Data from international communications enabler BICS has revealed a 156% year-on-year spike in the number of non-standalone 5G roamers for consumer and internet of things (IoT) devices across its network.

BICS found that even though IoT is still in its adolescence, the increase in machine roamers using a 5G connection is an encouraging sign the industry is at long last picking up pace.

The data showed approximately 176 million 5G roamers appeared in 2023, up from 68 million in 2022.

Across all mobile technologies analysed in 2023 – encompassing 3G, 4G and 5G – the number of consumer devices such as smartphones, tablets and smart watches used by roamers grew 37% from 608 million to 817 million on an annual basis.

BICS added that such data aligns with research from UN Tourism, which shows international tourism is on track to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.

Drilling deeper into the split between consumer and IoT roamers on 5G connections, the BICS study revealed the number of consumer roamers rose by 15%.

It added that the sharp rise in 5G roamers tracked with other studies shows “soaring” data roaming activity and momentum for 5G roaming services.

It cited a study from Kaleido Intelligence estimating non-standalone 5G roamers will exceed 100 million in 2024, and that overall consumer and IoT roaming data usage will rise by 36% to a total of 5,000 Petabytes. The BICS data also showed a much starker 277% rise in the number of IoT devices roaming on 5G connections. Even the variety of types of 5G devices is growing – up by 47% year on year in 2023.

“Manufacturers have told us of the significant challenges they’ve had building 5G roaming-compatible IoT devices,” said BICS telco solutions manager Ann Heyse.

“It’s why most roaming devices seen on networks have historically been consumer phones,” she said. “While IoT is still in its adolescence, the increase in machine roamers we see using a 5G connection is a really encouraging sign that the industry is at long last picking up the pace.

“We know from Kaleido’s own research that revenues for IoT roaming are on track to increase by 79% in 2024 versus levels pre-2019,” said Heyse. “A lot of this stems from the many great partnerships taking place between players big and small to help proliferate IoT devices for next-gen use cases.”

BICS chief revenue officer Mikael Schachne said: “While 5G roll-out has been on the slower side, the uptick we’re seeing on our networks shows that non-standalone 5G is truly picking up in force and momentum now.

“These numbers make sense given that 5G roaming is now available in over 60 countries worldwide, though it’s important to remember this is non-standalone traffic anchored to 4G technology,” he said. “Unlocking the full potential of 5G will come from more investment in standalone 5G.

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