The powerful pull of a home number

01 July 2021

As an industry, we have solved many problems for our customers and created some amazing technology that we can offer them, from the device hardware, the app software or the network infrastructure.

However, now is the time for us to work harder to tap into their emotional needs with solutions such as a digital MVNO we can both connect people and help them to maintain their emotional connections.

As a species we like to move, to travel and to explore new opportunities. Most cultures celebrate the intrepid explorer and most families have a member that got ‘out’. For some, travel is a luxury that is afforded to them, while for others they travel to find new employment or lifestyle opportunities elsewhere, as a necessity.

We move around the globe for both personal and professional reasons, we are a world of diaspora communities. In fact, one of the biggest changes in our global behaviour that the pandemic has caused has been the massive reduction in travel and the opening up of travel opportunities will be the barometer to how well nations and regions are coping with Covid-19.

As the world hopefully recovers from the pandemic, we’ll soon start to go back to a globally mobile workforce and population, we will return to having people from Thailand that work in Texas and people from Benin that choose to live in Berlin.

What that means for us in the telecoms sector is that those diaspora communities represent an opportunity. They are a distinct niche and can be treated as such by both providers from their ‘home’ location and their new ‘local’ location.

The question is, how do we reach them and service them properly? How do we as industry support migrant workers in Australia, the Nigerian diaspora community in the UK or the travel industry as it returns to Thailand?

 Because as well as travel, we also find comfort and safety at home. We like having the familiar around us and many of us feel a pride and a sense of belonging in where we come from.

 Even as we travel around the world, there is a part that never leaves ‘home’, that always feel a pull back to the place we are from. And for that reason, we often try to take a piece of home with us when we travel. We maintain a keepsake of home when we are either next door or on the other side of the globe.

 One of the reasons that people tend to group together with other members of their diaspora is to create that reminder of home. To recreate the language, the food, the shared jokes and cultural references. To have a home away from home.

 In this global world it can be telecoms that brings us back ‘home’ – the jolt of recognition of a call coming in prefixed by the international dialling code from your home country. While telecoms can provide a piece of home that can be kept with us, in our pocket all day, by having a ‘home’ number on our phone we can be thousands of miles away, but at the same time only a local call away from our family.

As we travel around the world our ‘home’ phone numbers, whether that is a +84 dialing code, or even a +61, offer us a technical and emotional connection to home. And in many cases they can offer a literal connection with home as we can use that number to make or receive calls with friends and family back home.

We know that people both love to travel and be away from home and yet love to keep a piece of home with them. We know that for many people a ‘home’ phone number creates a powerful sense of connection. We also know that if people are ‘away’ they will almost certainly have friends and family back home to connect with. They therefore present an opportunity to any service provider that can effectively target them.

The rise of the MVNO market was in part a response to some of these issues. MVNOs were established to help target a niche audience that MNOs couldn’t or wouldn’t. Many of the initial niche audiences were diaspora audiences that wanted to be both still ‘home’ and ‘local’ at the same time and so didn’t automatically fit in either market. They needed something new to work for them and so MVNOs were created to target them.

But the physical requirements of an MVNO, with a SIM card, mean that not everyone can easily be sold to. To buy something physical, people need to buy it in person, or be able to receive a delivery, which puts another barrier to entry in their way, but for some people and communities the logistics can be almost insurmountable. So communities that most need a niche solution created for them are further excluded.

Yet, the majority of activity on our phones nowadays is with the apps we download. The MVNOs of the future will be an app that can be downloaded and not a physical SIM that needs to be bought, collected or delivered.

But they will, and already do, offer calling and messaging services on the user’s existing handset. But because they are digital, they can offer so much more and so much more that will appeal to the mobile global audience.

A digital MVNO allows a user to keep their ‘local’ number, to be able to be a part of the local community, but to also keep a ‘home’ number and stay emotionally and technologically connected to friends and family.

So for example, someone who emigrates from Nairobi to Toronto will be able to get a contract with a Canadian MNO, but by downloading a digital MVNO onto their handset, they will also be able to add a Kenyan number to that handset. They can then make and receive calls to any friends and family they have left behind. On many of the digital MVNOs, those calls and messages would be free if their friends and family had downloaded the same app.

While a migrant worker from Vietnam that was working in Australia could keep both an Australian and Vietnamese number on the same handset. Wherever they were, they could make and receive calls to friends, family or for work to and from either location.

As an industry the telecoms sector must remember that, even with all the available technology, consumers, our users, still buy for emotional reasons. And one of the most emotive reasons that we can tap into is the desire for our global population to feel connected to home, to have a link back to the friends, family and experiences of home even when they are on the other side of the world.

Providing an easy to use, simple to download and cheap ‘home’ number that can be accessed from anywhere in the world on any handset is one way the industry can answer the emotional requirements of our users.