Bridge Alliance’s flagship event, our CXO Forum, returned as an in-person event held in Singapore this year. Against the backdrop of the “Telco to Techco: Who Dares Wins” theme, our SVP of Alliance Partnership and New Business Ken Wee spoke to some of our sponsors on how they can help telcos in their transformation journey to meet the new challenges posed by the 5G era and beyond.
Roaming is an integral part of modern travel, be it for business or for leisure. The pandemic however, caused massive disruptions to travel globally with lockdown and movement restrictions between 2020 and 2022, leading to heavy losses in roaming revenue over the past few years for mobile operators.
With roaming gradually recovering in line with travel resumption, Paul Hodges, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific at Syniverse shares with Ken Wee, our SVP for Alliance Partnership and New Business about recent post-COVID roaming trends in Asia-Pacific, and the opportunities that mobile operators can seize in this new normal, against the backdrop of VoLTE roaming and 5G. Paul also discusses some of the mobility solutions that operators can tap on.
Ken: Hi Paul, welcome to Bridge be in conversation again. Can we say that travel is back for Asia Pacific?
Paul: Thanks Ken, great to be here and thanks for having me back, as a Bridge Technology Partner, we always value the opportunity for this kind of dialogue.
To your question, I think it’s becoming increasingly obvious, that yes, absolutely, the travel industry in the Asia Pacific region is experiencing a remarkable recovery, particularly after China began opening up to International travel again at the start of this year.
I think Singapore was one of the first major hubs to open up in Asia Pacific, just over a year ago now, and I know from several trips there since, that Singapore has seen amazing growth in travel over the last year. Hong Kong opened up last September, which is when I started to travel again and I’ve probably visited around 12 countries since then. One thing I have noticed is a remarkable progressive increase in traffic at all regional airports since then.
We actually just held our Asia Pacific Users Group Conference in Bangkok a couple of weeks ago and it was very well received with over 100 customers flying in from 20 regional countries. At our users group conference, research company Kaleido presented that spurred on by China, APAC international travel recovery is expected to be on par with global average recovery of around 84% by the end of this year and that China will reach 100% recovery levels during 2024.
As more and more airlines ramp up capacity, I think we will be very surprised at the continued resurgence in the second half of 2023. And for mobile operators, this of course means a welcome return to international roaming revenue. And equally importantly, opportunities for market differentiation on international products and services.
Ken: Now that travel is coming back, how has the world of roaming changed? Are there new technology developments and opportunities for mobile operators?
Paul: Good question. The world of roaming is certainly changing but I think the change has more to do with technology advancements than with a return to travel. It’s the recovery of travel, together with this technology evolution that is certainly very positive for mobile operators. I think two of the obvious major Technology developments we are experiencing are VoLTE and 5G.
Have a look at firstly VoLTE (Voice over LTE). The GSM Association also presented statistics at our Bangkok Users Group Conference, they noted that while we have 717 LTE networks launched in 230 markets, VoLTE rollout has been relatively slow. VoLTE is only active in 250 operators in 107 markets and there are only around 100 active VoLTE Roaming services globally.
So the roll out of VoLTE roaming has been quite poor to-date, and this has compromised an operator‘s ability to sunset 2G & 3G networks and refarm the spectrum for 5G deployment – this incidentally is why our Evolved Mobility solution has been so popular recently as it allows operators to serve inbound VoLTE roamers on legacy 2G/3G Roaming Agreements by handling the GSM Map to Diameter signaling protocol conversion in the cloud.
Secondly for 5G – Again, according to GSMA Intelligence Global Mobile Trends, over half of mobile connections will be on 5G by 2030. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic but I personally think it might not take that long to get to 50%.
China has fast become the market leader for 5G, with their huge population, regulatory focus and attractive tariffs. At the end of 2022, China accounted for 60% of the world’s 5G connections.
Enterprise requirements are also changing significantly. As more and more businesses undergo digital transformation, networks need to be ready to enable support in many new areas, such as artificial intelligence and automation. And all this of course, is possible with 5G.
Ken: Do you see Asia Pacific leading the global push for 5G? And why?
Paul: Yes, I think the Asia Pacific region is positioned perfectly to lead the world in 5G mobile services, and China in particular will play a significant role in this development.
The region benefits from early adoption, extremely large markets, strong government support, and a proven tradition of innovation. Many countries in the Asia Pacific region have already launched 5G networks and are actively promoting the adoption of 5G services. This early adoption gives Asia Pacific a great headstart in developing and deploying 5G applications and services.
The Asia Pacific markets still have a growing number of smartphone users and increasing demand for high-speed data services. This huge and growing market provides an excellent opportunity for mobile operators to invest in and develop 5G infrastructure and services.
In addition, many governments here are actively supporting the development of 5G infrastructure and services, with initiatives such as funding for research and development, spectrum allocation, and regulatory support. This support creates a very favorable environment for mobile operators to invest in 5G.
There’s a recent report from the GSM Assn entitled, “The Mobile Economy in China 2023” which shows China is forecast to reach 1 billion 5G subscribers by 2025, then grow to 1.6 billion by 2030.
China’s “Belt and Road initiative” aims to expand digital connectivity and infrastructure across Asia and beyond.
So I think overall, the combination of early adoption, large markets, government support and innovation in 5G technology makes the Asia Pacific region very well positioned to lead the world in mobile services.
Ken: What is Syniverse’ role relating to VoLTE and 5G and how could you help mobile operators?
Paul: Well, for the purposes of international connectivity, Syniverse really is at the heart of this evolution. Many of our services at the moment are focused on 5G technology evolution. Our aim is really to simplify the increasing complexity of international connectivity and to enable operators to provide quick-to-market, revenue-enhancing international mobile services for their customers.
We don’t have the time to go into everything in detail but our focus for the future brings many new solutions that are key to enabling and leveraging 5G service such as our 5G Signaling Controller and our Security Edge Protection Proxy (SEPP) as the single interface between visited home networks, for controls such as message filtering, policing, topology hiding and security implementation.
Our Evolved Mobility solution I touched on earlier, a cloud-based feature that allows operators who may be sunsetting 3G spectrum to continue to receive inbound roamers on their VoLTE networks under a legacy 3G Roaming Agreement. And we have Evolved Mobility for outbound roaming which helps operators transition from their legacy network equipment without sacrificing a subscriber’s ability to roam outbound to non-VoLTE markets.
We have 5G Clearing Services with Universal Commerce for BCE, which allows wholesale billing and charging processes to capitalize on the really unprecedented growth of IoT and 5G use case deployments that are happening on a global scale. Syniverse’s Universal Commerce for BCE roaming allows operators to clear, reconcile, settle and audit wholesale roaming traffic, simply and more efficiently. Our solution is market deployed and fully compliant with the GSMA’s new BCE standard. Providing more control and the opportunity to expand an Operators revenue potential.
We have a Discount Management tool, Wholesale Deal Manager. As wholesale deals between Operators become increasingly complex, our Wholesale Deal Manager really simplifies how an Operator manages bilateral discounts, providing the powerful automation necessary to enable Operators to keep one step ahead and maximise revenues.
And a whole range of upgrades to our other online analytic tools to simplify and empower an Operator’s overall management of increasingly critical roaming services.
But actually it’s easy, the simplest way is just come and talk to us, we’re always here to listen and to help.
Ken: Paul, thank you very much for speaking with me today.
Paul: Thanks, Ken. Appreciate it.