Examining Wholesale Roaming Through a New Lens in a Post-COVID World

Never before has a disruption to the mobile roaming industry been so severe and long-lasting.

Over the years, the industry has undoubtedly experienced its fair share of natural disasters that have disrupted business continuity, operations, and service to core customers for both Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and enterprise businesses alike. It has even survived short-term economic crisis and successfully adapted to regulations impacting traffic and profitability.

COVID-19 has been different, though, in that it has impacted international travel so severely that any projection of wholesale roaming volumes forecasted within the past eight months have proven to be wildly disparate from that of reality.

But while the virus’s negative impact on the current climate certainly has been well documented, there’s very little being said about the path forward — that is, automated solutions such as Wholesale Deal Management that can help operators better forecast their wholesale roaming deals and Inter-operator Tariffs (IOTs) after having experienced, and coming out of, a global pandemic unlike any other.

Here are three considerations, in fact, for customers to take into account as they look past troubling times, and rather, set their sights on the back half of the year in a post-COVID world with help from automated applications:

Gain a holistic view of COVID-19’s impact — not just to date, but beyond this year
Industry research firm Analysys Mason forecasts mobile roaming revenues will decline by 3.4% alone this year before experiencing a modest uptick of 0.8% in 2021 as the industry begins its own recovery efforts in the wake of the virus’s decline — driven mostly by greater demand for consumer broadband.

The industry has proven to be resilient in the past, but while from a financial standpoint there seems to be a silver lining, wholesale managers will be forced to conduct business differently not only in the short-term as they already have, but moving forward, too, in 2021 and beyond.

With traditional ways of planning and negotiating wholesale rates impeded by consequences of the pandemic, a broad set of challenges are sure to exist, with cash flow management difficulties and decreased service revenues being just the beginning. For example, how do wholesale managers compensate for the absence of roaming traffic caused by the lack of travel? Whereas previously, wholesale managers would negotiate IOT discounts with partners over period of one year, today they find themselves in jeopardy of falling short of their pre-determined commitments forecasted earlier in the year.

This has left industry professionals in quite a predicament, with limited options available to course-correct what was previously promised. As a result, many will be forced re-negotiate these commitments by attempting to negotiate at a lower price than what was initially agreed upon, or they could simply void their existing agreements and start over with new ones, requiring them to essentially start the process from scratch by discussing new prices and terms, re-adjusting budgets and re-forecasting future volumes. Specifically where budgets are concerned, new steering rules come into play with the need to re-calculate terms for mobile operators in each country.

In addition, re-negotiating deals will become more time-consuming due to the uncertainty of timing that it takes for associated volume projections of traffic to ramp up coming out of a pandemic. Discussions are also likely to be centered around these volume projections just as much as the various structures of deals. Send- and pay- commitments, balanced and unbalanced deal structures, and a multitude of other factors are all in play for much back-and-forth debate.

Simulate how to mitigate negative impacts by modeling different commercial arrangements
With the unexpected workload in a limited timeframe it’s virtually impossible to simulate scenarios and deal structures for hundreds of partners by merely relying on “if-then” formulas in thousands of tabs within an Excel spreadsheet. Wholesale departments are now more than ever confronted with the necessity to automate, and naturally, must ask themselves, “could this really be the end of a spreadsheet-based era?”

Business intelligence tools, rather, seem to be a much more practical approach to telling mobile network operators the state of the roaming business. After this unpleasant confrontation with reality, it has become obvious that action needs to be taken to restructure and renegotiate what was once in operators’ 2020 plans, while also forging ahead with insight into finalizing deals for 2021.

That’s where Wholesale Deal Management comes in.

Using an application that analyzes previous insights, applies those forecasts to predict future behaviors, and simulates the impact of distortions for what we once believed to be a snapshot indicative of the future manifests itself as a massive step in this direction.

Regardless of various deal structures — ranging from flat-rate, balanced/unbalanced, baseline, minimum charge/volume commitment or bundle — customers have the ability to simulate each scenario, update volumes, monitor steering and analyze global roaming traffic with and without IOT discounts through just a couple of clicks.

That exact scenario, in fact, is happening today, and as an added benefit, customers often come to the table better prepared, and as a result, conclude meetings in less time. Final versions of deals are also captured using track-and-trace software designed to follow the deal throughout its life cycle, while automating its settlement activities.

Working behind the scenes to make this possible is the use of BI applications that take the manual labor and guesswork out of this entire process, where previously MNO customers could spend hours extracting data from Excel spreadsheets to complete routine tasks. Solution providers, as a general rule, should bring more automated solutions to help customers re-do the work that’s necessary caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but in a better manner than what was previously possible.

Apply this year’s learnings to 2021 forecasts and assess risk and opportunity for different deal models
Perhaps there’s no better indicator of future activity than the past. With a strong possibility of an additional wave of COVID-19 cases set to spike later this fall, there’s plenty that customers can take away from what they’ve already endured to plan better with a sense of anticipation for any potential resurgence of the virus.

Assuming such large volumes of data are no longer part of the “new normal” coming out of this pandemic, solutions are needed to bring together all different types of data sets. Why not rely on a more proactive approach with proven results? Thanks to machine learning, artificial intelligence, and specialized algorithms, customers can reap the benefits of digesting vast quantities of information, and having it presented in simple dashboards for easy consumption — all within just a matter of days.

These tactics certainly present an advantage when it comes to the ability to leapfrog competitors and reinvent planning to gain competitive advantage. Using predictive modeling and advanced analytics, wholesale deal managers are able to more confidently optimize costs by utilizing this technology to improve accuracy in forecasts, identify the true drivers of business value, establish data-driven financial targets, and determine risk and eliminate bias from forecasts.

By reinventing the planning process, MNOs are able to enjoy a customizable approach for each type of wholesale deal, utilizing just a few clicks centered around a core set of foundational components.

Magali Lapraille is a Product Manager at Syniverse. In her current role, she is responsible for managing wholesale roaming deals and optimizing costs of wholesale roaming Inter-operator Tariffs (IOTs) on behalf of Syniverse’s MNO, MVNO and Interco providers.




  1. Jon King

    Interesting article and some great points Magali. However, important to note that the roaming industry will see a big drop off in 2020, 53% according to Kaleido’s new report. The study you referred to was a 3.6% drop off for telco operations as a whole. Positive news though, latest projections show a recovery of roaming data traffic to pre-covid levels in 2022.


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