Wednesday, 27 October 2021

South African MNO, Cell C, is Transitioning from Telco to Techco

If you can't beat them, join them says the old proverb. The South African MNO Cell C has taken this seriously. A news article back in September said:

In a bid to give its customers access to world-class network quality, excellent service and innovative value offers, Cell C has over the last eight months deactivated 39% of its physical radio access network (RAN) towers with 100% migration in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and Limpopo. 

Over the next four months, Cell C plans to decommission a further 5% of its towers, with a focus on parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga. 

Rather than spending billions building network infrastructure to compete with its fellow mobile giants, the company concluded roaming agreements with network partners like MTN and Vodacom to use the spare capacity that they have on their networks. 

Prepaid customers will roam on the MTN network, whilst post-paid customers will be on the Vodacom network. 

We see a dual approach by Cell C here. Rather than putting all their eggs in a single basket, they have spread their risk portfolio.

In our blog post last year, we saw that both MTN and Vodacom has similar coverage and capabilities. This would mean that Cell C subscribers will win regardless of whichever network they are on.

With Vodacom, it looks like Cell C is using a roaming agreement and will act like a Thick MVNO. We have explained the different types of MVNOs here but if you prefer to watch a video then see here.

The approach with MTN, based on the above slide shared by them seems to be a combination of MVNO and MORAN. To understand what MORAN is, read here or watch the video here. Cell C explained it as follows back in June:

Cell C has successfully decommissioned 34 percent of its physical Radio Access Network (RAN) sites, while seamlessly migrating prepaid and Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) customers to roam solely on its partner network, MTN, via a virtual RAN.

The initial Cell C and MTN roaming agreement from 2018 provided coverage in areas outside of the main metros. The decommissioning of sites in these provinces means that where Cell C customers previously moved between Cell C and MTN towers, they will now only roam on MTN’s network through the virtual radio network provisioned for Cell C, which has wide network coverage. 

Based on technology advances it is possible for network operators to avoid duplication of investment in RAN infrastructure. In this model, Cell C will decommission its physical RAN, which includes towers, base stations, antennae, radio and transmission equipment, while MTN will provision a virtual RAN.  Cell C will use its own spectrum on this virtual RAN and manage the customer experience.  As a mobile network operator Cell C is still responsible for its spectrum licenses, core network, transport network, billing system and subscriber management.

While Cell C continues to refer to the arrangement as 'virtual RAN', it shouldn't be confused with vRAN / Open RAN. It would be interesting to see how this arrangement works and if this will continue for 5G going forward.

Cell C's FY 2020 annual results presentation slides and video may be worth a watch. 

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Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Hungary's MNOs are keen for Nationwide 5G Rollout

Hungary has the advantage of a developed telecom infrastructure, with a focus among operators to develop the 5G sector and upgrade fixed networks to provide a 1Gb/s service. Services based on 5G have been supported by the January 2021 multi-spectrum auction for spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands. Digi Mobile failed to secure spectrum, which prompted the operator’s parent company to sell the unit to 4iG.

As in many other markets in the region, the number of fixed-lines continues to fall as subscribers migrate to the mobile platform for voice and data services. Operators have thus looked to bundled packages to boost revenue and retain subscribers. This strategy encouraged Vodafone Group to acquire UPC Hungary in mid-2019.

The dynamic mobile market is served by four MNOs and a small number of MVNOs. Mobile penetration is relatively high for the region, and there remains considerable growth in mobile broadband services delivered via upgraded networks. Revenue growth is focused on mobile data as operators struggle with competition and regulated tariff reductions.

Maygar Telekom is at the forefront of 5G developments, supported by the government, universities, other telcos and vendors forming the Hungarian 5G Coalition. By March 2021, Vodafone Hungary managed about 300 5G base stations in Budapest and its surrounds, as well as in a number of other cities.

The four mobile operators in Hungary are: Magyar Telekom (a.k.a Telekom, formerly T-Mobile/Westel), Telenor Hungary (formerly Pannon, partly state-owned), Vodafone Hungary and DIGIMobil (limited coverage, postpaid only)]

For the three major providers Telekom, Telenor and Vodafone 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G is on 900 and 2100 MHz, while Digi works only on 1800 MHz with 2G/4G. The big three carriers are offering 4G/LTE services since 2015 on 800, 1800 and partly 2100, 2600 MHz (bands 1, 3, 7 and 20). LTE-A is available by big three providers in bigger cities in up to 300 Mbit/s. Telekom and Telenor have network sharing agreement for 4G on 800 MHz (B20) outside of Budapest and have therefore almost the same coverage on 4G/LTE. Generally Hungary has a quite good coverage with 4G/LTE networks and high speeds in most areas except Digi.

According to the recent Opensignal report on operators in Hungary, it was found that Telekom is the dominant operator when it comes to national mobile network experience. The operator won five out of the seven awards outright — Video Experience, Games Experience, Voice App Experience, Upload Speed Experience, and 4G Coverage Experience — and further jointly won the Download Speed Experience award with Telenor. It was noteworthy that Telekom users saw strong results for the experiential metrics — Excellent rating in Video Experience, Good ratings on Games Experience, and Voice App Experience. Telekom also had a considerable lead in Upload Speed Experience, with the users on its network observing 18.9% to 306.5% faster speeds compared to their peers. However, this was not the case for other metrics, as Telenor came close to challenge Telekom on most of them.

Hungary has held a strong position globally when it comes to mobile network experience and is striving to establish the same level of global success in the 5G era. The country opened its doors to 5G earlier last year with the auction of 5G capable bands in which three national operators — Telekom, Telenor, and Vodafone — acquired three bands of which the 2.1 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands were ready to be used immediately, while the 700 MHz band was available for use from September 2020 onwards. Since then, 5G deployments have been evolving in the country.

In terms of commercial 5G service, Vodafone claimed to be the first to launch services covering downtown Budapest in late 2019, using its existing 3500 MHz band frequencies. Telekom has claimed to have expanded 5G mobile services using the 2100 MHz band, via Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology and launched its commercial 5G network in April 2020 using the 3600 MHz band in selected areas of downtown Budapest and central Zalaegerszeg. In contrast, Telenor is yet to launch commercial 5G services, while the newest mobile operator — DIGIMobil — did not acquire any spectrum from the 5G auctions. The measurements from 5G users contribute to the overall scores included in this report.

In the future, as Hungary’s operators continue to make strides for a nationwide rollout it will be interesting to see how the mobile network experience in the country shapes up.

In this report, Opensignal used real-world data to compare the experience of our users on the country’s four key national operators — DIGIMobil, Telekom, Telenor and Vodafone — for a period of 90 days starting October 1, 2020.

Magyar Telekom Nyrt., often simply called Telekom, is the largest Hungarian telecommunications company. The former monopolist is now a subsidiary of (German) Deutsche Telekom.

It has the best and fastest network according to Opensignal. 4G/LTE is available on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz and covers 98% of the population coverage map in up to 150 Mbit/s.

Telekom launched its commercial 5G network in April 2020 with spectrum in the spectrum from the 3.5GHz band, connecting areas in downtown Budapest and county capital Zalaegerszeg, it also switched on 5G base stations in the Lake Balaton region in July 2020.

Magyar Telekom stated 5G services are live in four other county capitals Debrecen, Szeged, Kecskemet and Szombathely. There is also 5G connectivity in the town of Budaors and 21 settlements around Lake Balaton.

DSS technology enables spectrum to be shared between 4G and 5G to a millisecond, allowing operators to rely on spectrum they already possess.

Telenor in Hungary was sold by Telenor to the Czech PPF Group in 2018, and since 2019 25% of it is owned by the state. It has pretty good coverage throughout the country. Their 3G is on 900 and 2100 MHz up to 42 Mbit/s and their 4G/LTE is available on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz covering 99% of the population up to 150 Mbit/s.

Vodafone is the smallest provider in Hungary what the number of customers is concerned. It covers about 98% of the population on 2G and 3G and about 95% on 4G.

For 3G your device should be capable of the 900 MHz frequency, because most of its 3G antennas are based on it up to 21 Mbit/s. 4G/LTE network started in 2015 on 800 MHz and now available on 1800 and additionally on 2100 and 2600 MHz available for prepaid users in up to 75 Mbit/s.

Vodafone has signed a cooperation agreement Huawei along with Hungary's East-West Intermodal Logistics and British telecommunications operator, in a joint effort to build Europe's first smart railway hub managed by a 5G private network to be empowered by Huawei.
Vodafone Hungary and Huawei's Hungary subsidiary will provide a 5G private network for the project. 5G technology will be used to remotely control fully automatic gantry cranes for intelligent loading and unloading operations. It will be able to handle 1 million standard containers per year after project completion in the first quarter of next year.

A 4th LTE license to Romanian-backed RCS & RDS company (brand name: 'DIGI') was given out in 2014. They started their own 2G and 4G network on 1800 MHz (band 3) in May 2019.

Their coverage is very limited and there is no domestic roaming on other networks. They sell only postpaid packets. 

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Saturday, 9 October 2021

Telefonica Presents Strategy for Systems and Network Evolution

Last month, speaking at Morgan Stanley Telecoms CTO Symposium, Enrique Blanco, Global CTIO of Telefónica laid out their strategy for 'Systems and Network Evolution'. This included mobile as well as fixed line evolution.

As part of the presentation, he covered the following topics:

  • Evolution of Fiber technology towards 50G-PON by means of a multiservice approach
  • Providing differential customer experience through excellent Wi-Fi quality and home equipment
    • Moving forward to Wi-Fi 6, using home devices ecosystem as an open service platform at home and providing FWA solutions
  • Completing coverage and capacity deployments of 4G networks as 5G networks are activated
  • 5G deployment at the right pace according to business needs
  • 5G, in its final version (SA), will provide differential attributes for the provision of new services
    • 5G is an attractive technology to promote new enterprise businesses that demand specific use cases in Industrial IoT
    • 5G and Edge computing as enablers for new services requiring low latency and locality
  • Evolution of networks and systems towards virtualized and open architectures to ensure the strength of industry ecosystems
    • This is being carried out in all the segments of the network and the systems
  • Open RAN and Open Broadband: enabling the evolution of our access while managing the vendor map by creating robust ecosystems
  • Follow IT Architecture principles to progress towards the cloudification and digitalization, and provide differential value to the market and customers
    • While building a new operating model where AI would be a key component…
  • Create value with 5G beyond improvement in browsing, speed and latency
  • Working with active sectors in 5G and approaching horizontal multi-sector 5G applications
  • Serving Society as a whole while supporting sustainability
  • Become leaders in cutting-edge digital services by unlocking the power of integrating technology

You can get the slides for the above presentation from here. Pablo Eguiron, CFO at Telefónica Tech also did a virtual presentation on 'The partner to fully capture the B2B opportunity' at 18th Caixabank BPI Iberian Conference. Slides from that are available here.

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Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Telenor Norway says 5G is the Key Enabler for Modernization going forward

In the recently concluded 5G World Summit 2021, Ingeborg Øfsthus, CTO of Telenor Norway provided a Holographic Service Provider Keynote on "Innovate, modernize and decommission, - moving Norway from legacy technology to high speed broadband with 5G, FWA and fiber"

Her talk was full of interesting facts about Norway and Norwegians. As a matter of comparison, UK for example is 3/4th the size of Norway while the population is roughly 12 times. This does not mean that the people out there expect anything less than the best from their operators. 

This is a reason that Telenor has embarked on a journey to modernize their network (fixed and mobile) and phase out the legacy. There is an ongoing program to get rid of the copper network that has served the country well for over 160 years.

Users in urban and sub-urban areas can get fiber to their premises, be it home or business. The mobile network is being upgraded to 5G with 3G being shut down end of 2021. A small chunk of 2G will remain for fallback, roaming and IoT purpose. This whole modernization should be completed by 2024.

While Fiber will be available for most of the users, some rural and hard to reach areas may have to rely on Fixed Wireless Access. To ensure that good speeds are available to FWA as well as mobile users, granular planning is done to decide what kind of internet service would be offered in each area. In case of some very remote locations, Satellite broadband is provided as well.

As can be see in the picture above, Telenor has managed to stretch the C-band FWA as far as 3.6 kilometers. This of course requires line of sight outdoor antennas that have to be planned and installed by professional RF engineers. 

Telenor considers all of these equipment to be part of the network so as to ensure a fantastic quality of experience to the end users. FWA is treated as fiber through the air by the end users. 

As the old copper network is decommissioned, it is allowing a lot of power to be saved and indoor space to be reclaimed. Some of these old infrastructure is also a threat to wildlife as it's old and can fall down. 

The main challenge is also to retain the customers while doing this transition from legacy to modern infrastructure. Telenor aims to retain at least 60% of the existing customers and 70% of the revenue. The approach using fiber and FWA is profitable and the best approach going forward. 

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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Malta gets a Taste of 5G!

Malta’s small telecom sector is among the most advanced in Europe. This has been helped by the topography, which has made it relatively easy for operators to expand the reach of their fibre infrastructure. With high mobile and broadband penetration rates, the government and regulator have effective strategies in place to capitalise on these infrastructure developments to ensure that the population has among the fastest data rates in Europe, and so is well positioned to take advantage of emerging e-commerce opportunities.

The sector has also been stimulated by regulatory measures designed to reduce consumer prices. Melita having been sold to EQT in late 2019 and Vodafone Malta having been sold to Monaco Telecom, and rebranded as Epic. The incumbent telco GO is investing in a subsea cable to connect the islands to France and Egypt. Expected to be ready for service in 2022, the cable will further enhance Malta’s internet bandwidth and lead to reduced prices for end-users.

As mentioned Malta and Gozo have three network operators: epic (former Vodafone), GO and Melita.

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE has started on Vodafone's and Go's 1800 (B3) and 2600 (B7) MHz frequencies and 800 (B20) MHz was added later and Melita started with LTE too in 2018.

epic is in the lead with 44% market share in 2015, followed by GO with 39% and Melita with 15% only. Redtouch Fone was the first MVNO in Malta. They stopped providing services in 2018 and moved all customers to Melita.

In 2017 Vodafone and Melita agreed to a merger, but they were not able to satisfy the competition authorities as this new company would control about 62% of Malta's mobile market. That's why the merger was called off later.

epic is market leader with the best coverage on Malta and Gozo.

It started 4G/LTE in 2013 on 1800 and 2600 MHz and covered already 99% of population at the end of 2015 opened on most prepaid products.

Epic begun the rollout of a new fibre-optic network which will offer download speeds of up to 2Gbps. Until now, the firm has been utilising fibre infrastructure of rival operator GO under a wholesale agreement signed in 2018, but it is now deploying its own networks, beginning in the city of Mosta. Epic had just 1,162 fibre broadband subscribers at the end of 2020 according to figures from the Malta Communications Authority (MCA), as well as 8,245 fixed-wireless customers and almost 240,000 cellular subscribers.

Epic have selected Ericsson as their exclusive 5G radio access network (RAN) provider, bringing the wide-reaching benefits of 5G to Malta. As part of the new partnership, Epic will use Ericsson’s technology leadership to fully modernize their existing network.

RAN products and solutions from the Ericsson Radio System portfolio, including Ericsson Spectrum Sharing and Ericsson Antenna System will be deployed in Epic’s network as part of a smooth, fast, and cost-effective shift to 5G that will accelerate the digital transformation of Maltese society.

Ericsson RAN portfolio also includes Massive MIMO technology, which enables communication service providers to capitalize on mid-band 5G spectrum. And with a unique approach to energy optimization, Ericsson's radios and basebands will also improve the carbon footprint of Epic’s current network, contributing to significant energy savings.

GO Mobile is the big rival of Vodafone on the island giving good coverage and speeds too. 4G/LTE started in 2015 and covers most of the islands. At the moment it's expanding its fibre-optic 4G network.

GO has recently revamped its full mobile portfolio, allowing its customers to do so much more with their mobile bundle while on the move, thanks to unlimited data plans, at full speeds.

“Our unlimited data plans will allow our customers to really enjoy the best of Malta’s best rated network, with total peace of mind. They can connect to who and what matters to them, whether it’s accessing social networks, talking to family and friends overseas, entertaining their children, listening to their favourite tunes or watching their favourite TV programme with absolute peace of mind,” GO’s senior marketing manager, Alison Mercieca, said.

With more businesses shifting their operations online and more people working remotely, GO also enhanced its mobile plans for the business community so that everyone can really get to enjoy the benefits of these new plans.

Melita is Malta's smallest provider, but it controls half of the broadband market. Its 3G is on 2100 MHz, 4G/LTE has started in May 2018 in Valletta.

The 4G network is continually rolled out across the country. In 2018 it already covered 85% to reach nationwide coverage by the end of the year. Prepaid customers have access to 4G/LTE since September 2018.

Melita has launched what it says is a ‘nationwide’ 5G service, beating rivals Epic and GO to the country’s first commercial 5G offering. Melita claims that download speeds of up to 1Gbps will be available on its Ericsson-built network, although real-world speeds will be somewhat lower. Any customer with a 5G device can access the service, Melita CEO Harald Roesch told Times of Malta. He added: ‘Malta is one of the very few countries in the world with 5G nationwide coverage, and is now unparalleled in the EU. This investment benefits our economy in general.’ Melita is using existing spectrum for its 5G service ahead of an auction of 5G-capable licences in the 700MHz, 3.5GHz and 26GHz bands later this year.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Telstra Conducts 50 Tests on 5G mmWave and Small Cells to Measure EME

The Aussie MNO Telstra has been very active since dispelling the myths since the early days of 5G. They have a detailed page looking at mobile phones and health related issues as well as a YouTube playlist answering many of the questions.

This week they announced that they have now conducted more than 50 tests on 5G mmWave and small cells to measure the electromagnetic energy (or EME) levels in many different real-world settings. In some of the most extensive testing undertaken on 5G technology in Australia, they’ve found levels of mmWave electromagnetic energy to be similar to existing technologies like 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi.

Their article written by Mike Wood, Principal, EME Strategy, Governance and Risk Management at Telstra says:

I’ve been testing EME levels for decades, and this is some of the most extensive testing I’ve taken part in – we’ve really put mmWave and small cells through their paces. This round of testing was different, though, in that we also sought help from the graduates and young engineers in our business who really embrace the latest tech.

No matter how much we upped the ante – and we really threw everything we had at our testing to max out the small cells – we found that our 5G technology produces electromagnetic energy levels not just slightly below, but actually around 1000 times below the safety limits in most cases.

Importantly, we did our testing on Telstra’s live network. This wasn’t just a bunch of boffins testing EME in the lab – our 50 tests of 5G were real-world tests, in places like apartments, pubs, cafes, transport hubs, homes and businesses – and even a dentist’s office. We also used devices that are commercially available. This is where our grads and young engineers really put their mark on this project, seeking out the best real-world situations to put 5G to the test and gather valuable real-world data.

In a local café, one of my favourite places to work, our Telstra graduates arranged a coffee and 5G mmWave test where their challenge was to max out the hardware we had available – to all connect to the mmWave hotspots and run video streaming, jump on social media and their everyday online work from the café, really putting the 5G to the test with real-word scenarios while we measured the EME.

As we expected, the EME measured was very low whilst the grads enjoyed a seamless connection, learned how the testing was conducted, and helped us evaluate more real-world settings.

Encouraging our young engineers and providing these learning opportunities really helps us to ensure the Telstra networks are world class, all while we’re helping to develop Australia’s best technical talent. These are Australia’s future technology leaders!

You can read the complete article here. There is also an accompanying presentation showing pictures and providing a lot more detailed insights available here.

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Wednesday, 15 September 2021

MTN is hoping their 5G will trump Orange's 4.75G in Cameroon


Cameroon for many years was one of the few countries in Africa with only two competing mobile operators. After some delays, Viettel Cameroon launched a third network and has since grown its subscriber base rapidly. Camtel became the fourth mobile operator in early 2020 after securing three licences. The investment programs among operators over the next few years will considerably boost mobile broadband services in rural areas of the country, many of which are underserved by fixed-line infrastructure.

The ICT sector in Cameroon is making steady progress, enabling the country to make better use of the digital economy. About 95% of all electronic transactions are carried through the m-money services operated by MTN Cameroon and Orange Cameroon. The government has also been supportive, having launched its ‘Cameroon Digital 2020’ program, aimed at improving connectivity nationally. A large number of small ICT projects form part of the overall program. Improved submarine and terrestrial cable connectivity has substantially increased international bandwidth, in turn leading to reductions in access prices for consumers.

The four present operators are MTN Cameroon, Orange Cameroon (previously Airtel), Nexttel (by Viettel) and Camtel (Cameroon Telecommunications - CDMA and LTE)

Nexttel (majority-owned by Viettel)was launched as a 3rd network in 2014, including the country’s first 3G mobile service. The operator has grown swiftly, signing up 2 million subscribers and gaining market share. Competition in 3G followed in early 2015 when both MTN and Orange launched services. Mobile broadband based on 4G/LTE was established at the end of 2015 and this has been the catalyst for a fast-developing mobile broadband sector. The investment programs among operators over the next few years will boost mobile broadband services in rural areas of the country. At the tail end of this ranking is the historical operator, Camtel, sole landline phone operator of the country, which has shrunk to 1.4% of the phone market, but launched a new 4G/LTE network.

MTN Cameroon is the country's biggest operator with a 37 per cent market share at the end of June 2021 (says Omdia research). Orange Cameroon has 35.5 per cent and Nexttel 25.5 per cent. Camtel Cameroon has less than two per cent of the nation’s subscribers. 

MTN is still the market leader in the country with over 10 million mobile subscribers. According to the 2019 report by Rohde & Schwarz, which audited the performance of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G mobile networks, concluded the MTN network as the best in Cameroon for data and voice quality.

MTN Cameroon have applied for permission to deploy and operate a trial 5G network. The operator has submitted a request to the Telecommunications Regulatory Board (Agence de Regulation des Telecommunications, ART) for a relevant licence to test 5G services in the country. MTN said the move is aimed at ‘giving Cameroonians access to more modern uses of information and communication technologies’.

At the end of December 2020, Orange Cameroon’s subscriber base was 9.26 million, against 7.87 million at the end of 2019 and 6.9 million subscribers at the end of 2018. 

Orange Cameroon claims to be the leader of the 4G technology, ahead of MTN Cameroon, Nexttel, and Camtel. It also believes to have covered 79% of the Cameroonian population with 3G.

They have increased the speed and capacity of its LTE-A network in certain parts of the country. In order to use the new service, which is described by the operator as ‘4.75G’, customers require a compatible handset or device. Nokia and Orange embarked on a major 4G LTE regional rollout in 2018, which saw the Finnish vendor upgrade the cellco’s radio access network to enhance mobile broadband services. In January 2020 Orange launched LTE-A (referred to by the company as ‘4.5G’) in a number of towns and cities, including Douala, Yaounde, Mbankomo, Sangmelima, Mbalmayo, Ngaoundere, Bafia, Garoua-Boulai, Bandjoun, Bangangte, Ferme-Suisse, Mbanga, Yop and Mengbwa.

Nexttel (owned by Viettel) started in 2014 in Cameroon. Two years later it had already 2.5 million subscribers, presently it has approx. 5 million. It has the most aggressive pricing.

Nexttel General Manager Benoit Yaoussou announced recently that they will roll out their own mobile money service called Nexttel Possa before the end of 2021.Yaoussou said the company will also prioritise the extension and stabilisation of its network. Nexttel already covers over 75%mof the national territory, particularly rural areas.

Camtel is Cameroon’s fixed line monopoly operator which has a limited network based on CDMA/EVDO called Fako that is migrating to GSM. In 2016 they rolled out their 4G/LTE network called "X-TremNet" on 1800 MHz (band 3).

Their Fako network is quite unreliable, based on CDMA, not compatible to GSM devices and can't be recommeded. However, their 4G/LTE XTremNet network can be a cheap option, if you have coverage. Douala and Yaoundé are covered only so far: 4G coverage list. Because of the limited coverage, it can't be an option for travelling, but may be an option for stationary use in Douala and Yaoundé. Speeds of around 50 Mbps have been reported. Have in mind, that there is no fallback or roaming on 2G/3G networks.

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