A new report from Juniper Research forecasts that mobile data roaming revenues will grow by 21% per year between 2012 and 2017, reaching over $35 billion (R310 billion) in 2017.
According to the report, the revenue growth is driven by an increasing number of active data roamers using data services while abroad.
However, the report notes that the number of silent data roamers – people who are not actively using any data services because of bill shock – continues to be much higher than silent voice roamers.
“Silent roamers exercise caution or do not use voice and data services while roaming and represent a non-user segment,” said Juniper Research
Powered by the proliferation in smartphones and a dramatic growth in data usage, data roaming is being seen as a key growth driver for operators.
The report found that the majority of mobile customers were using voice services when roaming abroad, but this offered network operators little opportunity to add value or enhance services.
Data roaming, on the other hand, provided operators with the opportunity to convert “non-data” roamers to become active data roamers by the introduction of data bundles and roaming plans.
High data roaming charges
Exorbitant mobile data roaming charges have been under the spotlight in recent years.
South African mobile users can pay as much as R500,000 per GB when using international data roaming, but despite a backlash from consumers, mobile operators seem unwilling to change the status quo.
It is not only South Africans who suffer from roaming bill shock. High mobile roaming rates are a global problem, and it has become such a prominent issue that the European Commission (EC) has stepped in to lower roaming charges in the European Union (EU).
Without regulatory intervention, it is unlikely that things will change anytime soon. Mobile operators, globally, are cashing in on very high mobile roaming prices, and while everyone is playing ball it translates into very high profit margins from roaming customers.