Thai operator Advanced Info Service (AIS) and STC Kuwait have added to the hoopla over 5G Standalone (SA) roaming by completing the first ever such connection between an Asian and Middle Eastern operator.
The 5G SA roaming connection was routed via international connectivity provider BICS, which has been testing its 5G Standalone Service Hub model since last year, when it completed the first-ever global 5G SA roaming connection between STC Kuwait and Belgian mobile operator Proximus.
BICS’ 5G Standalone Service Hub uses of the GSMA’s Secure Edge Protection Proxy (SEPP) – with added data analytics, business intelligence, quality monitoring, and fraud protection – to deliver an international 5G roaming connection carrying data, texts, and calls over a 5G mobile core network.
This is a big deal for 5G operators in that roaming connections for non-standalone (NSA) 5G networks have to be routed as 4G/LTE traffic in core networks. That means unique 5G use cases that leverage network slicing and real-time-critical communication can’t roam.
It’s also a big deal because operators saw roaming revenues plummet during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and are keen to see them return. A report from Juniper Research earlier this year predicted the value of the global retail roaming market would grow from $10 billion last year to $19 billion by 2027.
But while making it easier for 5G SA services to roam is a welcome development for operators, the catch is that 5G SA isn’t that widely deployed yet – and may not be for some time, Counterpoint Research notes that just 47 operators had deployed 5G SA commercially by the first half of 2023. In fact 5G SA deployments actually slowed down in the first half of this year, due mainly to macroeconomic factors
Meanwhile, most 5G SA deployments are in developed markets. Operators in developing markets are mainly holding back until they’re convinced there’s a use case for 5G SA, Counterpoint says.
However, BICS says that enabling 5G SA roaming will give operators incentive to adopt the technology.
“The real potential of 5G will only be realized through the global adoption of 5G Standalone,” says Mikaël Schachne, VP of Telco at BICS. “The more we work together to cement these foundations and make 5G SA roaming a reality, the quicker operators like AIS and STC Kuwait, and enterprises and end-users alike, can unlock its potential.”
Saran Phaloprakarn, head of AIS’ Mobile and Consumer Products department, agrees.
“For 5G to work for businesses and consumers, it needs to be scalable, and it needs to be secure,” he said in a statement. “This successful roaming connection takes a huge step forward in both regards, and ushers in the next generation of 5G for our customers and the wider industry.”
Separately, BICS said that AIS also participated in a 5G SA roaming trial with T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier and Sunrise using a direct SEPP to SEPP interconnect.