Swisscom, SK Telecom, Elisa and BICS claim world’s first 5G roaming services

The very small number of people who are capable and inclined can now roam between the 5G networks of Swisscom and either SK Telecom or Elisa.

Swisscom has over 6 million mobile subscribers but hasn’t revealed how many of them have upgraded to 5G. Since Swisscom only started to roll out its 5G network in April of this year, it seems safe to assume its 5G subscriber base is struggling to hit six figures. Of those, owners of Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphones can now fly from Zurich to Seoul confident of maintaining their newly-won boosted download speeds. The converse is true of SK Telecom’s 5G punters.

“SK Telecom once again proved its leadership in advanced roaming technology with the launch of world’s first 5G roaming service” said Han Myung-jin, Head of the MNO Business Supporting Group of SK Telecom. “We will continuously expand our 5G roaming service to enhance customer experience and benefits.”

“We want to offer our customers the best network – both in Switzerland and abroad,” said Dirk Wierzbitzki, Head of Product and Marketing at Swisscom. “So we are proud to be one of the world’s first providers to offer 5G abroad. We will continue to expand 5G availability abroad with additional partners.”

Swisscom has struck up a similar deal with Finnish operator Elisa, which is also claiming the world first, so it looks like SK Telecom has a fight on its hands. We were amongst the first countries to start building 5G networks in Finland,” said Elisa’s Director of Consumer Handset Subscriptions Jan Virkki. “Now that Swisscom has opened their 5G network, we are more than happy to be able to provide the ultrafast 5G to our consumer and corporate customers travelling to Switzerland.”

Roaming specialist BICS also wants a piece of the action, having got involved in the SK Telecom gig. “Today’s successful implementation of a trans-continental 5G data roaming relation further endorses our position at the forefront of global mobility for people, applications and things,” crowed Mikaël Schachne, CMO and VP Mobility & IoT Business at BICS. We couldn’t find any other corporate chest-beating over this bit of news but there probably was some.

Potential return of roaming premiums causes latest Brexit flap

UK parliament has drafted new legislation that would release UK operators from their commitments not to charge extra for roaming in Europe.

The scoop was grabbed by the Huffington Post, which notes that the government will probably release operators from this obligation in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. The apparent rationale is that, since the UK will no longer be able to oblige European operators not to charge UK operators a wholesale premium for roaming, it wouldn’t be fair to prevent them from passing that cost onto their customers.

Those opposed to Brexit have inevitably seized on this latest development as further evidence of what a catastrophe the whole thing will be. Labour MP Tom Watson brought it up in the house of commons and exploited the opportunity for a spot of scripted grandstanding to the fullest, which you can see at the bottom of this piece.

Wholesale carrier service provider BICS reckons it’s unlikely we’ll see a return to the bad old days, however, because operators on both sides of the channel will be aware of how unpopular such a move would be.

“The prospect of a ‘no deal’ in March has fuelled speculation about whether we’ll see the return of roaming charges, and post-holiday ‘bill shock’,” said Mikaël Schachne, VP of Mobility Solutions and IoT Business at BICS. “But with LTE/4G data roaming traffic in Europe surging by 600-800% after the implementation of Roam Like at Home, it would be exceptionally unwise for operators to go against such clear demand.

“In its abolition of roaming charges, the EU set a major precedent, and motivated other operators to offer competitive international tariffs. Most of us have now grown accustomed to using our mobile phones – and all of those data-intensive apps and services – when we’re abroad, to a similar degree as when we’re in the UK. In taking that away, operators risk alienating their customer base, and risk haemorrhaging subscribers to those offering more cost-efficient roaming packages.

“In the event that all UK operators decide to opt out of Roam Like at Home following a no-deal, we’re still unlikely to see the high tariffs that once existed. Roaming packages promote and drive subscriber loyalty, and encourage the use of all manner of mobile services and apps, helping operators to market and deliver additional services, making it in service providers’ best interests to stay competitive.”

Last summer UK operators indicated they have no intention of bringing back roaming, but as the prospect of ‘no deal’ grows only Three seems to be categorically ruling out any kind of hike. That could get interesting for Three if their wholesale roaming partners start getting funny ideas and our advice would be to publicly name and shame any such opportunistic European operators.

There will certainly be all sorts of bureaucratic chaos when Brexit finally happens, but you can’t undo decades of co-dependence overnight. Still, on the plus side, thanks to anticipated shortages of Mars bars, McDonald’s and Magnums we’ll probably all lose loads of weight and look great on the beach. Shame we won’t be able to afford to show off about it on social media, but you can’t have everything can you?


4G roaming traffic doubled globally last year – BICS

Regulatory changes and increased competition continue to drive massive growth in LTE roaming around the world, according to new data from BICS.

The precise increase is 95%, with a major catalyst still being the European Union’s regulation that banned European operators from charging a premium for roaming within the bloc. While we’re not seeing the ridiculous increase in European roaming that took place in 2017, the first full year after roaming was abolished, growth is still pretty steep.

“European subscribers have enjoyed being able to ‘Roam Like at Home’ and now seek high quality, affordable roaming services, wherever they travel,” said Mikaël Schachne, VP of Mobility Solutions at BICS. “This is forcing operators in other regions outside of the EU to match the European offering by coming together to offer more cost-effective packages to subscribers, while optimising traffic flow at the back-end.”

We had a chat with Schachne to get some further insight into this trend. He reckons that changes in the regulatory environment have forced operators to rethink their approach to roaming. This more competitive environment has been self-reinforcing and it looks like operators worldwide are now inclined to offer much more attractive roaming packages than they did a few years ago.

Another major reason for them to curtail their roaming profiteering is the growth in dual-SIM as a smartphone feature. This makes it much easier for people to buy a local SIM when they’re travelling and this circumvent roaming entirely. On top of that public wifi is improving all the time so the simple fact is that if roaming is too expensive, most people just won’t use it.

BICS is forecasting global 4G roaming growth of around half the rate of 2018 this year, which is hardly surprising considering how extreme it was previously. Another major driver is expected to be IoT over cellular networks, for which global roaming is a key feature, with billions of embedded SIMs expected to hit the market in the near future.

How Your Capacity Provider Can Help Address the Demands of the Digital-Driven Economy

Network operators are the backbone of today’s digital economy. Led by explosive demand for bandwidth and connectivity from consumers and businesses, the opportunities available to them are numerous.

However, finding the right balance between meeting this demand, stimulating further revenue growth via new services, and maintaining a consistent quality of experience throughout, will not be straightforward.

To tackle the challenge ahead, the existing relationship between service provider and wholesale partner needs to adapt.

This paper looks at how this will work in practice. It also examines the areas where a wholesale partner can help drive new business models and prepare network operators for what’s coming next.

Happy birthday roam like at home: Impacts and opportunities one year on periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Mikaël Schachne, VP Mobility Solutions at BICS, takes a look back at the first year of no roaming charges in Europe.

The EU has again picked June for a well-timed summer-holiday-coinciding telecoms-themed announcement. At the start of the month, governors and lawmakers in the European Union proposed capping the cost of calls and texts between Member States.

The yet-to-be decided move follows the abolition of roaming charges, announced in 2017 to the delight of many holidaymakers. In addition to avoiding ‘bill shock’, if signed off in the autumn, subscribers travelling within the EU will pay a maximum of 17p per minute for calls and 5p for text messages.

The EU’s move marks a further shift towards a model of borderless connectivity, which could soon be replicated on a global scale. This shift not only presents opportunities for operators – through encouraging more international calls and less restricted device usage – but also delivers sizable benefits for consumers and businesses.

However, the transformation in telecoms is not without its challenges. These include negative reaction to roam like at home (RLAH) from some in the industry and the need to make up for any losses in revenue.

800% growth in data roaming traffic

RLAH has certainly been a hit with consumers, evidenced by the massive increase in data roaming traffic last summer. The period June to September 2017 saw a 600-800% increase in LTE data roaming traffic in the EU, compared with the same period in 2016.

Note that this is data traffic, which was the main driver in the overall increase in roaming traffic in the EU. European subscribers have clearly been enjoying the same kinds of OTT messaging apps and entertainment services on holiday and on business trips, as they do at home. Since April 2018, this has been made even easier, thanks to the EU’s content portability regulation. Those who hold accounts with OTT content services – like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Spotify – are now able to access videos, TV shows, music etc. on their accounts wherever they travel in the EU.

In addition to humans roaming with smartphones, there is also a growing number of connected devices and ‘things’ which need to remain ‘always on’ as they move from country to country.

Global connectivity is a crucial enabler for machine-to-machine communications and the wider IoT, unlocking a major revenue opportunity for operators. Many businesses will be looking to extend their connected business beyond domestic borders and achieve a global machine-to-machine network footprint. This could encompass anything from tracking packages to ensuring a connected car is able to send and receive data wherever its driver takes it. These new business cases will rely on operators’ roaming services and global networks, helping to drive revenue and replace that lost through the falling use of traditional voice and SMS services.

But what kind of implications will low-cost roaming in the EU have for other regions? Subscribers will quickly become accustomed to a seamless, high-quality service whether at home or away, with border-crossing no longer interfering with or restricting connectivity. Subscribers travelling outside the EU will expect a similar level of service, at a similar price point.


Fortunately, many operators will be able to offer a similar level of service, thanks to an increase in the number that now support LTE services. Global LTE traffic more than doubled in 2017 with a total of 562 operators offering LTE services; an increase of 25% on 2016. LTE in Africa in particular has really taken off, with a growth in the number of MVNOs and tier three/four operators introducing LTE roaming services in the region during 2017, helping to kick-start wider roll-out.

But just because subscribers can access LTE services in more global destinations, the high cost of roaming in many non-EU countries will result in a high number of ‘silent roamers’ when they travel – or huge phone bills.

This issue was recently brought to the fore, with uSwitch predicting that football fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup could face roaming charges of up to £3,696 over a two-week trip. In response, some operators have launched global roaming packages, where subscribers can pay a fixed daily fee to access the same data, minutes and text allowance in a number of regions worldwide.

RLAH has opened operators’ eyes to the wants of today’s consumer: seamless, high-quality, worldwide connectivity, at low cost. This has in turn opened up the possibility of ‘GRLAH’: global roam like at home. For this to happen, regulators considering implementing similar policies must collaborate with mobile operators and the wider telecoms industry. Dialogue should focus on how overall mobile usage can be increased and should ensure that any changes in legislation (and potential revenue losses) are balanced by methods to boost/future-proof revenues in other areas of business.

Silent roamers: an opportunity worth shouting about

One way to balance the books in light of RLAH is to ‘awaken’ silent roamers outside of the EU. RLAH will have highlighted the comparatively high costs of roaming in many global destinations, serving as a prompt to many subscribers to switch off their data roaming, or switch off their smartphone altogether when outside of the EU.

Operators should draw on the vast wealth of subscriber data they have access to and offer personalised roaming packages which incentivise subscribers to remain connected to a network, wherever they are. This could involve identifying a phone user’s normal pattern of usage and preferred services, and creating a tailored bundle (which is both affordable and convenient) based on the findings.

To allay fears of post-holiday bill shock, operators can also provide subscribers with greater visibility into their data roaming usage. Real-time consumption monitoring, the ability to set and manage usage caps, and notifications relating to this can all help empower consumers and foster a positive operator/subscriber relationship.

Demand for roaming services shows no sign of slowing. Following a positive reaction – and mass uptake – in the EU, subscriber demand for access to low-cost, high-quality services worldwide will also grow. Operators must adapt to this new paradigm by unlocking new opportunities in the provision of IoT roaming services, stimulate mobile usage through tailored services, and optimise the user experience. The industry must band together and maintain an open, ongoing dialogue to deliver global connectivity, and future-proof the business of telecoms.


Mikael Schachne 2018Mikaël Schachne joined the international division of Belgacom in 2001 which was then spun-off and merged with Swisscom International and MTN International. After having successfully led the product development and management of new international mobile data services such as Signalling, GPRS Roaming eXchange (GRX), SMS Hubbing, MMS Hubbing, Instant Roaming and Open Connectivity Roaming Hubbing, he’s now in charge of the Mobile Data Business at BICS. The portfolio which has been built across the last 10 years is now supporting international mobile communications needs for more than 400 Mobile Operators and MVNOs across the world.

BICS and Fastweb combine to link Europe and MEA

Connectivity vendor BICS has joined forces with Italian operator Fastweb to augment communications links between Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The strategic partnership aims to combine BICS’ pan-European network with Fastweb’s fibre backbone in Italy and its access to submarine cable systems originating in Sicily. The point of this joint effort is to offer intercontinental connectivity services wholesale to other operators.

“We are highly satisfied with this partnership agreement with such a major international player as BICS, which highlights the strength of our network and the solid nature of our strategy,” said Fabrizio Casati, Chief Wholesale Officer at Fastweb. “The partnership with BICS adds further value to our investments, following on from our participation in the Open Hub Med consortium in Sicily and the development of an innovative and future-proof Flexible Optical Network all along Italy.”

“BICS has always been committed to providing its customers with first-class connectivity, and this partnership confirms our position as a bridging partner for operators expanding their capacity provision throughout Europe,” said Daniel Kurgan, CEO at BICS.

In case you’re wondering where else BICS connects here are a couple of maps for you. We couldn’t find any for Fastweb, sorry.

BICS Europe

BICS global

Global connectivity and collaboration for an IoT future periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Daniel Kurgan, CEO of BICS SA/NV, argues that the full IoT opportunity will only be realised if there is global collaboration in the telecoms space.

The IoT has been a major discussion point amongst telcos for years, but it’s only more recently that we’ve started to understand how – and how much – IoT applications will benefit different industry sectors and power socioeconomic benefits. With huge potential for monetisation, investors will continue to pour money into IoT projects this year – worldwide spending is expected to hit $772.5 billion in 2018 – and a growing number of use cases will be trialled and deployed as a result.

IoT technologies and applications have been developed to such a stage that the main question being asked now is: how can service providers and businesses unlock the benefits of this connected world?

The M2M opportunity

For MNOs and MVNOs (which have established customer bases and, in the case, of the former, their own telecoms assets), monetising the IoT will involve not only providing connectivity for consumers and their devices, but delivering machine-to-machine connectivity (M2M) too. According to a recent report, the overall M2M connections market will be worth an estimated $27.62 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 4.6% from 2017 to 2023.Yet most operators of this type have neither the experience and resources to optimise their networks for M2M connectivity, nor the management capabilities required for controlling and billing subscriptions.

Further along the chain, companies in vertical industries will be looking to leverage the IoT to expand their business and launch new services and products. These could include shipping companies and wearables manufacturers, as well as warehouse operatives wanting to automate processes or utilities companies introducing smart meters. However, these companies lack essential resources; a network to support deployments, roaming agreements with operators to allow for global connectivity, and often the time and capital needed to create and manage this architecture.

Enabling worldwide M2M connectivity

On both the operator and industry sides, entering the IoT will only prove a successful and strategic move if they can generate a strong ROI. This is unlikely to happen if projects are created and deployed in-house, from scratch. For operators, local connectivity is no longer enough; as an operator’s customers increasingly operate on a global stage, communication and data exchange must be on the same worldwide level.

This need for global connectivity is also increasingly becoming a priority for connected device OEMs, placing further pressure on telcos. With businesses around the world reliant on access to global markets to drive trade, and with exports from UK companies totalling £617 billion in 2017 alone, seamless, cross-border connectivity will be essential for connected device manufacturers to access global markets. Connected devices, infrastructure and vehicles must be ‘always on’ wherever these things are – or travel – across the world, without the complication of managing multiple roaming and network access requirements.

The value of collaboration

As operators look to ensure their networks are optimised for the IoT, we’ll therefore likely see a growing number of deals between MNOs/MVNOs and those with the reach and infrastructure needed to enable mass connectivity – including between both consumers and devices, and M2M – at scale. This will allow MNOs/MVNOs to offer new connectivity services to sectors entering the IoT market, including healthcare, automotive, manufacturing, logistics, security and insurance. Gaining mobile connectivity services will allow firms in vertical industries to achieve business goals, monetise the IoT, and deliver services to global customer and consumer bases reliably and cost-effectively.

Industry convergence and collaboration will be front-and-centre in 2018. Industries which once operated in relative siloes are now linked by a single common denominator which will form the backbone of digital transformation plans: global connectivity.


Daniel Kurgan CEO BICSDaniel Kurgan was appointed CEO of BICS SA/NV on March 2nd 2007 after being COO from July 1st 2006 onwards. He started his career as Contracts Manager at SABCA (biggest Belgian aerospace company, subsidiary of French Group Dassault), where he negotiated and managed major industrial sales, subcontracting and purchase contracts with customers like Boeing, Airbus, Aerospatiale (EADS), Asian governments, and suppliers like GEC Marconi and Litton.

Daniel joined Belgacom’s Carrier Division at the start of the carrier’s commercial operations in January 1997, where he held several positions including International Account Manager, Head of International Relations & Sales, Sales Director (domestic and international wholesale) and VP International Wholesale, in charge of Sales & Marketing, Buying & LCR, and Customer Service and Network. In 2005 Daniel was VP Commercial of BICS, and contributed to the spin-off of Belgacom’s international carrier business. Daniel graduated from the Solvay Business School of the University of Brussels.

European LTE data roaming increased by 800% in 2017

Mobile data services outfit BICS has published its data for 2017 and it reveals some interesting trends in LTE consumption.

The most dramatic data point is an 800% year-on-year increase in LTE data roaming traffic in the EU, apparently driven by the ‘roam like at home’ abolition of roaming charges between EU countries. Furthermore BICS reckons a significant minority of people still haven’t taken advantage of this opportunity so it expects a further increase this year.

The bigger picture revealed an annual doubling of global LTE traffic thanks partly to more operators getting the LTE memo, but presumably also to the underlying trends of mobile video streaming, more generous tariffs, etc. Africa seems to be getting up to speed with LTE too.

“As infrastructure improves and populations and workforces become more globalised, we’ll see an even greater number of operators across the world offering LTE roaming to ensure they stay relevant and competitive,” said Mikaël Schachne, VP of Mobility Solutions at BICS.

“Roam like at home has upped consumer expectations for high quality, affordable roaming services, wherever they travel. Operators in other regions will therefore look to emulate a similar situation this year by banding together to offer better packages to subscribers while optimising traffic flow and cost efficiencies at the back-end.

“Finally, over the coming year we expect LTE roaming traffic to be impacted by the implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a focus on IPX signalling security – and compliance – as well as the overall decrease of data rates.”

It goes without saying that the BICS release also featured lots of commentary on how great BICS is, how well it’s positioned to facilitate all this lovely roaming, etc. With LTE still in such a rapid growth phase all the hype around 5G is put very firmly in perspective. There is clearly plenty to be done with 4G before we go up one more.