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Making Roam Like at Home (RLAH) Viable for 5G Networks in Europe

DOI https://doi.org/10.21552/core/2019/1/5

Tony Shortall


With the introduction of the ‘Roam Like At Home’ (RLAH) rules in 2017, retail roaming prices were abolished across the EEA but at the wholesale level the existing system of pricing continued, albeit at lower rates. This paper argues that wholesale prices are unrelated to costs because of a structural problem in the way traffic is traded - in particular the custom of bartering traffic or ‘balancing’ has a major role in distorting this market. Recent evidence from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications and the European Commission on RLAH suggests that the strains caused by high wholesale pricing is leaking through to the retail level and consumers are not getting what was promised. The Commission’s data clearly shows that certain operators are greatly disadvantaged in the wholesale roaming markets and that demand suppression practices such as the avoidance of 4G agreements are not currently tracked. The implications for the development of 5G are both obvious and not good. This article argues that the establishment of a wireless trading platform which only permitted one-way bids (and thereby eliminated traffic balancing) as well as anonymising participation, being transparent of pricing and volumes (in line with exchange rules under MiFID II) would enable prices to move towards marginal cost. Such a pricing scheme would enable RLAH to be sustainable for all operators even where data volumes are very high, such as in a 5G environment.
Keywords: Roam Like At Home, RLAH, EU Roaming Regulation, Pricing, Mobile Operators

Tony Shortall is Director of economic advisory firm Telage. He is also a Director of the Cicada Exchange which seeks to enable trading of wireless capacity between firms. For correspondence: <mailto:tony.shortall@telage.net>.

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