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Roaming data revenue to hit $10 billion, but eSIM looms large

Telcos stand to pocket a weighty wad of cash from data roaming next year, but they perhaps shouldn't get too used to it.

Nick Wood

May 12, 2023

3 Min Read
Europe map with network points

Telcos stand to pocket a weighty wad of cash from data roaming next year, but they perhaps shouldn’t get too used to it.

Juniper Research on Wednesday predicted that globally, mobile roaming data revenue will come in at $10 billion in 2024, compared to an expected $8.6 billion this year. There is money to be made then, driven in part by the increasing availability of, and demand among globetrotters, for 5G.

Operators do need to tread carefully though. As the industry knows all too well, charge too much or fail to advertise fees prominently enough, and customers – wary of racking up a massive bill – will simply rely on Wi-Fi as much as possible while they are abroad.

Roaming onto 5G, with its faster data rate, could also see customers unwittingly consume more data and therefore incur charges. Operators must strike that balance between covering their own costs, stimulating usage, and protecting customers from bill shock.

The rise of eSIMs also threatens to taper the growth of roaming revenue.

Juniper Research predicts the number of eSIM smartphones in use worldwide will reach 1.5 billion in 2024, rising to 3.5 billion in 2027. According to separate figures from GSMA Intelligence, by June last year there were 127 different models of eSIM smartphone, tablet, or smartwatch available for purchase, a five-fold increase on 2018. And that figure is only going to go up.

This poses a potential issue because eSIMs make it easier for travellers to sign up to a local mobile operator or an international roaming provider due to the fact they don’t have to deal with the inconvenience of ordering and swapping out a physical SIM. They can just activate the roaming profile when they reach their destination, and voila, they have significantly lowered their roaming costs or avoided them altogether.

Juniper reckons that as eSIM adoption grows, so will the market for travel mobility services, and while the resulting competition will help with uptake, it could also limit roaming revenue’s upside potential.

It then becomes a case of who has the best offering, not just in terms of fees, but the range of tariffs and destinations, and the degree of control they offer to end users.

“To maximise the opportunities in the travel mobility market provided by eSIMs and minimise the potential for roaming charges, operators must also provide travel mobility services to subscribers roaming on their network,” Juniper advised, in a research note.

“However to reduce friction in the adoption of these services, a user-facing digital platform must be offered to subscribers. These platforms must allow subscribers to self-manage their travel mobility mobile subscriptions, including the setup, data allowance and cancellation in real time.”

Operators need to get a move on, because eSIM roaming providers are already here.

Companies like Nomad, BNESIM, and Holafly, among others, offer international eSIM roaming services to more than a hundred destinations. Similarly, app makers like Airalo have packages that provide local, regional and global coverage. All promise convenient and affordable access to mobile services to the weary traveller.

Operators that don’t come up with offerings of their own risk being left behind.


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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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