C19 Pandemic: Opportunity for the Roaming Community to come together

Covid19_Faizan Khan article_head image
 

“In tough times, we need to remind others and be reminded that we are not alone.”

This is especially true today as globally people, homes, communities, entire nations struggle to contain the outfall of the C-19 pandemic.  No outpost, no country, no business remains untouched by the human and economic catastrophe that the world is witnessing today. The governments, have started clamping down on the movement of people, restricting them from their regular activities, limiting the interaction - and rightly so, as no cost is bigger than the value of a human life.

But, as it has been said “necessity is the mother of invention” ; people have started finding new ways of doing their activities - from celebrating video birth days , doing home exercises, to concerts given to a global audience.

Businesses have adapted themselves accordingly – from the usage of video calling programs like WebEx, MS Teams to Zoom (all in overdrive mode – problem of plenty (of users)) to robust methods of engaging with customers through nonphysical contact methods. Jersey Telecom is leading the way in this regard not only towards its customers on the Channel Islands, but also its international customers globally. Does it then come as a surprise (to others) or am I the only one - we seem to be working harder and having more meetings / calls than usual. Perhaps an outcome of the fact that where we could just lean over to talk to a colleague is now translated into a call.

Mobile telecoms industry has also adapted reaching out to customers and ensuring continuity, service continuity is paramount because telecom services are a critical service during the pandemic. People seemed to be getting back to basics - an increase of voice calls is observed, as people resort to more traditional ways of calling.

However, there have been challenges in the mobile telecoms business. One of the most important reasons for the success of mobile telecoms is the ability for subscribers to always connected without any “respect” for geographical or national boundaries.  This is made possible through a cooperation agreement between 2 mobile operators commonly referred to as a roaming partnership between two roaming partners – roaming being the ability of a subscriber to use mobile telecom services outside its own network. A roaming partnership in its very basic form involves a wholesale deal between 2 mobile operators. The operational management of a roaming partnership is overseen through a set of principles, guidelines and rules decided by the operators themselves through oversight of the GSM Association (GSMA). Note the word partnership – to my (limited) knowledge there is no other example of any other industry that has created and religiously followed the notion of “partnership” right from its very inception. Even though in roaming partnerships, strictly speaking there can be just sellers or just buyers of the service, the underlying notion is always that of a partnership. This is because the success (or failure) of one is dependent on the success of the partner. The negotiation of the deal is tough with very often commitments of value (or traffic) being provided in exchange for a better commercial price deal. The commitments and the deal are mostly yearly, though sometimes they can extend to a multiyear arrangement. Given the C19 crisis, travel has come to a halt. Not just regular travel, but also key events including the likes of Grand Prix, business meetings like Mobile World Olympics, G20 summit, not to mention Olympics. The travel lockdown is expected to extend into the 3rd quarter of 2020 which means missing out the summer season which is one of the biggest drivers for the roaming business historically. This has caused major headaches between partners as commitments that have been made between roaming partners cannot be met, and budgets are thrown into disarray.

It is easy during such times for companies to fall trap into a short-term business gain. However, this is really the time for the industry to step up, to move away from a short-term mindset of making money because of a commitment and to really demonstrate that it is indeed a partnership in its truest form. This is the time for the industry to show its resiliency, its stubbornness in the face of this crisis and to not be bogged down by narrow short-term gains.

The good news is that operators have already started to demonstrate this – there are multiple instances that the industry has seen whereby operators have extended the commitment period to their partners, have agreed to track the growth of business jointly and take suitable remedial measures. The partnership must be maintained, because it is not the one year of C19 that defines a longstanding business relation.

However, there is also an opportunity for intuitions such as the GSMA to step up as well on behalf of the industry. Speaking for the wholesale roaming business, there are a number of actions that they can take, such as,

·      Undertake a formal advisory communication to operators – GSMA cannot oblige the operators to adhere to their advice, but any communication with a strong directive message from GSMA will have a major impact on the industry in finding a reasonable solution for the commitments problem. A clear, categorical communication will also aid those people in an organisation who are willing to find a solution but may not be supported by others in their organisation, who may not be involved with the roaming business.

·      GSMA could also reach out to the regional bodies (GSMA) + regulators and other ecosystem players with whom GSMA is in regular contact with and ask them to advise their members (operators) of the same.

·      GSMA could also share this with ITU as a UN body and ask ITU's assistance to reiterate the message.

·      Naming (exclude shaming) - Operators who demonstrate concrete actions to support partners and their commitments in these times should be lauded. Clearly, this will also serve as an incentive for organisations towards PR in the industry. Jersey Telecom have examples of such partners.

·      Picture says a thousand words, and a video is a thousand pictures - GSMA should send out a video on this to all the stakeholders for maximum impact.

However, the bottom line still remains that we have to work together as partners to overcome this crisis, and having been part of this industry for most of my professional career, I am confident, it will overcome it,

“Even the darkest hour has only 60 minutes – Morris Mandel”

Note: I am no writer, nor do I claim to be one.  The above is an amateurish attempt at sharing thoughts that have been swirling inside my head, nothing more than that. Clearly, any error or misrepresentation of facts is purely mine and is unintended. Keep Safe and keep Sane.

Filed Under: Permanent Roaming, roaming, Covid19