Roaming subs and revenue face three-year recovery

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Hit by Covid and Brexit, roaming subscriptions could take until 2024 to exceed pre-pandemic levels, new research has found.

Covid-related travel restrictions pushed roaming subscriptions down 73% in 2020 to 243 million subscribers globally, after recording a high of 894 million in 2019.

Juniper Research said roaming subscription numbers will take until 2024 to exceed 2019 levels; reaching 918 million by 2024, as the travel industry "embarks on a prolonged recovery from the long-term impacts of the pandemic".

Operators in North America will be amongst the first to recover from the impacts of the pandemic on the roaming market as the region grows to account for 23% of global roaming revenue by 2025.

The figures are published in the report Mobile Roaming: Emerging Opportunities, Regional Analysis & Market Forecasts 2021-2025.

It read: "The months of June, July, and August are usually a crucial time for mobile operators in terms of revenue, with operators often reporting more than a twofold increase in roaming traffic during the summer holiday season.

"With operators experiencing a decrease of over 650 million mobile roamers between 2019 and 2020, remedial plans are needed for operators to best position themselves to deal with the continuing impact of Covid-19."

The story doesn't end with travel – politics is also influencing the outlook.

Juniper Research said UK-based operators are now facing pressure to form individual bilateral agreements with operators in Europe to guarantee continued inclusive roaming for their UK subscribers.

Research author Scarlett Woodford explained: "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."

But it isn't all bad news for operators, as their revenue opportunities grow. The research forecasts that the UK will account for 11% of mobile roaming subscribers in Europe by 2025, increasing from 8% in 2020.