Mobile operators worldwide are missing out on over $17 billion annually in roaming rates from subscribers who seek alternative means of getting mobile data while overseas, according to new industry data released on Monday.
Mobile roamers spent billions of dollars on hotel WiFi, other means of WiFi access and the purchase of local SIM cards in 2012, according to Syniverse.
The headline figure could be misleading: operators will not be able to capture all of that revenue and in some cases they are already generating some revenues from those alternative roaming methods, local SIM cards being a prime example. But nonetheless Syniverse notes that there is a significant incremental revenue opportunity for telcos who take steps to retain their home customers while they are roaming.
"Maybe not all of this is really addressable. Maybe just a percentage of it is...[but] there's revenue to be had here," Mary Clark, senior vice president of roaming at Syniverse, told Total Telecom. Indeed, even a few percentage points of incremental revenue could be highly valuable to mobile operators in the current climate.
Mobile network operators should use their own data coupled with real-time intelligence solutions – Syniverse provides the latter – "to help uncover that pocket of opportunity," Clark said.
Essentially, mobile operators have it in their power to offer more tailored solutions that will keep end-users roaming, rather than searching for alternatives. For example, the operator might know that a user travels to a certain location frequently and use that information to incentivise them to use their phone there.
"It is all about changing [customer] behaviour," said Clark, noting that operators need to persuade customers to "use [their] device in the exact same way as [they] do at home."
She predicts that the biggest opportunity for the telcos is with customers who purchase local operator SIM cards when travelling overseas. Users spent $4.8 billion this way last year.
Hotel WiFi use accounted for $8.7 billion of the $17 billion total, while users spent an additional $3.9 billion on other paid WiFi hotspots and $225 million on in-flight WiFi.