5G roaming to surge over next four years

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Mobile operators stung by the dramatic collapse of roaming revenues in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic could benefit from a surge in demand for 5G roaming in the coming years.

A study by Juniper Research predicts the number of international 5G roaming subscribers will grow by 3,300% over the next four years, reaching 147 million by 2025.

The market will be driven by wider availability of next-generation networks but also advances in core networking technologies that will power the most revolutionary of 5G applications.

5G roaming

Whereas non-standalone 5G (NSA5G) uses the same core network as 4G, standalone 5G (SA5G) uses distributed, cloud-based, software-defined cores to improve reliability, increase capacity, and lower-latency.

5G cores will also enable greater efficiencies in the routing of voice and data traffic, minimising the investment needed by operators to provide 5G roaming services.

Analysts have urged operators to bypass the creation of NSA5G agreements in favour of SA5G so that they can benefit from this growth in demand as soon as possible.

“The current decrease in international roaming traffic must not be used as a reason to neglect future roaming activities,” said research author Scarlett Woodford. “Given that roaming agreements can take between 12 and 18 months to be established, operators must focus on standalone 5G roaming agreements now, in preparation for the recovery of the market.”

It is thought that North America and the Far East will account more than a third of all 5G roaming subscriptions, but the researchers warn these should be upgraded to SA 5G as soon as possible. Last week, the European Commission proposed the extension of tariff-free roaming across the bloc, arguing that customers needed assurances that 5G applications would work across borders.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.