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Moving to bill and keep: a difficult transition

15 мая 2009

There are some well-known examples of countries moving from mobile party pays (MPP) to calling party pays (CPP) – for example, Mexico and Russia – but no country has yet done the reverse and migrated from CPP to MPP.

In practical terms, a move from CPP to MPP would mean that mobile users would pay for both making and receiving calls. This might seem an unlikely scenario in countries where the principle of not paying for incoming calls, on fixed and mobile networks, is deeply entrenched. However, during the recent reviews and consultations on mobile termination rates (MTRs) in Europe, Hutchison Whampoa’s 3, a late entrant in the mobile market, and the French consumer association UFC-Que Choisir have advocated a change from the calling party’s network pays (CPNP) regime between operators, whereby the terminating operator charges the originating network for termination, to a bill and keep (BAK) regime, where mobile operators would no longer charge for termination (that is, MTRs would be reduced to zero).

In practice, a CPNP regime goes hand in hand with CPP at the retail level, as is the case in all European countries. In a BAK regime, operators can in theory recover costs previously paid for by termination in a number of ways (for example, by charging for incoming calls, increasing the price of outgoing calls, reducing handset subsidies, making top-ups expire faster or charging ‘line rental’ through daily charges), but often apply MPP charging principles. If a country were to move from CPNP to BAK, there would need to be changes in the retail market that might well include a move from CPP to MPP.

Advocates of BAK point to evidence that reducing MTRs to zero reduces the cost of calls to mobiles and increases the volume of traffic on mobile networks, which increases overall consumer benefits. In countries where MPP principles are applied (such as Hong Kong, Singapore and the USA), mobile usage tends to be higher than it is in European countries, where CPP is used. This trend could be attributed to the ubiquity of large and ‘unlimited’ voice bundles in MPP markets. Such bundles make users comfortable with, and give them an incentive to make and receive, a large number of calls because the marginal cost of a call within these bundles is zero. In addition, it is not risky to offer such bundles in a wholesale regime where no MTRs are applied. Therefore, although consumers would probably initially resent having to pay for incoming calls, a move to BAK/MPP could benefit some mobile users (for example, high-usage contract customers) by increasing the availability of large, inexpensive bundles.

In a BAK regime, fixed operators would not pay MTRs, so (in a competitive market) fixed users would be likely to pay less for calls to mobiles. However, mobile operators would either need to accept a reduction in profits or increase charges to their users to compensate for the loss of revenue from incoming fixed calls, all other things being equal. In such circumstances, mobile operators would be likely to target any increase in charges towards mobile users who own a mobile phone mainly to receive calls (usually prepaid customers), because they would be less economic to serve in a BAK regime. As a result, some market segments may benefit from the introduction of BAK, but the advantages to prepaid and low-end mobile users are uncertain, to say the least.

Therefore, the adoption of BAK/MPP is an unlikely scenario in the short term in CPP markets where use of prepaid services predominates. In Europe, where prepaid customers account for 67% of mobile active users, several regulators have indicated that a move to BAK would be unfeasible, at least in the short term. In developing countries, where almost all mobile users are prepaid, a move to MPP would be even less popular.

Emma Buckland, Senior Analyst


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