A global company with a global outlook – and ever the globe-trotter – BICS was on the road again this month, attending WAS #9 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The GSMA’s Wholesale Agreements and Solutions (WAS) Group is responsible for operator-to-operator and operator-to-hub interoperability (including inter-working and roaming). The bi-annual gathering provides an opportunity for WAS to review and develop roaming and interconnect agreement templates, solutions and charging frameworks.
Our goal? To provide a consistent, reliable service to all GSMA members, which ultimately equates to a consistent, reliable service for billions of subscribers across the world.
A great many of those subscribers are benefiting from roaming services delivered by BICS: our network carries over half of the world’s data roaming traffic, as well as around a third of its 2G, 3G and 4G signalling traffic. Data roaming traffic is tripling year-on-year on our network, and that growth will likely continue – due to populations becoming more mobile, and the increasing number of roaming, connected ‘things’ that will comprise the global mobile IoT.
What else is driving the IoT and roaming markets? We’ve outlined a few key trends below, but if you’re interested in learning more about the roaming and global IoT solutions and services BICS can offer, please do get in touch.
SIM for Things for Travel
Travel/global/international SIMs are big business in China, a country which sees 100 million-plus subscribers travelling abroad every year. To avoid high roaming fees and ‘bill shock’, many subscribers will purchase a travel SIM which they can insert into a dual-SIM handset, laptop, tablet, or other device. These SIMs support multi-operator agreements and allow the subscriber to roam across a whole network of MVNOs in the country they’re visiting, and pay local rates.
China – as well as regions such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand – is currently the most mature market for the ‘travel SIM’, but European operators are starting to take a more active role. At present, this largely involves providing SIMs to travelers from China; availability of the technology for European subscribers is usually limited to airports. We expect this to change, though, as operators overcome initial hesitation to change and embrace a model which will help promote device usage and awaken ‘silent roamers’.
We already offer a global SIM for Things for connected IoT devices, and a ‘SIM for Things for Travel’ could be the next stage in the development of the solution.
NB-IoT for M2M
Narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT) is a low power wide area network (LPWAN) technology developed for the huge volume and concentration of connected ‘things’ that receive and transmit only small amounts of data, but do so over long periods of time. The GSMA announced the first international NB-IoT roaming trial back in June 2018, with numerous others having taken place since.
Ubiquitous NB-IoT connectivity is a while off yet, but we expect to see more roaming trials this year, which in the future will enable reliable, consistent connectivity wherever devices are shipped, or their owners travel. The technology has also been earmarked as the facilitator of machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity. This will be crucial for the evolution of the industrial IoT and smart city applications, including waste management, agritech, smart meters, energy supply, and automated manufacturing.
This is currently an emerging opportunity, though government initiatives – such as Belgium’s nationwide roll-out of smart metres in homes – should help drive development. There have been 69 NB-IoT launches in 46 markets to date, and more are expected as operators, device manufacturers and vertical sectors seek a means of delivering a low-cost, future-proof IoT.
5G: next generation roaming
Finally, a hot topic at WAS #9 and a fierce race between countries and stakeholders keen to lead the market: 5G. 2019 has seen the launch of the first 5G handsets, and we’ve already seen major trials including Korea Telecom for the 2018 Winter Olympics and Telstra at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Widespread commercial deployment is expected to take off next year – but what good is having the latest 5G device, when you can only take advantage of the standard’s lightening fast speeds and reliability in certain regions?
5G roaming guidelines must be agreed upon, operators must open up their networks to other parties, and new technologies like network slicing will likely come into play. We’ll see more 5G roaming trials this year, driven in part by sectors like the connected automotive industry, in which a car’s seamless, cross-border, ultra-reliable, low-latency connectivity will be crucial.
The BICS team may have returned from WAS #9, but it won’t be long before we’re back on the road, with events like IoT World in California and MVNOs World Congress in Amsterdam, both of which are coming up next month. We’ll be showcasing our IoT roaming capabilities, with spokespeople available to discuss NB-IoT, the global SIM and a whole host of other opportunities the global connected landscape presents.