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Last week I got a chance to take a look around the factory of Formula 1 team Caterham, located in Leafield, Oxfordshire, in the UK.  If you’re wondering why this was relevant for a visit from the LTE World Series, it’s because Caterham had invited some journalist types down to hear from Truphone, which has a partnership Caterham. (And any excuse to see the likes of Heikki Kovalainen in a full size F1 simulator).

Caterham and Truphone teamed up after the F1 team found that its previous suppliers, a mainstream UK operator, were not giving it adequate support in situations where there were issues with handsets, which isn’t great news for a Formula 1 team, which has to jet off to around 20 countries a year.

Caterham Simulator 3

The major selling points is that within the Truphone Zone, of the US, UK, Australia, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Spain, there are no roaming charges at all. I spoke to the Head of Group IT for Caterham and he said that it was looking for savings of 30 per cent with its move of telecoms supplier for the team, and that this was being achieved, which is impressive.

This really highlights how the issue of roaming, that is currently high on the agenda at the EU, is important for all businesses. Formula 1 may be a high roller compared to the cost structure of many enterprises, but economic reality is biting even at this glamorous top tier of motorsport, as the cost saving, fuel efficiency of next season indicates. If you can save 30 per cent costs when your team is roaming for data, it’s a no brainer.

It’s also interesting how Truphone has its network set up to enable this roaming. It’s OSS and BSS systems treat all the countries in the Truphone Zone as a single entity, rather than traditional operators that have different countries siloed. This makes the international roaming more difficult even for those operators that have an international presence. You’d think that it would be easy for multi-national operators such as say, Vodafone, or Orange, to enable easy roaming between its networks in different countries but it’s never been that way. It was briefly possible for Hutchison’s Three network a few years ago, but it didn’t last.

Truphone’s customers can have up to five difference international phone numbers on each SIM, which gives them a local presence in those countries. That means that Australia can call the UK for the cost of a local call, without either necessarily being aware than the other party is on the other side of the world. The downside of course is that you’ll get woken up in the middle of the night all the time, but that’s not Truphone’s fault (Could it enable a system to automatically make the caller aware of the time difference perhaps?)

2013 Spanish Grand Prix - Saturday

As well as costs we were told that the single network also enhances performance. Data within the ‘Zone’ is handles by local points of presence, rather than having to ping back to the home network, which is the traditional, and very inefficient way of handling roaming data. This certainly benefits ping times, making web pages more responsive.

Rob Jones, Managing Director of Europe told me that this greater performance also meant that the lack of support for 4G on Truphone SIMS is much less keenly felt than it might otherwise have been. Jones claimed that the lack of 4G stemmed from the fact that there aren’t handsets that there still are no handsets that support every flavour of LTE worldwide, but then surely these handsets could just fall back to 3G?

Either way if you’re a business, or even an individual that travels frequently in its Zone countries, the Truphone model is compelling. It also shows that service and support quality is more important to many business rather than just pure speed, and once LTE starts to become ubiquitous, and therefore a commodity, it’s undoubtedly something operators are going to have to focus on in order to attract and retain business.

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