also experts at bridging different types of network, technology and players and are therefore able to simplify the complexity that currently exists in seamlessly linking 3G, 4G and WiFi technologies in a roaming environment. Many are also ready to support multiple types of VoLTE roaming architectures and business models.

Big data and deep packet inspection: As a central piece to the roaming equation, many IPX providers have the capability for deep packet inspection, which delivers the transparency and roamer information required to deliver real-time intelligence on the activity profile of customers when abroad, and to provide incremental ways to monetize that information.

Business model flexibility: Finally, they also have the capability to support varying business models, from per minute to capacity type models for voice, something that may become an important part of mobile operators’ roaming success in the near future. Innovative business models will be a key element that will enable mobile operators to truly compete with market disruptors and find new ways to monetize their customers, above and beyond the per minute charge.


Telefonica is one of these key IPX providers who have all the tools to support the next generation of roaming experience.

Firstly, they are equipped to provide Mobile Business Intelligence & Analytics, with a service based on probes deployed all over Telefonica’s network, which offers real time monitoring and reporting of Signalling (SCCP and LTE) and IP data. They also offer a Steering of Roaming service which facilitates the registration of roamers in networks where operators have a preference based on criteria of quality and cost.

When it comes to offering flexibility and maintaining high quality, Telefonica’s IPX platform offers Data Optimization services which allow mobile operators to seamlessly react to the increasing demands. It also enables the optimization of roamers’ data usage, by the same way, reducing the inter-operator cost, while guaranteeing quality of experience. It therefore improves the efficiency of mobile users’ bandwidth utilization, allowing operators to maximize revenues and increase margins.

Finally, their Real-Time Subscribers Engagement allows MNOs to engage with their end users while roaming, providing them with the most relevant offers in real-time, through multiple channels, and enabling them to tailor their experience at any time.

These are all tools which are now central to the success of European mobile operators who are serious about offering a true roam-like-home experience and surviving the roaming Big Bang.

Isabelle Paradis
President - HOT TELECOM

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