MNOs reunited at the first IO Plenary in Dubai

It was with great pleasure that after being apart for over two years, Mobile Operators met in person on the 16th– 18th November close to downtown Dubai to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the future of International Roaming.

With almost 70 delegates and well over 100 MNOs represented in person and over 50 MNOs online, the first IO Plenary was a small get together of some of the most important names in the International Roaming space, who were on a mission to learn from each other and discuss the impacts of the pandemic as well as review important industry matters. Held in a unique meeting room close to downtown Dubai and following guidance on COVID-19 measures, the three-day event had a day dedicated to the ARA (African Roaming Alliance) a day focussed on 5G Roaming, and a day on VoLTE Roaming.

Many MNOs representatives had not seen each other for two years or had an opportunity to have negotiation meetings with fellow operators. But it was clear that with so much speculation on the recovery of roaming, nothing was more important than learning from each other about how to overcome the challenges raised by the pandemic. The meetings were different from what most MNOs had experienced before, the focus being on collaboration and sharing on key initiatives and challenges faced by MNOs. With presentations from the GSMA, MTN Group, Safaricom, Verizon, AT&T, Etisalat, T-Mobile, Pelephone and BT, to name a few, the opportunity for MNOs to meet exclusively with other MNOs led to candid discussions on strategy for the rolling out of services.

The event opened with a presentation by Director General of IO Jason Bryan, who formerly chaired the GSMA Sub-Group Roaming Innovation Group and worked on roaming strategy for Vodafone Group. Jason spoke of the need for clear goals, work plans and explained how the IO Labs’ focus was on interaction. IO will soon publish its Roaming Development Goals, which will make it clear what IO is delivering but also set goals on the labs run by IO to ensure productivity.

It was clear for the delegates of the ARA session, that the African region has been somewhat overlooked in terms of collaborative action and support in succeeding on roaming initiatives. Chaired by Atim Akeh-Osu from MTN GlobalConnect and Deputy Chaired by Gideon Ndogo from Safaricom and focussed on Regulation, ARA #3 set out to explain the regulatory background its challenges and create a support group for all kinds of operational challenges. Atim explained that ARA will have meetings of its own in 2022 but will also have several Labs focussed on products and services which might benefit certain operational challenges MNOs have highlighted, and create efficiencies. In the Labs, Vendors will be invited to certain labs to present side by side in sessions where MNOs can then discuss the solutions and how they may assist with their challenges. MNOs wishing to join ARA can simply do so by following this link.

The event was supported by co-sponsors Nextgen Clearing and iBASIS who opened the meetings on days 2 and 3 with presentations related to the topics at hand. An evening cocktail event was also sponsored by Ailleron, which provided much appreciated networking time for the delegates.

Day 2 was dedicated to 5G Roaming and the 5GRL#3. Presentations were given on 5G NSA Roaming rollout and the challenges faced by MNOs. 5GRL is seeking a Chair and in their absence, Director of Labs Dhiraj Wazir, formerly of BT, EE, T-Mobile, and Orange groups set out the agenda for the delegates. As there are so few 5G SA case studies to discuss, the day was focused on how to proceed with what’s unique about 5G SA Roaming for MNO’s: SLA’s, testing and network slicing. While the work plan for 5GRL will be closed on the appointment of the chair expected imminently, the Lab members agreed to focus on sharing of lead times for 5G SA and sharing of challenges for 5G NSA Roaming.

Day 3 was focused on VoLTE Roaming. With the 10th meeting of the VRL, VoLTE is where IO found its feet and the knowledge base is very well established and complete. Considerable progress continues to be made and with the addition of Matthew Bisoffi of CKH IOD Hutchison Group to the leadership team as Deputy Chair alongside Jason Olivieri from Verizon, it’s clear that there’s a strong foundation for learning. VoLTE is still new to many MNOs, so the review of decommissioning and handset challenges took a certain stage as MNOs helped each other get better acquainted with best practices.

In conclusion, the event was appreciated for being a small group, with opportunities to share and collaborate in a setting where members felt that they could talk openly. With engineers, commercial managers, specialists in strategy, billing, operational efficiencies and attended by the GSMA the group could call on whatever resources it needed to help make traction on the topics at hand. Some indicated it was the first meeting for a long time in which they had obtained useful insights and opportunities for learning.

A calendar of events for 2022 will shortly be published by the IO team, which will include its forthcoming IO Plenary event in May 2022. Expect some face-to-face meetings interspersed with online meetings before then and plenty of insights shared among members.

Connecting the people who connect the world, to enable and continue to deploy quality roaming services has not been easy, but clearly, the appetite is there for MNOS to meet again and with good fortune and inspiring work we look forward to the next step of the journey of Innovative Operators.

IO is a non-profit member organisation developed by Mobile Operators for Mobile Operators. With just a few core staff, the organisation tackles roaming specific challenges through accelerator “Lab” style meetings where MNOs share and collaborate on their key challenges.

IO is building its board from its founding members. To become a member of IO, Chair a group, or take a major role in the evolution of IO, simply contact the team at

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