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Making borderless mobility a reality

February 24, 2016

Mick Higgins   

Blog contributor

When you travel to a new country, does it feel like you’re taking your home mobile service with you? For most travelers, mobile services change when they reach the border or the edge of their home network coverage. The borders are clear and you can see the quality of your mobile service change. You are still using mobile services, but they are not quite like your home service. It shouldn’t be that way.

Today, travelers use a range of mobile options when they are in foreign countries. They can roam and incur roaming charges with no guarantees around quality or cost. They might use Wi-Fi and VoIP services that are inexpensive inconvenient and sparse. Local SIM cards can be acquired, as can a range of international roaming SIM cards, but none of these options deliver the home mobile service experience.

Mobile communications should be borderless and steps need to be taken to make quality of service and price predictable for travelers. Further consistency for roamers is also required in terms of range and type of services, particularly data services. For example, apps such as Google Maps and Citymapper, which can be used in multiple countries to navigate around unfamiliar areas, should be consistent in terms of price and user experience.

Mobile services don’t travel well
With the arrival of LTE services, another complication might be that a traveler is subscribed to an LTE-based service at home, but cannot access an LTE network when travelling. This issue is pushed back onto the roamer rather than managed by the mobile network operator (MNO). The MNO that can solve these challenges for their subscribers will be able to differentiate its service and offer a truly borderless mobile experience.

Conventional approaches to data roaming are inefficient, causing unpredictable quality and often high costs. The approach that is used today for most data roaming services is to route all requests back to the home operator network and then serve content back to the visited network.

This home routed approach is outdated for today’s rapidly growing data roaming volumes. Also GRX home routing (GPRS roaming) does not scale for higher traffic volumes resulting in a poor quality of service for subscribers. Latency is introduced through a combination of long-distance backhaul, potentially multiple transit parties and GRX bottlenecks.

Curing mobile travel sickness
One way to solve these problems is to use 3GPP Local Breakout (LBO). This option solves the home routing issue, but means the home operator loses visibility and flexibility over subscriber data roaming activity and policy enforcement.

An alternative is to break-out data in-region. This approach delivers internet access that is closer to the roamers’ current location, while still maintaining home operator visibility and policy control. This approach uses globally redundant IPX connected and managed GGSN (Gateway GPRS Support Node) sites located in-region, to deliver a combination of home user experience with faster mobile broadband services. Home operators also maintain control over policy management and enforcement.

This approach delivers an improved user experience while driving wholesale roaming efficiency within the MNO’s operation. MNOs can offer a borderless service that will improve customer retention, while subscribers will be more likely to use roaming services as their roaming service is consistent with their home service.

Borderless mobility can be a reality. MNOs need to assess the options and take action. The first MNO to achieve a truly borderless roaming experience will reap the rewards of improved subscriber loyalty and potentially attract users away from competitors. Now, that’s a prize worth fighting for.

Read my previous post Can Big Data transform mobile roaming? and in the meantime, leave a comment below.