Reduced roaming fees should not be traded for more spectrum

Benoit Scheen, FT-Orange’s executive vice president of Europe, believes any suggestion that more spectrum could be used as a carrot to entice operators to reduce roaming fees is misguided.

Scheen distanced himself from comments made by Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, who tweeted on Tuesday that fairer competition in roaming could be “a good exchange” for more spectrum.

Kroes made her comments in response to a keynote address by Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao, in which he told delegates at Mobile World Congress that continuous regulation on pricing was harming the industry.

“One should not be traded with the other,” said Scheen when asked whether cutting back on roaming fees was a fair swap for more spectrum.

“The EC wants us to accelerate the deployment of LTE, but this should be done by investing.”

He added: “There are lots of different types of regulation and when you combine them all it adds up to a lot, which places a heavy burden on the industry.”

Orange unveiled a series of new roaming initiatives during MWC, all designed to win over customers who shun data services when travelling abroad.

The France-based operator introduced a Europe-wide combined voice, SMS and data bundle that can be purchased on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Initially available in Spain, Belgium and Romania, the service will be extended to France, the UK and Poland over the course of 2012.

In France, for example, customers will be able to purchase a daily bundle that includes 10 minutes of voice, 10 SMS’s and 10MB of data for approximately €5 from June.

Customers who purchase the bundles can expect savings that are “significant” and “double digit in percentage terms”, according to Scheen.

However, the EVP denied the launch was an admission that the company had got it wrong in the past saying it was in response to “an evolution” in the roaming usage of customers.

Nevertheless, he did admit that roaming needed to be more transparent and conceded that Orange hadn’t looked closely enough at combining voice, messaging and data before now.

In addition to the bundles, Orange said its Travel App, which is designed to help customers track their data usage when travelling abroad in real time, would be rolled out in the UK, Spain, Poland, Belgium, Romania and Slovakia during 2012.

For those travelling outside of the EU, Orange also unveiled a new alert and cap for data usage. As customers approach their limit, they will be sent an alert by SMS at which point they can choose whether to purchase an additional bundle or be cut off when they hit their limit.

All these roaming initiatives will be underpinned by Orange’s Customer Experience Charter, which the company said will serve as a set of guiding principles that each European market will use in the execution of their roaming services.

Indeed, Scheen said improving the customer experience is one of his top two priorities this year. The other is doubling data revenues from both fixed and mobile services.

Ironically, Scheen is already helping Orange to achieve the second priority himself.

“I went to Dubai recently and only used my smartphone for a short time to do some work but ran up a €200 bill. Even I was shocked,” he said.

No doubt he will be first in line to use the SMS alert service, but given the margins the company will make on the bundles will be smaller it will be interesting to see what impact they have on increasing data revenues.

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