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Mobile Roaming Subscribers to Reach 918 Million Globally by 2024; Recovering to Pre-pandemic Levels

A new study from Juniper Research has found that the number of international mobile roaming subscribers dropped by 73% to 243 million globally in 2020; caused by travel restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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It predicts that mobile roaming subscriber numbers will take until 2024 to exceed 2019 levels; reaching 918 million by 2024, as the travel industry embarks on a prolonged recovery from the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

The months of June, July, and August are usually crucial time for mobile operators in terms of revenue, with operators often reporting more than a twofold increase in roaming traffic during the summer holiday season. During 2020, 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.

mobile roaming revenuesOperators continue to be faced with issues of reduced international travel,
and the subsequent loss of their roaming revenue. Importantly, Juniper
Research believes that the roaming revenue loss experienced by mobile
operators during the COVID-19 pandemic is not a temporary shortfall that can be recuperated.

As shown in the graph to the left, Juniper Research forecasts that the total voice, SMS & data roaming revenue has reduced from $50.7 billion in 2019 to $13.7 billion in 2020.

 

The Continued Effect of COVID-19 on Mobile Roaming: Impact on Operator Business Models Mobile Roaming Subscribers

Here, Juniper Research provides an overview of the developing technologies that can assist operators in their recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

VoLTE and LTE-M Roaming Mobile Roaming Subscribers

LTE-M is 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.
Without roaming agreements for LTE-M, it can be problematic to deploy connected devices in regions where designated operators do not have an established network. Operators must form agreements with a number of local carriers in order to support roaming IoT devices, which can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. Whilst there are no widespread and all-encompassing commercial VoLTE roaming agreements in place, Vodafone and T-Mobile have formed a partnership covering Europe. In addition, AT&T, KPN, Orange and Swisscom have all activated LTE-M roaming; providing coverage across North America and Europe.
With 2G and 3G sunsetting underway, corporations must consider which fallback technology (LTE-M or NB-IoT) is best suited to their business needs. Juniper Research forecasts that the decommissioning of 2G and 3G networks could leave 62.6 million roamers without voice services
when travelling abroad. Therefore, it is 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.

5G Roaming

Juniper Research believes that the number of 5G roaming agreements in place will increase, in tandem with operator investment in SA (Standalone) 5G networks. At present, the majority of 5G services offered by operators are based on NSA (Non-standalone) networks, which use the existing 4G LTE network infrastructure in order to enable 5G.
SA networks are crucial for supporting 5G roaming agreements, despite requiring significant investment from network operators. Service providers wishing to implement 5G services are required to develop and test network equipment, alongside building the necessary infrastructure.

Market Summary: Total Number of Mobile Roaming Subscribers

Juniper Research forecasts that the number of global international roaming subscribers dropped by 73% to 243 million in 2020; caused by travel restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

mobile subs

• The total number of mobile roaming subscriber numbers would take until 2024 to exceed 2019 levels; reaching 918 million by 2024, as the travel industry embarks on a prolonged recovery from the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

• Operators in North America will be amongst the first to recover from the impacts of the pandemic on the roaming market. Juniper Research forecasts that the region will account for 23% of total roaming revenue by 2025, as border restrictions are lifted and demand for travel returns to normal levels.

North America to Lead Roaming Recovery

• Juniper Research believes that North America’s recovery will be aided by the region’s early adoption of 5G services, with operators able to increase roaming revenue through the provision of advanced functionality to subscribers. Operators must therefore focus on expanding 5G roaming agreements in 2021 to capitalise on this revenue growth in the future.

Brexit Marks Uncertain Future for UK Roamers

• The UK will account for 11% of mobile roaming subscribers in Europe by 2025, increasing from 8% in 2020. It found that UK-based operators are now facing pressure to form individual bilateral agreements with operators in Europe to guarantee continued inclusive roaming for UK subscribers

Research author Scarlett Woodford noted: ‘Any decisions by UK operators to reintroduce roaming changes would negatively affect customer satisfaction. Operators must approach changes to their roaming policies with caution, in order to avoid an increase in the number of silent roamers and accompanying lost revenue.’

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Driven by wanderlust and a passion for tech, Sandra is the creative force behind Alertify. Love for exploration and discovery is what sparked the idea for Alertify, a product that likely combines Sandra’s technological expertise with the desire to simplify or enhance travel experiences in some way.