How Mobile Roaming Can Recover from COVID-19

POSTED BY Scarlett Woodford
Roaming refers to the use of mobile devices, including phones and IoT-connected devices, outside the range of a home network. Whilst roaming, devices connect to another available network, in order to provide end users with continued services. Usually, the summer months are a crucial time for mobile operators in terms of revenue, with often more than a twofold increase in roaming traffic during the summer holiday season. 

However, during 2020, the international travel restrictions and lockdown procedures enforced because of the COVID-19 pandemic significantly curtailed the demand for mobile roaming services, with fewer subscribers travelling abroad for business and leisure purposes. Indeed, we forecast that the total number of mobile roaming subscribers has decreased from 894 million in 2019, to 243 million in 2020. 
Remedial plans are therefore sorely needed for operators to survive the long-lasting impacts of the pandemic, as roaming revenue loss experienced by mobile operators during the pandemic is not a temporary shortfall that can be recuperated.

One such plans is forging alliances between operators. Roaming via bilateral partnerships and alliances increases the possibilities of monetisation by presenting viable revenue models for all the members of the value chain. This opportunity also exists for smaller operators and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), in order to form alliances and partnerships with other operators which could not otherwise offer roaming services due to their lack of scale. As a result, enterprise customers are increasingly being offered flexible models, thereby driving usage while roaming, with major alliance groups focusing on multinational corporations.

Operator should also invest on developing technologies, such as LTE-M Roaming, a cellular technology designed to support the needs of applications within the IoT (Internet of Things), as well as enabling M2M (Machine-to-Machine) communications. It is also possible for operators to offer support of voice functionality over LTE networks, referred to as VoLTE. With 2G and 3G sunsetting underway, corporations must consider which fallback technology is best suited to their business needs. It is therefore important for operators to implement VoLTE roaming to ensure the smooth transition of voice services for consumers and provide them with a high-quality experience, even whilst travelling overseas. There are however some obstacles which are slowing VoLTE’s adoption process, particularly the lack of a clear monetisation model for the technology. These obstacles will need to be overcome in order to encourage VoLTE roaming adoption.

The implementation of 5G roaming agreements will also lead to a range of benefits, including new opportunities for globally connected IoT businesses and high-speed/low-latency data transfer, providing subscribers with a smoother experience. Once again, however, there operators are faced with several obstacles. Indeed, the provision of seamless 5G roaming relies heavily on network operators. Whilst an increasing number of operators are offering commercial NSA solutions, there is a marked lack of SA infrastructure that would provide the basis for 5G roaming capabilities. Until more operators invest in SA infrastructure, 5G roaming cannot become a commercial reality. 

Another limiting factor to the establishment of 5G roaming agreements is the cost associated with implementing SA networks. The deployment of new infrastructure requires major investment from network operators and may not be conducive for network operators during this time of economic uncertainty. 
Furthermore, once 5G roaming services are in place, operators and enterprises must implement solutions that minimise the risk of attacks on connected networks. As connected networks increase in size, the number of points vulnerable to cyberattacks also increase. 

Yet, there is clearly demand for 5G roaming, and operators must continue with network roll-outs despite additional pressures felt as a result of the pandemic. This will enable operators to provide subscribers with a high-quality service, whilst also capitalising on the opportunity to make a profit.

Our latest whitepaper, Mobile Roaming: The Journey to Recovery, analyses the current challenges faced by operators in the mobile roaming market, as well as highlighting future recovery strategies.

Download the Whitepaper: Mobile Roaming: The Journey to Recovery

Related Research: Mobile Roaming