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T-Mobile US figuring out international roaming on 5G

'We will eventually learn'

PCs with 5G connectivity could face issues that include international roaming support, but T-Mobile US is working through those issues, in addition to figuring out what data plans may look like.

T-Mobile sells some connected PCs like Samsung's Galaxy Book Go 5G with its data plans. The company anticipates a much different user behavior on 5G than it has with smartphones, and will adapt plans accordingly.

"I think early days, there were a lot of starts and fits in the space. I think there was a lot of friction points from ease of activation to eSIM adoption not being quite there yet," Ryan Sullivan, vice president of device engineering, told The Register.

Another challenge was figuring out the distribution strategy, partially with PC makers not knowing what to do with cellular, Sullivan said. He added that T-Mobile won't be major distributor of these connected PCs, and that the mass appeal for connected PCs will be through traditional retail channels.

But unlike Wi-Fi, there are conditions for 5G PCs, like getting worldwide roaming for seamless connectivity. It's already hard for LTE smartphones to get worldwide roaming, and that could be an even bigger challenge for 5G connected PCs, which will need more bandwidth.

T-Mobile has a grasp of customer behavior, usage profile and cost benefit of international 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G roaming for smartphone users, but the same can't be said for PCs.

"We don't know that yet in the PC space, I think we will eventually learn that and you'll start to see similar offerings," Sullivan said, adding that there won't be a technical limitation.

"If you're seeing cases where it's not being offered, it's probably by design. And it's probably just because we're trying to work out the economics of what PC roaming worldwide looks like, what kind of usage is being generated and what the cost structure needs to look like," Sullivan said.

That is important in scenarios where international users don't want to connect to snooping public Wi-Fi networks, and prefer to seamlessly switch over 5G networks instead.

T-Mobile is also exploring data plans for connected PCs. Current offerings for mobile PCs are like the company's tablet plan, but more pricing structures and usage models are being explored.

"Whether it becomes something that you can borrow from as part of your hotspot budget, or whether it's a separate standalone unique plan where throttling limits are set differently, or whether it's completely on throttle, all of those things we're working through right now," Sullivan said.

T-Mobile said a variety of data could be offered as the 5G PC user profile will vary. Some will use 5G as a backup to Wi-Fi while others will use it as a replacement, and others may opt for data packs or pay-as-you-go plans.

"We're thinking about all of those things," Sullivan said. ®

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