Thuraya expands GSM roaming

Thuraya announced it would start allowing its prepaid customers to roam onto partner GSM networks and make outgoing calls and send text messages. Until now, prepaid customers were only allowed to receive calls at a flat rate of $0.25 per minute, while postpaid (contract) Thuraya subscribers with their GSM-compatible were granted the full access to 220 partner GSM networks around the world.

The prepaid roaming will initially be available in the network of Ettihad Etisalat (Mobily) of Saudi Arabia with expansion to other networks in plans.

This step seems to be an effort to increase Thuraya attractiveness to global travelers in the wake of the increased competition from other mobisat operators and the upcoming (very, very soon!) launch of its new generation SG-2520 handset, which will be capable of operating in both Thuraya and GSM (900/1800/1900) networks.

A serious problem here will be fraud prevention, so it would be interesting to see how Thuraya will address this. Inter-operator settlements can take weeks to clear, so a potential crook can purchase a Thuraya prepaid account (no credit checks required), roam onto a GSM network, talk a whole lot of minutes and throw the SIM-card away.

Thuraya has a couple of options here. First, it will definitely implement a sophisticated automatic system of fraud detection, which is already in place for postpaid customers. The system detects unusual call activity and informs the service provider (SP) about a potential fraudulent customer, so the SP can take necessary actions.

Secondly, it can introduce (or rather enforce on the SPs) a more rigorous procedure of activating prepaid customers. This is not likely, as such hurdles may deter many potential customers.

Thirdly, Thuraya can just pass over the liability for unauthorized call charges onto its service providers, which distribute the equipment and airtime in regional markets. In this case, it would the SP’s responsibility to fight fraud in order not to face thousands of dollars of unauthorized charges. SPs won’t be very happy about this… 🙂