Mobile operators unite to simplify roaming

An alliance has been struck between two groups of mobile operators which aims to make cross-network roaming cheaper and easier to manage for businesses with globetrotting employees.

Europe's FreeMove Alliance, which comprises operators like Orange, Telecom Italia Mobile, T-Mobile and TeliaSonera, has teamed up with Asia's Bridge Mobile Alliance.

The resulting giant will compete with organisations like Vodafone and BT for the business of multinational companies looking for managed mobility services.

Between them, FreeMove and Bridge will cover 38 countries and 400 million users. With Forrester Research estimating that 32 per cent of corporate networking and communications budgets currently go on mobile services, reducing mobility costs and improving management have become key business concerns.

But analyst Rob Bamforth of consultancy Quocirca believes the deal will still leave businesses wanting more.

"This latest alliance, unlike some, is aimed squarely at the business user not the individual consumer," he says. "But we've been down this track before without as much impact as one might have expected."

What organisations want, he says, is the ability for employees to roam across different borders without the need for a different tariff deal in every territory, but still getting all the coverage they need. Multi-country roaming has always been complex and costly, he says.

"The big question is whether this alliance can meet these demands," says Bamforth. "Past efforts have usually resulted in a framework agreement, which control some of the complexity and cost, with detail handled locally. What doesn't usually happen is one contract that gives you the same deal all over the world - and I don't think it ever will."

Paolo Murri, chairman of the FreeMove Management Board, claims the alliance has achieved at least one important first by spanning Asia and Europe: "Business between Europe and Asia keeps growing and so does the demand for mobile services from companies," he says. "We assume that this trend will continue, with FreeMove and Bridge Mobile Alliance the first to offer a global approach to those customers with a presence in both continents."

Mobile users can expect better quality of service, as well as cheaper and simpler tariffs as a result of the alliance, says Lim Chuan Poh, chairman of Bridge: "Enterprises with global offices could also benefit from joint offerings from the alliances," he says.

But Bamforth told IT PRO that he is sceptical not only about what the alliance can achieve, but how long it will last: "There's something about the word 'alliance' that always makes me a bit suspicious," he says. "It always smacks of a temporary arrangement that might well dissolve if market conditions change."