Juniper Research said the number of international roaming subscribers dropped by 73% to 243 million globally in 2020.
The likely prolonged recovery for the travel industry led to the company's prediction that mobile roaming subscriber numbers will take until 2024 to exceed 2019 levels, eventually reaching 918 million that year.
The recovery will be led by North America, according to Juniper, with operators there accounting for 23% of global roaming revenue by 2025.
Another factor is said to be the region’s early adoption of 5G services, allowing operators to increase roaming revenue by providing advanced functionality to subscribers. Consequently, Juniper advises those operators to expand their 5G roaming agreements in 2021 so they can subsequently capitalise on this revenue growth opportunity.
In Europe, Juniper forecasts the UK will account for 11% of mobile roaming subscribers 2025, up from 8% in 2020.
A potential problem is that Brexit means UK subscribers are no longer entitled to roaming within the EU at no additional charge.
Juniper found UK-based operators are now facing pressure to form individual bilateral agreements with operators in Europe to guarantee continued inclusive roaming for UK subscribers.
According Research author Scarlett Woodford noted: "Any decisions by UK operators to reintroduce roaming changes would negatively affect customer satisfaction. Operators must approach changes to their roaming policies with caution, in order to avoid an increase in the number of silent roamers and accompanying lost revenue.’
Juniper's white paper Mobile Roaming: The Journey to Recovery is available for free download (registration required).