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Mobile roaming – does customer service matter to the mobile operators?

Since the ACCC indicated that it is again opening up its investigation into mobile roaming there has been a great deal of noise from the various telco players regarding the pros and cons of mobile roaming. However very little attention has been given to the more subtle underlying issues.

While most the operators involved in the debate have basically been talking about the sledgehammer solution – all-out mobile roaming – a more sophisticated approach would be to analyse where and what the problems are.

And even the average city slicker travelling a short way out of the metro areas will have noticed the problems that a lack of mobile roaming creates. Even on the edge of cities and towns you rapidly see a decrease in mobile coverage and there will be plenty of occasions where coverage to the network that you have a subscription to drops out, with coverage most likely being available through other networks.

Strangely enough, overseas visitors don’t have these problems as most of them can – often unknown to them – roam between the various networks while travelling through the country.

The other category that needs mobile roaming are people living in smaller communities which often only have one mobile network option available to them.

Now if you add all of this up we are only talking about a relatively small problem that needs to be addressed by the ACCC investigation. The telcos already seem to have been able to provide mobile roaming for overseas visitors, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to also work out something for their Australian customers. Unfortunately, while customer service should be the main reason for the mobile operators to work something out between themselves, it looks as though the heavy hand of the regulator is needed to provide a level of customer services that is needed in a developed country such as Australia.

It should be unacceptable for somebody to die in a car accident because they had the wrong mobile service provider at that time and in that place; or, perhaps less dramatically, for people in areas with single provider coverage to be inconvenienced for such a reason. It should be unacceptable that people in regional areas need two or three different mobile subscriptions depending on the operators available in the towns around them.

These people are not asking for a charity. The players are well-versed in operating wholesale services and the end-users are still paying normally for the use of their mobile phone, so there would not be a financial loss to them by providing such a roaming service. In general, mobile roaming would mean more revenue, as users can use their mobile phone more frequently.

All of the mobile network operations are now based on software systems and adjusting their systems to allow for the abovementioned adjustments in regional Australia is technically possible and, once again, can be achieved at relatively low cost to the operators.

So, could we please fine-tune the mobile roaming debate to address these customer service issues rather than making the problem look bigger than Ben Hur?

Paul Budde