Roaming – On the verge of a new dawn

On 05-01-2022
Reading time : 6 minutes


Cedric Gonin
Cédric Gonin 
Senior Marketing Director Mobile Services
Wholesale International, Orange

What is the current state of roaming?

The pandemic put unprecedented pressure on roaming business, with a record decline in traffic levels. This resulted in pressure on roaming rates and a realignment of the business model to reduce minimum fees and commitments, in the hope of alleviating financial risks.

Going forward, the pandemic will impact the roaming business for some time to come, with intra-regional traffic slowly returning, and global traffic not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023 or 2024. 

Other trends, such as global Roam-Like-Home offers for example will play a part in transforming the roaming landscape as we know it, as carriers’ cost structures, and to some extent their capacity to innovate, will be put under significant pressure. This will have a momentous long-term impact on the whole roaming value chain. 

However, a new dawn is coming, triggered by the advent of 5G and the complexity it will bring.

What type of roaming complexity will 5G generate?

5G will bring a significant amount of complexity around signaling, capacity management, end-to-end quality of service all the way to the visited network, slicing, local break-out, security and the list goes on. 

In addition, 5G will not only interconnect operators but also devices using three different models, namely mobile broadband, massive IoT and ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC). This means that much more investment in capacity, quality management capabilities and intelligent platforms will be required in order to handle all this added intricacy.

Furthermore, if you add in requirements around data analytics, real-time intelligence coming from enterprises in the IoT segment, and the convolution of roaming between public and private networks, we can foresee some substantial challenges in managing this complexity. With the investments it will require, all this while roaming revenue and margins are declining.

What does that mean for the future of roaming?

Operators that want to remain relevant in the 5G world will be pressured by enterprises to address this complexity. However, not all of them will have the appetite or even the ability to do so, meaning that more and more will look to outsource at least part of their roaming to larger global wholesale players such as Orange. 

This will naturally trigger the consolidation of the roaming business, with fewer operators directly managing their own roaming. We may also see the emergence of carriers that will aggregate complex roaming networks (both private and public) to resell to others.

How Orange can simplify all this complexity? 

All these evolutions will take time to materialize. At Orange we are getting ready to support your future 5G roaming needs in order to help you better focus on your domestic market. We already provide all levels of roaming support from basic enablers such as Signalling and IPX to a roaming hub, all the way to full roaming outsourcing, where we negotiate rates, testing and interconnect. Our goal is to offer a full portfolio of roaming management solutions to our external customers, as we already do for our Orange entities around the world.

As mentioned earlier, we foresee a paradigm shift in roaming, from a bilateral business to a super-roaming aggregators model, with large players reselling roaming through a single point of contact. This is a real opportunity for global players such as Orange, which already connects 130+ roaming partners and reaches 1.5 billion mobile customers worldwide.

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