Customer ExperienceMobile Network Operators

Travel Delays? The Pain of Steering of Roaming


Ever wondered why when you travel abroad and then switch on your mobile phone it takes so long to obtain service? Depending on how frequently you travel, you may notice that it takes several minutes before your phone obtains a connection. In some cases it can take significantly longer and you are left looking at your device screen, wondering if those service bars will ever actually appear. When they eventually do, your reaction is probably one of relief where your conclusion is that being a roamer, it simply takes time for you to connect with a foreign operator.

Well, that’s true to a certain extent. But the delay is actually masking a number of techniques both your home operator and the associated foreign operator are using to effectively steer or force you, as a roamer, onto a specific network.

It’s All About the Money

Not surprisingly, the reason for this is purely financial. Your home operator has a preferred list of roaming partners they want you to use, as it costs both them and you less when you use the partner’s service. But for the foreign operator, whose network you attempt to connect with first, regardless if they are partner operator or not, they simply want to ensure that you stay on their network where they can then charge a premium for any service that you use.

Read: Mobile Roaming Charges Fall Across the European Union (EU)

So what causes the delay? For any roaming subscriber abroad, as soon as a mobile device is switched on and before roaming service is authorised, there is an exchange of messages between the foreign operator that initially captures your device and your home operator. Depending on who the foreign operator is, your home network may authorise the service request or deny it. This is known as Steering of Roaming. In the case of the latter, the foreign operator simply never sent this message back to your device. This is called Anti Steering of Roaming.’

And Now, We Wait

And so the delay begins. Your device now begins to request service again. And again. Until eventually your home network has no option but to allow you to register with the foreign operator in question. How long this process takes varies, depending on how such techniques are effectively implemented by each operator. However, in nearly all cases it will leave the subscriber or customer simply wondering if they will ever see those service bars again…