Aus, NZ Govts consider 'decoupling' mobile roaming

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Aus, NZ Govts consider 'decoupling' mobile roaming

Choose any roaming carrier without swapping SIM cards.

A German economic consultancy has recommended consumers that travel between Australia and New Zealand be allowed to choose any mobile phone carrier they want while roaming in either country, without having to swap out SIM cards.

The recommendation is one of several currently being discussed between WiK-Consult and the Australian and New Zealand Governments under a two-year-old investigation into trans-Tasman mobile roaming charges.

The consultancy won a joint tender in January to provide an "estimate of the costs involved in providing trans-Tasman mobile roaming services", according to the Australian Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

A draft decision on the trans-Tasman issue was initially expected by the end of last year. A spokesman for the New Zealand ministry involved said it will now be published in the middle of this year, with a final report expected by the end of 2012.

A spokesman for Australia's communications minister Stephen Conroy did not comment on the cause of the delay.

But those involved in discussions with the government departments and WiK-Consult have told iTnews that several ideas have already been floated as possible solutions.

Decoupling domestic and roaming services

WiK-Consult appears to favour the prospect of decoupling or unbundling a mobile user's domestic carriage service from the international roaming service their home carrier has designated with a mobile carrier in the other country.

Should the governments decide on "decoupling" as the most effective arrangement, Australians would be able to choose whichever New Zealand mobile carrier offered the best roaming rates at the time of travel without having to change SIM cards.

The same would be possible with New Zealand users whilst in Australia.

It is expected the "decoupling" mechanism could also allow mobile virtual network operators - those who sell mobile services on infrastructure owned by others - to offer roaming services as well.

"It could be both local providers and overseas ones setting up shop in New Zealand, such as Virgin Mobile, selling roaming deals here," Telecommunications Association of New Zealand chief executive Paul Brislen, who has held discussions with the New Zealand Ministry for Economic Development, told iTnews.

But he said decoupling could pose technical issues, including the need for quadband phones that will work on the various spectrum bands used by competing telcos in a given country and that aren't locked to a specific carrier.

Australian carriers and industry groups criticised the idea when first raised in the initial discussion paper jointly published by Australian and New Zealand governments in 2010.

At the time, they said the idea was costly and unfeasible, requiring a temporary mobile number porting solution that would be onerous on carriers in both countries to facilitate.

The option seems to have found favour again internationally, however, with the European Commission proposing it as an alternative to the current price caps placed on roaming charges for users travelling between member countries.

Scrap roaming altogether?

Roaming charges between Australia and New Zealand have largely remained stagnant in the three years leading up to the joint government review.

Several carriers have since begun trialling or making permanent changes to the roaming charges between Australia and New Zealand.

But Brislen, also a board member of the International Telecommunications Users Group, has pushed for the governments to remove mobile roaming charges between the two countries altogether.

"If you have say one gigabyte of data with your local provider for $49/month, that's what you pay no matter where you are," Brislen said.

The New Zealand Government has left exploration of reducing mobile roaming charges in other countries open to investigation once negotiations with Australia are complete.

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