Does roaming look different in a 5G world?

Rural (Pixabay)
C Spire's Criag Sparks says roaming in the future will be much more automated. (Pixabay)

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island—Roaming models are poised to change in the years to come as networks shift to 5G and automation plays a larger role.

As rural carriers consider capital expenditures and justifying investments for network upgrades, it’s important for smaller providers to have active conversations with Tier 1 carriers about things like RAN sharing and network sharing, according to Craig Sparks, chief innovation officer of C Spire, speaking on a panel session at the CCA annual convention.

“How do the Tier Ones actually partner and coordinate with [smaller carriers] in terms of that network sharing in the future?”

“[Roaming] has to be part of the conversation about what 5G brings to the table that’s different from how we’ve done it in the past,” he added.

He likened future roaming agreements as more of an Airbnb model, with automation a key component, rather than the typical conversation that happens today.

“In the future it’s an automated description of your network’s capabilities and what they can do,” said Sparks, adding discovery engines will dynamically add capabilities in 5G networks.  

“What you think about as roaming today is just not how we’re going to be thinking about it in 10 years,” he said, noting there will be automated service assurance models on trusted networks and that private networks will play a role. He used the example of Disneyland building out a CBRS private network that’s LTE VoLTE, 5G-capable.

“How do you trust and find private networks in the future without getting into a traditional roaming agreement?”

Ericsson’s CTO for regional carriers, GS Sickand, agreed roaming is going to look a little different in the future, and pointed to Sparks Airbnb comparison in terms of simplicity of agreements.

“Every provider might advertise how much space they have in their network and how that interaction might happen,” he said.  

Sickand noted a proof of concept using 4G for roaming in Japan and Germany between NTT DoCoMo and Deutsche Teleckom (DT), where DT used virtualization to install part of their core on NTT DoCoMo hardware, an approach different to the network sharing seen in traditional roaming today.

“Their customers saw it just as an extension of Deutsche Telekom,” Sickand said. “That could be a different way of thinking about roaming.”

Though only a proof, Sickand said it provided insight to what roaming might be down the line. “It might be sharing infrastructure. It might not be the roaming that exists today.”