Thinking the Unthinkable – Mobile Call by Call for International Calls

Thanks to the latest EU roaming regulation that went into effect last summer, it’s now possible to pretty much use a mobile subscription from any country in the EU in any other country in the EU at pretty much the same price like at home. Yes, there are quite some loopholes when it comes to the amount of data but let’s say the general rule holds true. In one particular case it is even significantly cheaper a mobile subscription abroad rather than in the home country: Making calls to a mobile subscriber in a third EU country.

When most people are in their home country, network operators usually charge them steep prices for calls to other EU countries, especially to mobile lines. Prices of one euro per minute or even more are no exception. From a financial point of view there doesn’t seem to be any reason for this as international interconnection charges are in the same order of magnitude as as national interconnection charges which are below one or two cents a minute. Prices for calls to EU mobile numbers have also not changed significantly over the years so market forces are definitely not working in this sector.

The situation reminds me of how things stood in fixed line networks at the end of the 1990’s. High prices due to missing competition. The fix at the time: Introduce competition by requiring incumbent operators to connect their users to alternative long distance operators with access numbers and take over billing for them. This way, users would dial the access code for a long distance operator without the need for any registration or separate bill settlement. Dead simple for the user and it changed the way we communicate beyond recognition and made the countries and the EU move closer together like never before.

Perhaps it’s time now to introduce the same in mobile? I would argue that this would even benefit mobile network operators as people would likely make more calls to international destinations from their mobile phones while at home rather than to look for alternatives. On the other hand, unlike back in the 1990’s there is competition for international calls today from Internet based companies. There are quite some companies out there now that offer mobile apps to make significantly cheaper international calls from mobile devices. In recent years I’ve met quite a number of people who, for example, use Viber on their phone over Wifi or over cellular with their monthly cellular data bucket to call abroad for a few cents a minute rather than a euro a minute or more.

So one could argue that the market for international mobile calls is working when taking mobile apps into account. Still, mobile network operators have the advantage that to some extent, calling apps are much less convenient and universal to use and that privacy minded people are not willing to let third party apps have a go at their address book. However, at least the first advantage won’t be there for much longer. Mobile operating systems are getting better and better at integrating such apps into the overall telephony experience so convenience is increasing. It’s time for mobile network operators to wake up…