Millions of Ukrainian refugees ringing home to family, friends and loved ones saw the country's inbound voice minutes skyrocket sevenfold in March.
The volume of inbound international voice minutes was 70 million for that month, up from 10 million the previous month. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The stats were recorded by various carriers on i3forum insights, a market database for international voice services. BICS, BTS, iBasis, Orange, Tata Communications, Sparkle, Telefónica, and Telstra were among the operators supplying data. The i3forum data-gathering platform is operated by TeleGeography.
"Voice services have been vital for creating personal, close communication between friends and families separated due to the Ukraine crisis," said Cedric Godin, interim chairman at i3forum. "i3forum insights brings this data and critical market trend to light."
According to the United Nations, more than 6.8 million refugees have evacuated Ukraine since Russia invaded.
Operators bear cost
In many cases, passport-carrying Ukrainians can acquire SIM cards abroad that allow free or heavily discounted calls back home.
This is because of a joint statement in March by 24 mobile operators in Europe and three in Ukraine – Kyivstar, Vodafone Ukraine and lifecell – to reduce roaming tariffs and cut prices for international calls.
It does mean, however, that Ukraine's mobile network operators are racking up heavy financial losses because of free voice calls, on top of funding the necessary repairs to damaged networks.
This latter problem may be receding, however, at least for the time being. According to Star chairman Juha Christensen, Ukrainians have been able to jam Russian communications to such an extent that the invading army has had to rely on consumer mobile phones to communicate with each other.
Nonetheless, as part of any recovery and resilience plan, Ukraine's telecoms commissioner Liliia Malon recently told Light Reading that international financial aid was necessary for the country's network operators.
As part of cranking up pressure on Russia, Malon also wants a block on Russian roamers in the European Union.
"That would be a wake-up call to the Russian people, because then they would have to consider the reasons why they can no longer use their mobile phone in the EU," she said.
"And if Russians can't roam in Europe, it means they'll have to buy local SIM cards and pay money to European operators, not Russian ones."
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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading