Roaming in Beijing

The 2008 Olympics will see network operators offering a variety of mobile services.

Beijing 2008 offers mobile operators a massive opportunity. With some thought, they can greatly increase revenues from both inbound and outbound roamers. After all, the 2004 Games in Athens hosted five million roamers, who made 16 million calls and sent 47 million SMS. The four local networks alone each received 131,250,000 minutes over the 17-day event. Just think of the potential surrounding this year's event; that's a lot of roaming minutes and a lot of additional revenue! But exactly how can the home networks make the most of this potential? 

Event roamers are a segmented, captive market that all share a common interest, in this case the Olympics. All the roamers will have common needs, such as finding their way around and enjoying the event. In addition, they will all be heading to Beijing for a predetermined period of time. This presents operators with the perfect opportunity to offer tailored services that will meet all the roamers' needs, increase their satisfaction and, therefore, generate more revenue. All it takes for operators to achieve this is a few unique SMS based solutions that will provide real value to Olympics roamers.

Customer satisfaction

Many travellers to the Olympics may be new to roaming and therefore unaware of the costs of voice and data usage when abroad. These roamers may return home after the event to find huge bills and will naturally complain to their operator; most customer care centres have experienced such complaints from subscribers in the past.

Other roamers may be reluctant to use their mobile phones when abroad due to the perceived high cost associated with international roaming. The large number of outbound roamers travelling to Beijing will only amplify the situation, especially since most operators do not actively promote the high international tariffs. If operators make this information readily available, or if special rates and promotions are offered, many of these roamers would be encouraged to use voice and data services, and subscriber dissatisfaction would be avoided.

SMS solutions are available that will allow operators to provide their outbound roamers with tariff information for voice and data. They could also let roamers know whether there is a lower cost 'visited' network and how to manually register to that network. In addition to providing awareness, giving more control to roamers will encourage usage, such as letting roamers set a cap on their expenses and notifying them when this level is reached. 

Touch down

Keeping in touch with outbound roamers and offering assistance is a sure way to improve customer satisfaction. When roamers first arrive, home network operators can send a customised outbound SMS, welcoming them to Beijing and the Olympics, letting them know they can still use their short codes and access their voicemail as they do at home. In addition, operators can provide these roamers with special data and voice services specifically designed for the event. For instance, operators can offer a short code number to contact the Olympics ticket office and another for a local taxi firm. This again puts mobile operators in a strong differentiated position while offering roamers a useful service.

Unless they speak fluent Chinese, roamers will find an integrated travel content and roaming assistant mobile portal very helpful. The service, which can be offered by either visited or home network operators can be tailored to roamers' profiles, and adapted to their specific situation, including home origin and current location. Therefore, for Olympics roamers, operators can include routes and points of interest maps, local numbers and city guides for Beijing and other tourist cities, currency exchange, weather forecasts and useful phrase books. Third party sponsorships can also be added which will generate additional revenue for the operator.


Setting up a reward programme, home network operators can offer roamers credits and special prizes that can be earned through mobile usage, both voice and data, during their trip, encouraging them to use their handsets. When the roamers return home, their operator can send a message detailing how much they've earned.

There is another outbound revenue opportunity that should not be overlooked, especially during major events such as the Olympics - the opportunity to capitalise on international calls made from the visited country back to another network in the home country. These calls would normally be routed directly from Beijing to the destination network in the home country, bypassing the home network operator completely. The international interconnect fee is paid to the destination operator while the home operator may be missing out on a revenue opportunity.

Home network operators can easily capitalise on existing outbound traffic by rerouting outbound roamers' calls from Beijing through the home network to the destination. By taking a closer look at IOTs and interconnect fees, operators can easily determine if rerouting makes financial sense; when the international termination fee is higher than the national interconnect fee. Calls to third countries can also be profitably routed through the home network when the IOT to the third country is higher than the IOT to the home network plus the international call to the destination.

With little effort, home network operators can maximise revenues from outbound roamers. Any large event presents operators with a great opportunity and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are certainly no exception. Both home and visited networks can benefit from the traffic peaks that will be created around the Olympics, and turning these opportunities into revenues couldn't be easier. With a little foresight, operators can please Olympics roamers by combining the Olympics theme with the right solutions and channels to meet their needs and interests. With planning, the home network operators can significantly increase roaming usage, revenues and user satisfaction.

Shlomo Wolfman is COO of Starhome [new window]

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