In another indication that the industry is somewhat ahead of its customers, this month has seen a number of announcements of 5G roaming deals and network expansions.

The international communications enabler, BICS, revealed another 5G milestone on 25 September 2019 – data roaming between Monaco Telecom and an unnamed Italian carrier. Announced at the rather glamorous Monaco Yacht Show, the service leverages BICS’ 5G global IPX network, which the company says ensures secure, reliable and low-latency services for customers.

Mikaël Schachne, CMO and VP Mobility & IoT Business at BICS, said: “[This service] has created a blueprint for other operators in Europe – and across the world – to emulate. With over half of the world’s data roaming traffic exchanged via our global IPX network, BICS is perfectly placed to support mobile operators to launch 5G roaming.”

This announcement follows on the heels of BICS’ first intercontinental 5G roaming service between Europe and Asia (announced 16th July 2019) between South Korea’s SK Telecom and Swisscom. SK Telecom itself reached 1 million 5G subscribers in August 2019, or around 3.5% of its 28 million subscriber base. Its goal is to reach 2 million subscribers by the end of 2019.

South Korea’s KT has announced 5G roaming agreements with China Mobile, TIM, Elisa and Sunrise, meaning its subscribers will be able to roam in China, Italy, Finland and Switzerland. Like their UK counterparts, these carriers still have patchy access to 5G, with TIM offering it just in Rome, Naples and Turin, while Elisa is providing it in just five cities (including Helsinki). Sunrise is further ahead, with an offering in 262 cities across Switzerland. KT says it now has more than 1 million 5G subscribers (as of 21 September 2019) and aims to expand its 5G offering to 85 cities by the end of 2019. This will include key transport routes, such as highways, airports and railways.

LG Uplus, Korea’s third biggest operator, aims to make 5G available to 90% of Korea’s population by the end of 2019. It currently has around 540,000 5G subscribers (August 2019), mainly in Seoul and the surrounding areas. It has partnered with China Mobile for 5G roaming and is due to launch that service at the end of this month.

Meanwhile back in Europe, Italy’s Sparkle established a 5G data roaming link between TIM and Etisalat (1 September 2019), using its own IP Packet eXchange (IPX) platform and monitoring tools. Sparkle is TIM’s global solutions business, but it has seen falling revenues (down 3.4% YoY to EUR9 billion), largely as a result of lower international voice traffic. Those 5G revenues can’t come too soon.

Vodafone has been busily rolling out 5G in cities across its European properties, announcing 7 new locations on 10 September (Berlin, Bremen, Dresden, Darmstadt, Leipzig, Duisburg and Frankfurt), which takes its footprint to 62 towns and cities. On 12 September it announced that its 5G network had now been deployed at Gatwick airport in the UK, with Cardiff, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Glasgow and the Isles of Scilly being 5G-enabled and Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington, Wolverhampton and Newbury set to be connected in the last quarter of 2019.

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa is the Chief Analyst at Omnisperience and has over 25 years' experience in the telecoms and technology markets. She is an expert on SME and enterprise telecoms, and has considerable vertical market expertise. Her research focus lies in helping B2B telecoms firms become more commercially successful by better understanding and meeting their customers' needs. She is a judge of the GSMA Global Mobile Awards (GloMo's) for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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