Amit Daniel is VP Marketing & Business Development at Starhome ; she has also served as Starhome’s Director of Product Management. Ms Daniel previously worked at Golden Lines, an international telecommunication provider, where she served as a Director for International Carrier Relations for America, Asia and Western Europe; she has 15 years of experience in the Communications and Telecom industry. Amit Daniel holds a B.A. in Marketing and an MBA in International Marketing from Northumbria University in the UK
Latin America is the second largest prepaid market in the world. Although prepaid subscribers have basic roaming abilities, interoperability issues using diverse technologies do not allow seamless prepaid roaming and coverage is sporadic. The most common prepaid roaming solutions, CAMEL and USSD Call-Back, have complexities and drawbacks that limit their use. New solutions such as the Virtual Home Environment (VHE), gives prepaid subscribers just the same user interface, features, services and number dialing offered by their home service provider.
What took so long? Mobile operators in Latin America are managing the second largest prepaid market in the world according to Informa Telecoms & Media’s latest Global Mobile Roaming Report 2008-2013. However, despite Latin America’s significant prepaid market share, prepaid services offered to subscribers are still limited due to the varying network technology across the region. Although prepaid subscribers have basic roaming abilities, interoperability issues with various technology does not allow seamless prepaid roaming and coverage is often sporadic. Today, the development of prepaid technology means that operators do not have to invest substantial sums of money to optimize prepaid subscribers’ usage. New prepaid solutions that operate seamlessly alongside existing CAMEL (Customized Applications for Mobile network Enhanced Logic) and USSD Call-Back (a call-back dialing solution for mobile roamers that are not accepted by the local operator) are enabling operators to maximize the value of their prepaid roaming subscribers. Homeless prepaid Prepaid mobile services have been available since the mid-90s for the budget conscious subscriber, but since its launch, prepaid has lacked the seamless services given to subscribers who choose to go with the postpaid option. The case in point is that mobile operators who can provide their prepaid customers with easy access to simplified roaming, will not only add considerable value to their service offerings, but will help differentiate themselves from their competitors. The ability for prepaid seamless roaming will bring immediate monetary gain in an area that is currently restricted by many mobile operators. Traditionally, operators have focused their attention on marketing data services and roaming capabilities to the postpaid customers, as it was this segment of the market that generated greater ARPU and more roaming income. Prepaid subscribers were unable to roam and hardly generated new operator revenue. However, times change and the lifestyles and buying patterns of prepaid subscribers have evolved – fueled largely by the boom in tourism over recent years, along with roaming technology, which has made roaming capabilities a prerequisite for all mobile subscribers. Currently, prepaid subscribers are still not free to use their mobile phones universally wherever they travel, as they require authorization before they make a call based on their credit. As a result, they often have to resort to other ways to make and receive calls, such as buying local prepaid SIM cards in the visited countries, using call-back solutions, or using calling cards, which can result in lost revenue for both the home and visited mobile network operators. For these reasons, international roaming and interoperability are currently one of the hottest developing segments of the mobile prepaid market, a fact substantiated by a past GSMA BARG survey with operators worldwide that revealed that revealed prepaid roaming was the biggest roaming issue and the main focus for 37 per cent of operators. The key to the VHE door Two solutions currently available on the market are CAMEL and USSD callback. Both solutions, due to their complicated and fragmented technology, present key challenges for operators wishing to provide a cost-effective, user-friendly solution for their prepaid subscribers. CAMEL is a set of standards that allows real-time billing and is based on Intelligent Network standards. However, CAMEL is expensive to deploy and requires support both in the home network as well as the visited network. Operators must also enter into a CAMEL agreement to facilitate CAMEL-enabled services. The number of operators who have implemented CAMEL globally is approximately 55 – 60 per cent. However, due to the complexities in arranging CAMEL roaming agreements, only a few operators have signed these roaming agreements. Call-Back with USSD, the most popular solution for operators, sometimes deters customers due to its complexity. Users need to add a prefix string to all dialed numbers. This makes the process more complex - so the incidence of incomplete calls higher and revenues are lost. Given these options, what do operators need to maximize roaming revenues while ensuring a user-friendly experience for their customers? They require a solution that is usable and not complex for end-users; less costly than CAMEL; and independent of CAMEL implementation in the visited network. Thankfully for operators looking to maximize revenues today, there are now solutions available, which replace the need for either CAMEL or USSD Call- Back. New prepaid solutions are able to deliver a completely seamless service and extend the operator’s ability to offer IN services while roaming to all roamers in any network. New prepaid roaming solutions provide the home operators with all the necessary information and tools to control and charge their outbound prepaid roamers. The home mobile operator not only receives all the information needed to activate the call, but can be confident that prepaid customers will be charged efficiently for calls, preventing customers whose accounts are overdrawn from being connected. Furthermore, the progression of prepaid technology has, for the first time, seen solutions such as the Virtual Home Environment (VHE), become part of the prepaid subscribers’ plan. The Virtual Home Environment gives prepaid subscribers the same personal features, user interface and services offered by the home service provider, wherever the subscriber is roaming around the globe. Prepaid subscribers can dial numbers just as they would from home, since there is no change in user behavior, meaning, a USSD string is not required. Call completion rates improve, which in turn, improves customer experience, and ultimately reflects favorably on the operator. Until recently, the Virtual Home Environment was only available to postpaid subscribers. New and dynamic prepaid solutions provide the same revenue potential for prepaid, that postpaid offers. Call correction solutions, also previously unavailable with prepaid use, analyze and correct dialing mistakes to facilitate seamless call completion. Call correction solutions are integrated into the Virtual Home Environment and do not require any coordination with roaming partner networks. By extending these services to prepaid subscribers, operators increase revenue by improving the use of the VPMN (Visited Public Mobile Network) features and services. Operators are also able to generate additional revenues and visitor traffic while addressing roamers’ basic needs. So how does prepaid technology work? Prepaid technology enables prepaid roaming in any network by providing the home operator with all the necessary information and tools to control and charge their outbound prepaid roamers. A key feature of prepaid technology is the ability to detect outbound roamers when they register in a visited network. The combination of a Subscriber Identification Module (SIM)-based applet and intelligent platforms at the home operator, allows prepaid roaming. The service functions by using the SIM applet to control all calls made by the user. Once the call is controlled by the applet, the call is then routed to the home network, therefore allowing the intelligent platform at the home operator to interface with the prepaid Signal Control Point (SCP) system to charge the roamer’s account. The call can be disconnected in real-time once the credit limit is reached. The sky’s the limit Where cost may have once been the key factor in winning and retaining the loyalty of prepaid customers, in today’s saturated mobile market, it will be the additional services that will ultimately be decisive in ensuring brand loyalty and reducing churn. Industry experts are predicting that prepaid usage will likely continue to skyrocket, as it is expected that roaming minutes (including all segments) will increase in Latin America. GSM figures quote that 80-90 per cent of roaming traffic in Latin America will be from business related inbound subscribers. Existing solutions are no longer adequate for prepaid users especially not when prepaid constitutes such a huge, and burgeoning, market segment. One major cause of the current unsustainable situation is that mobile operators across the regions of Latin America each hold their own view about prepaid roaming and are cautious of the complications of implementing CAMEL agreements. Users are seeking a simple and seamless solution that can be implemented and used anywhere, without the need for costly and complex CAMEL technology and agreements. Mobile operators who are ready for this conceptual change will immediately boost revenues by tapping into the under-served, yet lucrative, prepaid market.