Telcos are missing an opportunity to differentiate by offering enterprise users, high-value consumers a premium roaming experience.

Syniverse is using this year’s Mobile World Congress to draw attention the fact that LTE accounts for only 42% of inter-regional data roaming worldwide, and therefore operators are missing out on a golden opportunity to differentiate.

The IPX provider analysed global roaming traffic gathered from its 1,000-strong operator customer base, and found that 81% of inter-regional LTE roaming takes place between North America and Latin America, which highlights a distinct lack of inter-regional LTE roaming elsewhere in the world. For instance, in Asia-Pacific, which is home to some of the world’s most advanced mobile networks, LTE accounts for just 26% of outbound data roaming traffic. That drops to 20% in the Middle East and Africa, and to 16% in India.

"This is telling a story that there is still more opportunity out there for operators to monetise with LTE roaming and to prioritise the consumer’s experience onto LTE roaming," said Syniverse CMO and chief of staff, Mary Clark. "It could be one of the key ways to simply differentiate."

She explained to Total Telecom that operators can position themselves as the inbound LTE roaming partner of choice in their home market. Operators are "looking for that inbound partner that’s going to prioritise the LTE experience."

High-value customers and enterprise users in particular "should be having that premium experience regardless of where they are," she continued, suggesting that operators that offer guaranteed LTE roaming can expect to retain existing high-value customers, and potentially obtain new ones.

Clark acknowledged that the home operator needs to prioritise its home subscribers, but as LTE becomes more pervasive, there emerges an opportunity to share some of that LTE capacity with roamers.

And with downward pressure on roaming rates coming from regulators and rivals, the window of opportunity for telcos to monetise and differentiate on a premium roaming experience will not stay open for long.

Furthermore, Clark warned that inter-regional LTE roaming is vitally important if 5G is going to deliver on its promise of ubiquitous connectivity, particularly in the case of delivering cross-border IoT services.

"You’ve got to have that foundation," she insisted, pointing out that the industry does not have long to act.

"We’ve had an escalation in how quickly we’re going from one technology to another," she said, noting that it took the better part of a decade to go from talking about LTE to having measurable volumes of LTE roaming traffic, and yet now, "we’re supposed to have 5G in 2020."

As a result, it’s even more of an imperative to make sure that operators today ensure that the majority of inter-regional roaming traffic takes place on LTE.

"5G puts a much greater laser-like focus on the requirement for ubiquity," Clark said.