Are MNOs snobbing Wi-Fi roaming?


Most Mobile Operator Executives Use Wi-Fi Roaming, But Few Offer It to Their Customers. Why?

If your employer doesn’t care whether you rack up a big international roaming bill on cellular, would you still bother to use free Wi-Fi service? Accuris Networks sought to answer that question by surveying mobile operator executives who were attending a March 2016 GSMA roaming conference in Brussels. The answers are surprising. Some highlights:

  • Ninety percent used Wi-Fi while at the convention center. The service was complimentary, so charges weren’t a barrier to use. But they did either have to search for the WLAN’s SSID or accept their device’s pop-up prompt to select a network. Those are minor tasks, of course, but the fact that so many attendees were willing to do them rather than simply roaming on cellular shows the broad appeal of free connectivity.

It also suggests that these executives don’t see public Wi-Fi as inherently less secure to the point that they prefer cellular simply to avoid hacks. That’s good news for public Wi-Fi providers because it means security concerns are waning as a barrier to adoption. It’s equally good news for mobile operators that want to encourage their customers to use public Wi-Fi because it suggests that security concerns aren’t undermining their offload strategies.

  • Eighty-two percent used Wi-Fi because they wanted to avoid roaming charges. That’s ironic, partly because of the conference’s topic: roaming. Another 15 percent used Wi-Fi because their devices, such as laptops, didn’t have a cellular modem. Poor cellular coverage and performance barely registered as reasons for seeking out Wi-Fi.
  • More than half of respondents said the convention center’s Wi-Fi service was good or great. None described it as poor. One takeaway is that although fear of big roaming bills will motivate many people to seek out free or paid Wi-Fi services, those networks must provide good coverage and speed to convince those people to keep using them. For example, the speed should be comparable to what they could get from that location’s cellular networks because some people are willing to pay steep roaming charges rather than make do with a sluggish Wi-Fi service.
  • Session continuity and auto connect were the top two capabilities that respondents said they wish the convention center’s WLAN provided. Faster speed was a distant No. 3. Among the 10 percent of respondents who didn’t use the WLAN, frustration with getting connected was the primary reason.

All of these responses highlight why Wi-Fi providers and their roaming partners – including cellular operators – need to stay focused on making it easy for customers to get and stay connected. Details and analysis of Hotspot 2.0 and other roaming enablers are covered in our annual state of the Wi-Fi industry report.

  • One of the biggest surprises is that despite their positive experience, 48 percent of respondents were unsure about the role of Wi-Fi in mobile data roaming. One possible reason is because just 5 percent of respondents work for a mobile operator that currently offers Wi-Fi roaming as part of its service bundle. Conference attendees were from approximately 200 mobile operators, which is the vast majority of them. So from a statistical methodology standpoint, it’s reasonable to extrapolate from these responses to say that nearly half of mobile operators worldwide are still unsure about the role of Wi-Fi in mobile data roaming. That’s foolish because up to 70 percent of mobile customers don’t use their operator’s roaming offerings when traveling, and because according to a Wireless Broadband Alliance report produced by Maravedis-Rethink, adding Wi-Fi to a roaming offer can boost take rates by at least 10 percent. So by hesitating, mobile operators are losing a lot of revenue.

 And for WLAN owners and aggregators, this hesitancy is major barrier to striking more roaming deals with mobile operators and driving revenue from their customers. Accuris’ survey suggests that the opportunity is there: More than half of respondents said a limited Wi-Fi footprint is the biggest barrier to adding it to their mobile data bundles. So to be successful in seizing this opportunity, WLAN owners and aggregators need to expand their footprints and then educate mobile operators about how that enables them to add a compelling Wi-Fi component to their bundles. This aspect also highlights the aforementioned importance of making it easy for customers to get and stay connected – in this case, when switching between WLANs owned by different roaming partners.

Maravedis is the leading analyst firm covering Wi-Fi. If you need market research on Wi-Fi or would like to produce unique content as part of your content marketing strategy, contact us today. 

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).


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