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How the Pandemic Impacts International Mobile Roaming

When you consider all the industries most impacted by the economic disruption in 2020, telecom service providers likely do not come to mind. However, global mobile communications revenue was significantly impacted last year.

Moreover, within the United Kingdom, the situation for incumbent mobile service providers will become even more complex and challenging during 2021, and beyond. All because of Brexit.

International Mobile Roaming Market Development

According to the latest worldwide market study by Juniper Research, the number of international mobile roaming subscribers dropped by 73 percent to 243 million globally in 2020 -- caused by travel restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Juniper analysts predict that an improvement in mobile roaming subscriber numbers will take until 2024 to exceed 2019 levels; reaching 918 million by 2024, as the international travel industry embarks on a prolonged recovery from the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

The new market study findings also predict that mobile network operators in North America will be amongst the first to recover from the impacts of the global pandemic on the roaming market.

Juniper's analysis found that the region will account for 23 percent of global roaming revenue by 2025, as border restrictions are lifted and demand for international travel returns to somewhat normal levels.


The market study findings also highlight that North America's recovery will likely be aided by the region’s early adoption of fifth-generation (5G) wireless services, with mobile network operators able to increase roaming revenue through the provision of advanced functionality to subscribers.

In response to further anticipated global economic challenges, Juniper analysts urge all mobile network operators to focus on expanding 5G roaming agreements in 2021 to capitalize on this revenue growth in the foreseeable future.

The research forecasts that the UK will account for 11 percent of mobile roaming subscribers in Europe by 2025, increasing from 8 percent in 2020, demonstrating that the revenue opportunity for network operators is growing.

Juniper found accordingly that UK-based mobile communication service providers are now facing pressure to form individual bilateral agreements with network operators in Europe to guarantee continued inclusive roaming for UK subscribers.

Outlook for International Mobile Roaming Growth

"Any decisions by UK operators to reintroduce roaming changes would negatively affect customer satisfaction. Operators must approach changes to their roaming policies with caution, in order to avoid an increase in the number of silent roamers and accompanying lost revenue," said Scarlett Woodford, research analyst at Juniper Research.

The implementation of 5G roaming agreements will lead to a range of application benefits, including new opportunities for globally connected Internet of Things (IoT) businesses and high-speed low-latency data transfer, hopefully providing some subscribers with an improved user experience.

I believe that as governments across the globe continue to respond to the ongoing pandemic crisis, and manufacturing supply chain stability may be difficult to achieve, we could see other technology-oriented business sectors make adjustments to their future 'revenue recovery' forecasts.

That said, the current relatively slow increase of COVID-19 vaccinations means that most commercial growth projections are very difficult to predict. Clearly, the potential for continued global market volatility merely adds more complexity to the process of forward-looking strategic planning.

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