The return of roaming: Exploring China Mobile International’s IPX platform

Throughout the world, over the last year the coronavirus pandemic has seen people confined to their homes, with international travel limited to a bare minimum. Operators around the world have lamented their lost roaming revenues, while at the same time expanding their mobile networks and related services.

But the telecoms industry is nothing if not global, and roaming post-Covid is set to boom. As networks become increasingly complex, operators will need to choose the right approach if they are to manage and monetise roaming effectively.

With 5G maturing and the coronavirus pandemic subsiding, roaming is quickly becoming more important for telcos than ever before.

5G boom is adding complexity

In the last couple of years, we have seen a rapid acceleration in 5G rollouts throughout the world and this is only going to continue in future. As a result, effectively handling 5G roaming  will soon become paramount for operators.

But as this market grows, so too does the number of specific roaming agreements that must be devised and agreed between various operators. 

For China Mobile International (CMI), overcoming this challenge was at the heart of its approach to developing IPX solutions, which can offer global coverage within a single framework. When moving towards a more digital future, intelligent digitalisation harnessing the full potential of emerging technologies like 5G is essential. 

“A new era of technological revolution and industry transformation has emerged, taking us closer to a future driven by the concepts of ‘online, intelligent, and digitalisation’. The Covid-19 outbreak has accelerated this process in powerful way,” said Dr. Li Feng, Chairman CEO of CMI in a speech. “To give users a consistent experience across the world and enable the infinite possibilities of global IoT and 5G applications, operators need reliable 5G roaming services.”

Creating the right IPX platform

CMI’s iConnect IPX services was launched in 2014, providing a secure and integrated IP-based platform running on a high-speed private network, offering mobile operators a seamless and high-performance solution to support 4G roaming, the SMS interconnection gateway, and VoLTE services. 

The platform has rapidly evolved to facilitate 5G, with South Korea’s KT announced as the first 5G roaming partner of CMI parent China Mobile  back in 2019. In the past two years, the partners have worked together to overcome the initial technical challenges, laying the foundation for 5G roaming for other operators on the platform. 

Additionally, CMI has recently launched two new features for their IPX offering: iConnect Sponsored Roaming and the iConnect Speed Control Service.

“Our IPX platform is one of the first to serve operators for 5G roaming in production,” said Dr Li. “The iConnect IPX has gradually developed to be one of the biggest IPX platforms in the world, with over 100 on-net operators up to date since the launch in 2014.”

With iConnect Sponsored Roaming the customer can do away with the need to sign numerous roaming agreements with various global operators, instead offering immediate global coverage with CMI managing all of the related wholesale and roaming requirements. 

The iConnect Speed Control Service supports very flexible setup to manage the data roaming speed in a specific network or region made of several countries, as well as allowing for an unlimited number of policy rules to control uplink and downlink speeds based on a user’s individual International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) identifier or an IMSI range.

Meanwhile, with CMI’s iConnect Mobile portal, launched in Q3 2019, customers can instantly check IPX signalling and bandwidth usage, compare usage by different criteria, and monitor the roaming performance if bandwidth and signalling successful rate exceeds the thresholds. 

Playing to strengths in 5G and global connectivity 

When it comes to 5G, the service requirement is much more demanding than that of 4G. China Mobile had around 211 million 5G subscribers by the end of May 2021, and had deployed 460,000 5G base stations as of March 2021. Naturally, with one of the largest subscriber bases and coverage, the demand for 5G roaming is soaring. All of China Mobile’s 5G roaming is now supported by CMI’s iConnect IPX and CMI hopes to truly capitalise on the opportunities of the 5G era – to catapult not only its own business services into the future, but also those of other operators and partners across the industry.

“5G connectivity is set to unleash a host of opportunities for both operators and businesses, powering the creation of new revenue streams, driving digital transformation, and providing support for innovation across various vertical industries,” noted Dr. Li. 

Alongside increases in subscribers, individual data demand is also set to rise almost exponentially, driven by 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and HD video streaming. In preparation, CMI last year pre-emptively increased the capacity to support China Mobile roaming to 100G, ensuring the service can cope with ever customers connected needs.

Of course, all of this is underpinned by CMI’s own extensive global network, which includes nine self-built submarine cables and 180 points of presence (PoPs), of which 75 PoPs support IPX connectivity. 

Nurturing a growing IPX ecosystem

As the world recovers from the pandemic and travel begins again in earnest, customers will have high expectations for their roaming experience worldwide. With the advent of 5G, seamless connectivity across borders will be more important than ever and engaging with IPX providers could be a practical and efficient solution.

But as is so often the case in the telecoms world, innovation and excellence cannot be achieved alone. Ultimately, creating a more seamlessly connected world requires collaboration. Operators must work together to create a more open and borderless roaming ecosystem and, in this regard, CMI has rolled out the Hand-in-Hand Program (“hi-H Program”), a global partnership initiative focussed on industry collaboration, as well as sharing best practises between carriers.

The advent of 5G and the coronavirus pandemic have both served to drastically reshape the digital world, but while the virus will ultimately be overcome, 5G is here to stay. As data demand and the quality and variety of user experience continues to climb, operators must ensure that their roaming services can meet these new challenges.

“5G roaming is going to continue to gain traction in the coming years, and CMI is committed to providing the best 5G roaming experience for operators worldwide, as always!” concluded Dr Li.

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