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5G roamers to surpass 200 million by 2026

With travel restrictions around the world being slowly phased out, analyst predicts 4,500% growth in 5G roaming subscribers over the next five years

As the international travel industry recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, operators must now focus on increasing 5G roaming support to accommodate the future rise in demand for data when roaming over next-generation networks, according to a study from Juniper Research.

The 5G roaming strategies: Future outlook, opportunities and market forecasts 2021-2026 study predicts that, as 5G roaming proliferates, supplier competition around the 5G-enabled roaming services will intensify.

Subscribers will expect comparable levels of bandwidth and latency when roaming over 5G to home network connectivity, and roaming suppliers must accommodate this demand via value-added services. It forecasts that the global number of roaming subscribers using 5G services will increase from 4.5 million in 2021 to 210 million in 2026.

The study projects that global roaming data traffic from 5G subscribers will increase from 2.6 PB in 2021 to 770 PB by 2026, representing enough data to stream 115 million hours of video in 4K ultra high-definition format from streaming video platforms such as Netflix.

In addition, the research found that this anticipated rise in data will necessitate the establishment of novel agreements that explicitly cover 5G roaming data and provide roaming subscribers with comparable user experiences while roaming.

As a result of the demand, the analyst urges roaming suppliers to develop 5G-enabled roaming features such as roaming analytics, sponsored roaming and steering of roaming. These services, said Juniper, will support the management of an increasing number of 5G roaming connections and the rise in demand for 5G roaming data, as well as help operators maximise 5G roaming monetisation.

“As demand for international travel returns, operators must adjust to the significant uptake of 5G subscriptions during the pandemic,” said research author Scarlett Woodford. “A failure to provide 5G roaming capabilities in key travel destinations will diminish brand reputation among subscribers and lead to churn to competitors.”

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Just before the outbreak of the pandemic, the UK’s major operators began to ramp up their roaming strategies, significantly boosting the capacity of its network in advance for the arrival of a new generation of 5G handsets. Almost 18 months on, the roster of handsets has grown considerably.

Research from Ericsson in May 2021, highlighting the impact that 5G is already having on smartphone users worldwide and what they expect the technology to deliver in the future, found that by the end of 2020, increased awareness of service and value benefits could have resulted in 22% more smartphone users with 5G-ready handsets upgrading to 5G subscriptions.

It also revealed that 5G was already beginning to trigger new use behaviours, with as many as one-fifth of 5G users already reducing Wi-Fi use on their phones indoors because of the benefits of 5G mobile connectivity.

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