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VoLTEgate: Tomia says 50m visitors to US this year will be cut off from voice roaming

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Roaming specialist Tomia has put some numbers to the #VoLTEgate scandal that means millions of visitors to the US will be unable to use voice roaming from this summer.

According to Tomia, 50 million visitors to the US this year could be completely unable to make voice calls thanks to issues with VoLTE roaming – and that means being blocked from emergency 9‑1‑1 calls (picture: AT&T).

Nick Wennekers, VP of product management at Tomia, said: “It’s fair to say that we are looking at a potential roaming crisis, with the summer season likely to prompt millions of tourists to the US, many of whom will now find themselves unable to make a single call.”

That means almost everyone visiting the US from abroad this year, following the lifting of Covid restrictions. The US Travel Association predicts that inbound arrivals will rise to 52 million in 2022. Prior to the pandemic, the US welcomed over 79m international travellers in 2019, and the travel industry expects numbers to rise to 68 million in 2023.

Capacity has already highlighted what we’re now calling #VoLTEgate, to show the extent of what’s becoming an industry scandal. The cause is that AT&T and then T-Mobile US have shut down their legacy networks, which are used for global roaming, meaning ordinary voice roaming is disabled.

In a second article, Capacity warned that this has also ended international visitors’ ability to make emergency 9‑1‑1 calls.

Wennekers told Capacity for last week’s article that for operators each VoLTE call, including each 9‑1‑1 call, is a data call, so is normally directed first to the customer’s home network. Now Wennekers warned: “Mobile network operators are suggesting ‘quick fix’ solutions around manually switching networks or making calls through the various messaging apps available, but these won’t stand up in the long term.”

He said: “Consumers will become frustrated with the need to wrestle with their phone’s technical settings, and many less tech-savvy travellers may not even have access to the likes of WhatsApp in the first place. Not to mention that telecoms companies will be wary of handing a greater share of the market to these messaging apps.”

It will get worse, he said: “The issues affecting the US are only the beginning. Other nations will soon see 2G and 3G networks phased out too. Mobile network operators around the globe must act fast to update partnerships, agreements and technology to ensure seamless voice roaming services continue.”

A series of steps need to be taken in the long term, said Tomia. First, “increasing numbers of consumers [will] purchase modern handsets with VoLTE calling enabled”, but there will need to be software updates, and mobile operators need to “sign comprehensive roaming agreements to ensure roaming calls and data traffic are directly to a network that can correctly process them”.

Until then, warns Tomia, echoing Capacity’s articles in May and last week, consumers will be unable to contact their hotel, book a taxi, call 9‑1‑1 or even call their operator’s own helpline.

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