Since 2007, mobile service providers have been required to reach fair voice and text roaming agreements with fellow carriers. In an attempt to stop a duopoly in the U.S. smartphone market, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has made a change on data roaming policies. After executing a 3-2 vote, the adjustment would force major carriers to offer “reasonable” roaming agreements with smaller companies, which would give minor carriers a better chance at competing against the big brothers.
Voice and text roaming has become quite a part of everyday life for most Americans, and one can say it has even become a necessity. Since 2007, mobile phone technology has advanced immensely, and it goes without saying that the Android OS is one of the biggest contributors, with about 300,000 smartphone activations a day. Along with the other operating systems, Android is highly reliable on data services, and with the speed that life runs at nowadays, it is simply not affordable to lose connectivity. It has come to a point where cellphone data is highly important, even as much as voice and messaging (if not more). So, what do we do? Of course, we choose go with one of the major carriers, offering the widest coverages (unless you have no need for roaming).
As consumers, competition is something necessary, it creates a healthy balance, stopping big corporations from charging unreasonable amounts of money for their services. Since nothing has been regulating them, companies have been creating data exclusivity. Verizon and AT&T have declined to reach any type of roaming agreements with their 4G networks, and have made very few with their 3G networks, making them a smartphone/data duopoly. One can only worry about what would happen if the AT&T / T-Mobile deal is actually approved; at that point, Verizon and AT&T would have 80% of the contracted mobile customers in the U.S., which is indeed worrisome.
Let us use Android as an example, for the sake of familiarity. Upon walking into a Verizon store, one can easily find 10+ Android devices, and if T-Mobile were to merge with AT&T, their numbers would easily surpass Verizon’s. As of now, Sprint would be the next “big carrier” in the block, and they only have about 5 Android devices. On the other hand, when one walks into a Metro PCS store, a Boost Mobile store, or any of the sort, finding more than 2 would make you a very lucky individual. Such small carriers actually tend to offer much more affordable pricing, which comes to prove that the price is not as important as the available devices, or the services for that matter.
One of the main concerns upon making this decision, was the fact that carriers might lose interest in investing towards their networks, which was not the case after 2007, so it seems highly unlikely. Allowing the little guys to roam on the bigger data networks would help them to at least have a better chance at giving comparable services at a competing price. Roaming might even be impossible in certain cases, since different carriers use different technologies (e.g. CDMA / GSM), making them completely incompatible. That said, the last thing we need is a smartphone duopoly, where one would have to choose between two companies. This is an attempt to benefit the consumer, and the major carriers would still receive payment for the use of their towers; ultimately, everyone wins.