PARTNER FEATURE: As enterprises worldwide look to accelerate digital transformation and take advantage of IoT technologies in the wake of pandemic disruption, operators in Asia are now readying their 5G infrastructure for a surge in demand.

Roaming is a key capability required to deliver seamless international connectivity across 5G networks for business and leisure travellers, and data-hungry IoT devices.

With one of the first platforms to support 5G roaming services for mobile operators worldwide, China Mobile International (CMI) continues to invest heavily to upgrade its end-to-end internetwork IP exchange (IPX) service and offer secure, flexible and convenient voice and data interconnection on a global scale.

“Since launching IPX services in 2014, CMI has set up direct connections with more than 100 mobile operators worldwide, one of only four operators to reach that milestone,” said Li Feng, CMI chairman and CEO (pictured). “Our iConnect IPX platform has a particularly strong presence across Asia, with extensive connectivity in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”

Its IPX platform also is a leader in Asia Pacific, with 80 on-net operators signed up and 30 IPX-ready PoPs in the region out of a total of 75 worldwide.

CMI’s iConnect IPX enables operators to securely and seamlessly interconnect with a global network of roaming operators via a single connection on the iConnect IPX platform

Spearheading rollouts
As a pioneer in the IPX industry, iConnect IPX enables operators worldwide to capture new business opportunities in the 5G environment, Li said. “A new era of technological revolution and industry transformation has emerged, driven by connectivity, intelligent and digitalisation. The Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak has accelerated this process.”

New 5G networks will be a key driver for the ongoing transformation of business operations through digital technologies and will play a key role in creating more intelligent services, he added.

“As one of the leading 5G network constructors and service providers, we have accelerated the application of 5G across business sectors and to serve the wider needs of society.”

Its iConnect IPX supports all roaming at China Mobile, the world’s largest 5G operator, with 189 million 5G package customers at end-March, when it had 460,000 5G base stations in more than 50 cities. CMI recently upgraded China Mobile’s roaming capacity to 100G to prepare for an expected spike in 5G roaming data usage from consumers and IoT applications.

The number of 5G roaming connections running on iConnect IPX now exceeds 60, and the platform will soon support standalone (SA) 5G architecture in addition to non-standalone, opening up further growth opportunities for operators.

CMI promotes collaborative partnerships to advance 5G, connecting operators through its global Hand-in-Hand Programme. It also partners with major IPX and telecoms carriers, offering timely service and local support to global customers.

Faster time to market
Sponsored roaming is a new feature of iConnect, offering operators instant global roaming capability, with speed control, allowing them to rapidly expand their roaming coverage and services with flexible, hassle-free roaming plans.

“Instead of spending time and resources building roaming agreements with mobile operators one by one, operators can partner with us to offer immediate coverage globally or to popular countries and regions where they do not yet have roaming in place,” Earnest Lai, senior manager of CMI’s Carrier Business, explained, “CMI manages all related wholesale roaming agreements and activities, allowing operators to leverage optimal roaming rates.”

The Speed Control Service allows operators to give their customers hassle-free roaming services at a competitive price. This encourages users to try mobile data services when they travel and increases their satisfaction with the service.

“Our platform lets operators create policies to control end-users’ data speed and usage in a roaming environment. This optimises their capacity utilisation to control data consumption and prevent abuse in usage. With an unlimited number of policy rules at their disposal, they can control uplink and downlink speeds by a user’s individual IMSI identifier or an IMSI range,” Lai said.

Operators also are able to customise roaming plans for a specific network or region, and offer their users a VIP white list and SMS notifications about usage.

High-performance solution
CMI’s iConnect IPX is a secure and integrated IP-based platform running on a high-speed private network. It supports signalling, diameter S6a and IPX/GRX between roaming operators, offering carriers a seamless and high-performance solution to support 5G and 4G roaming, the SMS interconnection gateway and VoLTE services.

“The foundation of this extensive and reliable global network is an MPLS backbone, with nine self-built submarine cables and a robust network of 180 PoPs, of which 75 support IPX connectivity,” Lai said. “CMI will continue to invest in this network infrastructure to provide reservable bandwidth for operators and offer them reliable, scalable and quality IPX services with low latency at an affordable price.”

Starting in August 2020, customers could set up bandwidth and location update alerts on the enhanced iConnect Mobile portal, to proactively respond to any potential service interruption or unexpected traffic surge beyond a specified limit. The portal can also generate roaming statistics by operator and handset model.

By late 2021, CMI targets adding VIP care reporting, a tool to trace signalling and GTP records for an individual IMSI. “It can be very useful to monitor a VIP’s service status and carry out timely troubleshooting. In addition, we will add Silent Roamer reporting to customers in this phase as well. All these tools are completely free of charge to all operator customers,” Lai said.

Client testimonials
Cambodia-based Metfone, a member of Viettel Group, deployed CMI’s IPX hub in 2019 to connect to multi-roaming partners more easily, because it speeds up the process compared with working out agreements with operators one by one.

Bui Minh Binh, vice general director of Metfone, said: “The high quality of IPX services plays an important role in facilitating inbound roaming of CMI customers, who can experience high-speed internet with the low latency on our network.”

He added: “CMI provides very stable IPX and continuously upgraded services, which are essential to meet the needs of demanding high-end roaming customers.”

Indonesia-based XL Axiata has been using CMI’s IPX service since 2018.

Rio Imanoto, head of project and partnership at XL, said: “We are very happy with CMI’s quality IPX services, and we are particularly impressed with the upgraded iConnect mobile portal. With CMI’s expertise and its superb IPX services, we provide our customers with reliable and scalable roaming services at low cost around the world.”