Editor’s Note: This Practice Note is based in large part on a discussion paper entitled Mobile Network Sharing prepared by Camila Borba Lefèvre for the 8th ITU Global Symposium for Regulators 2008.
This Practice Note provides more information about a topic introduced in section 6.5.9 in Module 2, namely national roaming.
National roaming refers to an agreement among operators to use each other’s networks to provide services in geographic areas where they have no coverage. Such arrangements effectively multiply any one carrier’s ability to cover the entire country, without actually having to deploy infrastructure everywhere. There are several options for the geographic division of a country for the purpose of national roaming. One common method is to assign different cities, provinces or regions to different operators. Operators normally pay a wholesale roaming charge (usually a charge per minute of use) in order to use each other’s networks. Operators pass these roaming charges along to their end-user customers with a mark-up.
National roaming is generally simpler and less costly to manage than active infrastructure sharing. But national roaming may lead to a greater degree of uniformity among operators’ retail offerings. The roaming operator must rely on the choices made by the “visited” operator, which actually runs the network in that area. The roaming operator can demand the best Quality of Service (QoS) standards, and it is likely to get them, because of the reciprocal character of most national roaming agreements. Usually, then, consumers that are roaming on other networks cannot distinguish different QoS levels from their home networks. In addition, price competition may be restricted, since the retail tariffs charged by the roaming operator will be based, to a large extent, on the wholesale charges paid to the visited operator.
Despite the concern about greater uniformity among operators’ retail offerings, national roaming may be an effective means for operators to extend their coverage into rural or remote areas. Operators might roll out competing networks in urban areas but allow each other to roam on their networks in rural areas. In certain cases, roaming may be the only alternative to bring coverage to a certain area. In any event, roaming is very likely to make services more available and more affordable in many areas.
France provides an example of using roaming to extend mobile coverage throughout a country, including its rural regions. The French government launched a programme called “programme zone blanche” or “dead zone programme” aimed at providing mobile coverage in rural zones where operators had no coverage. The intention was to provide mobile coverage to 99 per cent of the French population by the end of 2007, covering more than 3,000 rural communities in France. Coverage in these areas may be achieved either through site sharing or through roaming.
 See ARCEP, Annual Report 2006, p. 359-360, available at www.art-telecom.fr.
Practice Note, "Mobile Sharing in the EU"