VoLTE Roaming Challenges that Operators Must not Ignore
Despite the visible benefits offered by VoLTE roaming, a low adoption rate has been seen globally. Some challenges must be faced before realizing their true potential. Some of the primary reasons why this technology has not been implemented on a large scale include the continued regulatory uncertainties, the possible financial implications for operators, device compatibility issues, hurdles related to network upgrading, as well as the absence of inter-operator agreements.
The key challenge faced by the roaming industry in this list of reasons for the slow implementation is the low number of VoLTE roaming agreements between mobile operators. Some operators, fearing that their existing voice revenue and billing models would be impacted by VoLTE roaming, chose to extend their current commercial models.
These models, however, are not sustainable in the long run given the fact that the price per transaction is reducing significantly, the underlying operational cost grows with traffic growth, and most importantly, the evolution of mobile networks to be purely based on data. Whether imposed by regulation or motivated by competition, operators launched roam-like-at-home retail plans to boost roaming traffic and keep wholesale margins under certain controlled levels. A few of our customers have already raised questions about whether VoLTE, which is technically a data session, fits the original scope of these retail plans where calls are charged based on minutes. These models must evolve, and this will begin once operators agree on new wholesale commercial terms to meet their retail plan objectives, as well as to balance the change in the cost structure due to home-routed services.
VoLTE plays an important role when it comes to user experience, which, hopefully, will also accelerate changes in the wholesale roaming space. Operators will continue to invest in QoS to ensure that roaming services meet customers’ expectations. If we reflect on how the roaming ecosystem evolved, we can say that in the past, QoS was provided on a “best efforts” basis, which relied heavily on coverage availability. Operators worldwide have adopted a more customer-centric approach by enabling, as much as possible, an identical user experience while at home as well as roaming.
In the future, with the roll out of 5G, operators will be able to better control the QoS in a foreign network. VoLTE roaming is the first step of the journey. One of our North American customers pointed out that the discussion is not only around the benefits of the high-definition (HD) voice calls but on how to overcome issues related to the registration process. Even though VoLTE is increasingly available on smartphones and devices, there are still some dependencies on the device model, operating system and firmware that need to be fixed.
Regulatory and legal challenges continue to be major issues for operators when it comes to implementing VoLTE roaming. Lawful interception of VoLTE traffic can prove to be tricky, especially if the user connects to a visiting network, as well as the management of emergency calls. The GSMA has already made good progress in solving these issues and the industry continues to be optimistic.
It is also important to understand that the growth of VoLTE appears to be directly related to the enhanced adoption of 5G in the future. Mobile operators have to ensure that their VoLTE roaming offerings are ready for standalone 5G roaming. This is because 5G standalone roaming does not support fallback to 2G and 3G networks. In order to offer a call fallback option to their customers, they will need VoLTE roaming solutions to work seamlessly.
Based on the current and future rollouts of VoLTE and Vo5G globally, and the average data consumption of HD call via VoLTE/VoNR, Kaleido Intelligence estimated the total data usage generated by these calls will reach nearly 40,000 million MBs of traffic in 2026, up from over 5,000 million MBs of traffic predicted for 2022.
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