Industry Thought Leadership

5G Roaming: Key Elements for a Successful Launch

December, 2022
Lennon Powder
Sr Technical Product Manager


The next generation of mobile platforms, 5G, is finally starting to get a foothold in the industry. A new Juniper Research study has found that the global number of roaming subscribers using 5G services will increase from 4.5 million in 2021 to 210 million in 2026.

This growth may be largely attributed to the benefits that 5G delivers such as expanded bandwidth and increased quality of services with lower latency and faster speeds. Another of 5G’s most highly anticipated features is the ability to take advantage of network slicing. 5G technology is also finding its way into exciting new industry applications such as industrial IoT, healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation.
Understanding what’s necessary for an efficient and cost-effective roll-out of 5G roaming services will be critical for mobile operators looking to provide these new features to potential customers. These key elements, when part of a full-featured solution that incorporates all of the components necessary to deliver high quality roaming services, include signaling, security, policy, intelligence and clearing. Successfully implementing each of these elements can help operators quickly realize a return on their investment.

Moving from 4G to 5G
During the 4G to 5G transition, 5G networks will use 4G LTE technology as a steppingstone. The implementation of 4G/LTE has set the foundation for this next generation network. As a result, many operators will benefit from existing infrastructures that contain the critical elements necessary to allow them to benefit from 4G, while they implement the components to transition to 5G non-standalone, to 5G standalone.

The transition of 4G to 5G non-standalone and then to 5G standalone means that mobile operators will need to build off of their current infrastructure, such as IPX and Diameter Signaling. As mobile operators start migrating to 5G, there is a clear expectation that solution providers will ensure their existing portfolio also evolves in a timely manner to support the 5G migration. Having a Diameter Signaling Service for 4G/LTE Roaming that is enhanced to support 5G non-standalone roaming will be critical in this transition. Additional services like Diameter mediation, testing, and troubleshooting will enable commercial launches of 5G non-standalone roaming now, while helping to set the stage for 5G standalone in the future.

The importance of 5G signaling
Along with the promises that 5G brings to the market, it is also predicted to open additional opportunities for a massive influx of “connected” mobile devices such as phones and tablets. These connected “things” are designed to improve efficiencies within prominent business verticals including manufacturing, healthcare, and utilities. This incursion will also drive the growth of signaling on a massive scale, thus impacting routing, mediation and interworking functions that addresses load balancing and crucial management capabilities.

5G introduces a new cloud-native and web-friendly protocol called HTTP2 to replace Diameter and GTPv2 protocols. Implementing a new HTTP2 based 5G Signaling Controller to enable roaming with a 5G Core, specifically for 5G standalone networks, will deliver the real 5G experiences and market opportunities beyond Enhanced Mobile Broadband.

Enhanced security with 5G SEPP
While 5G continues to transform and enhance mobile connectivity, it’s enormous potential and almost unlimited connectivity potential bring about many security challenges by creating an expanded attack plane. Since security capabilities are critical for 5G roaming success, it’s essential that current and solid performing security measures are quickly put in place.

5G presents a new entity called Security Edge Protection Proxy (SEPP) to ensure security for interconnection and roaming between networks. This may well be one of the most important functions on the network, given the huge emphasis on security in 5G. SEPP resides at the edge of the network and provides integrity protection, confidentiality protection, replay protection, spoofing protection and topology hiding. It is the application that aggregates all the roaming interfaces into a single interface, then packages it in a tight encryption layer, and sends it off to the partner operator. It is one of the key enablers for end-to-end security in 5G.

The need to apply policy with 5G roaming
With the predicted influx of more 5G-based devices, operators need to prepare their 5G networks to support this without compromising service quality. This can be achieved by offering both consumers and enterprise customers a diversity of services. The expanded capabilities of 5G will support a wide variety of services with various characteristics and needs, requiring specific policies to be applied.

Employing these policies will allow operators the flexibility to design 5G roaming services based on individual requirements of consumers or enterprises, which in turn will allow them to benefit from the expanded capabilities of 5G to enhance the user experience and drive increased revenues. A robust and customizable policy framework must therefore be able to adapt to these specific applications.

Investing in quality policy and charging control services that play a serious role in the 5G ecosystem will provide transparency and control over the consumption of network resources during real-time delivery. This will also allow operators the ability to better monetize the customization and differentiation of services with greater flexibility and less cost.

Analytics and gaining visibility into the 5G network
The promise of 5G to deliver high speeds, expanded bandwidth, and low latency means that virtually everything, everywhere, will be connected in some way. For IoT devices that are seemingly far and wide, 5G will make certain that they are truly ubiquitous.

Identifying different types of roaming traffic on a 5G network will be critical, especially for IoT traffic that can travel into a network relatively unnoticed, yet still consume signaling and data. With numerous IoT devices potentially roaming into and out of these networks, what seems like small inconsequential consumption can quickly add up to significant amounts. Having greater visibility into what devices are traveling into an operator’s network, and how much signaling and data resources they are consuming, is critical to fully understanding what is utilizing the network and most importantly, how to charge for that usage.

Clearing and Settlement in 5G roaming
5G puts new requirements on the way that charging and billing is performed and interacts with the network. With the expected explosive growth of 5G supported IoT devices roaming across networks, operators will start to face the limitations of legacy charging and billing systems.

Ultimately, operators want to generate newfound revenues from 5G roaming. Monetizing roaming services through 5G will be different as billing moves away from foundational TAP services to the more modern Billing and Charging Evolution (BCE). BCE is better equipped to handle the extended needs of 5G, helping operators justify the 5G business case while supporting new commercial parameters for charging and clearing, slicing, potential SLAs, and data exchange.

This is important as the types of devices being supported expands. Mobile IoT is one of the core business initiatives behind 5G and new commercial and charging models are required to support it. Legacy charging protocols like TAP are just not flexible enough to meet the needs of the wide variety of use cases to come.

Moving to a new billing service also has its challenges though, as not every operator across the globe is currently able to support BCE. The ability to identify when a wireless device is accessing a 4G network assets versus 5G assets, and then knowing when it is more feasible to produce TAP versus BCE records, will be important.

Assuring Quality Through Testing
Testing of network platforms is extremely important in today’s dynamic mobile industry, in order to assure the highest quality of international roaming services can be provided to the roaming subscriber. The process of assuring the proper functioning of communication links and the ability of calls are part of both the IREG and TADIG standardized testing that is completed prior to finalization of the international roaming agreement between global operators. These tests play an important part in ensuring the quality and profitability of mobile services for both the home and visited network.

The optimal solution for operators rolling-out 5G roaming services is to tap into a provider that can offer resources to help supplement an operator’s own employees in the support 4G and 5G roaming. This includes performing 5G testing with existing or new roaming partners, traditional mobile operator roaming, or expanding to roaming with private networks.

The Benefits of a Complete End-to-end 5G Solution
Complete and fully tested solutions can be highly advantageous when implementing new technologies. For over 30 years, Syniverse has been a crucial part of the mobile industry. By developing and delivering products and services that address the current and emerging needs of customers, they can quickly go to market with high quality, revenue generating solutions that utilize minimal resources while executing full service, cloud-based results. Syniverse is uniquely positioned to ensure existing mobile network operator product portfolios can efficiently and quickly evolve to support the 5G migration.

Along with premium IPX Network connectivity, Syniverse’s 5G Roaming solution includes enhanced Diameter Signaling Service for 4G/LTE Roaming to support 5G non-standalone roaming, which allows LTE-based operators to implement 5G roaming services now. As operators move to standalone, Syniverse is ready to support the expanded capabilities of 5G through a 5G Signaling controller supporting HTTP2, advanced security through 5G SEPP, a robust charging and clearing with Billing and Charging Evolution (BCE), policy controls, comprehensive analytics, and business intelligence.