Wholesale mobile roaming revenues will reach $41 billion: How the operators must respond

Mobile roaming enables customers of one mobile provider to use the network of another when the subscriber’s 'home network' is unavailable. As a result, network operators acquired agility in releasing new mobile communication services.

Over the next five years, mobile network operators must ensure they can offer new 5G services to subscribers when roaming away from the home network. However, the majority of providers will launch offerings through alliances of sub-regional bilateral packages to gain access to other networks.

Global wholesale roaming market development

According to the latest worldwide market study by Juniper Research, the global number of roaming subscribers will reach 1.1 billion by 2024 -- that's rising from 900 million subscribers in 2020. This represents a growth of 28 percent over the next four years.

The new research forecasts that the wholesale roaming model will be crucial to mitigating threats from high data traffic generated by emerging technologies, such as 5G and rich communication services (RCS).

Wholesale roaming involves operators forming bilateral agreements that secure the use of each other’s mobile networks for subscribers. These agreements include pre-agreed costs and fair usage of voice, text messaging and data services while roaming.

Juniper forecasts that existing wholesale roaming agreements will need to be amended in order to accommodate large amounts of data traffic generated by 5G connections.

Network operators must ensure that fair usage policies reflect the increase in cellular traffic, or risk a low quality of user experience on visited networks. RCS is also anticipated to place added pressure on operators that offer roaming services.

"By the end of 2020, there will be over 270 million RCS messaging users. In order to retain a high quality user experience, wholesale roaming agreements must be expanded to include RCS or operators risk losing traffic to OTT messaging applications," said Sam Barker, senior analyst at Juniper Research.

Outlook for 5G mobile roaming growth

Juniper analysts also forecast that mobile network operators will increase adoption of the wholesale roaming model due to its ability to rapidly update usage policies and roaming capabilities.

By 2024, about 20 percent of mobile roaming connections will be attributable to 5G-capable smartphones. Subsequently, wholesale roaming revenue - including voice, text messaging and data roaming - will reach $41 billion by 2024, which will rise from $37 billion in 2019.

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