Mobile roaming can be a pain in the neck for both mobile users and carriers. Defined as the usage of mobile facilities other than those owned/operated by your mobile carrier, roaming is essential to ensure broad coverage for customers. However, few networks have the capability, on their own, to offer mobile users seamless coverage across a single national territory, and none can offer service world wide. Therefore, roaming is a fact of life and a necessary evil, both for users, who must pay extra for the privilege, and for carriers, who also incur extra costs – not to mention the wrath of customers facing higher bills.
Since the advent of cellular mobile in Canada, various mechanisms have been developed to offer mobile users roaming privileges for voice. However, roaming rules have yet to be worked out for data.
As mobile data service becomes more important and more central to the user experience, it gives large, established carriers an ever-stronger stick with which to beat smaller competitors. “Want to use our network for data roaming? Pay our prices. Accept our conditions. Do it our way – and pay what we charge you – or else!”
Or else what? No access. In other words, customers of new-entrant companies would be barred from data-roaming access. The result? Not exactly the level playing field that Canada has been striving for. Not a marketplace that has “choice” as its hallmark.
Our paper will examine data roaming in a Canadian context. We shall look at some of the implications to the competitive framework stemming from the absence of a clear policy or regulatory position. And we shall suggest some steps that Industry Canada might implement to re-establish balance and equity in the marketplace to the benefit of Canadian mobile customers. We’ll even toss in a little Shakespeare so that all concerned can heed his warnings.