Thursday, 24 November 2022

UScellular 5G Progress and 6G Plans

At the Annual Brooklyn 6G Summit (B6GS) last month, Robert Jakubek, Vice President of Engineering and Network Operations for U.S. Cellular, presented deployment strategies for the next generation of wireless communications.

Sue Marek details the talk in Fierce Wireless as follows:

Speaking at the 2022 Brooklyn 6G Summit, which is jointly hosted by Nokia and NYU Wireless, Robert Jakubek, VP of engineering at US Cellular called for the industry to figure out how to get more functionality out of mmWave. “CPEs [customer premises equipment] need to get more sophisticated,” Jakubek said. “Help us solve some of the challenges of mmWave fixed wireless and make it more effective.”

The request is notable because Nokia, which is a sponsor of the event, is a key supplier to UScellular and provides 5G radio gear for the company’s low-band and mmWave networks. Nokia also is working with UScellular on its deployment of standalone 5G (SA).  Jakubek said that UScellular is moving “full speed ahead” with its SA core. Nokia has said previously that it should be deployed by year-end.

Jakubek added that UScellular has had success with a couple of extended range trials where its FWA signal used mmWave spectrum. In 2020 the operator and its partners Ericsson and Qualcomm completed an extended range 5G mmWave data call over a distance of more than 5 kilometers (around 3.1 miles) at speeds over 100 Mbps. And in 2021 the company set a record of 10 km (about 6.2 miles) in tests with Nokia and Qualcomm.

UScellular has deployed a Home Internet+ product that uses 5G and mmWave spectrum to deliver FWA to customers in more than 10 cities. It launched that product last April. In addition,  the operator offers a FWA product over the company’s LTE network to its entire footprint. At the end of 2Q, UScellular said it had 57,000 FWA customers, but it doesn’t break out those on mmWave vs. those on the LTE network.

Besides FWA, Jakubek said that the company is looking ahead to deployment 5G voice over new radio (VoNR) but that isn’t likely to happen until 2024 or later.

And of course as it is a 6G summit, you couldn't do a presentation without talking about what is needed from 6G. The talk is embedded below, courtesy of IEEE TV.

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Friday, 11 November 2022

Is South Korea Losing its 5G Crown?


South Korea is second only to Hong Kong in the world rankings of telecom market maturity. It enjoys a highly competitive but stable market, with strong central government support that helps drive the rollout of advanced infrastructure in both the fixed and mobile arenas. South Korea is also on the leading edge of the latest telecom technology developments, including around 6G. And it is host to two of the world’s top equipment manufacturers in the form of Samsung and LG.

With its highly urbanised, tech-savvy population, South Korea also enjoys very high penetration levels across all segments – fixed-line telephony (44% at the start of 2022), fixed broadband (46%), mobile voice and data (144%), and mobile broadband (120%). The performance of the mobile sector is on a par with other developed markets around the region, but it’s the wireline segment that allows South Korea to stand out from the crowd. This is partly a reflection of the large proportion of its population who live in apartment buildings (around 60%), making fibre and apartment LAN connections relatively easy and cost-effective to deploy. The government’s Ultra Broadband convergence Network (UBcN) had aimed to reach 50% adoption by the end of 2022, but that target may be a few more years away. Still, the country already has one of the world’s highest fixed broadband rates.

Fixed-line teledensity is also at a very high level compared to most of the rest of the world, but it has been on a sharp decline from a penetration rate of 60% ten years ago. That fall has forced the incumbent telco KT Corp to diversify into other telecom segments (including investments in 5G and the development of 6G) as well as non-telecom sectors (such as autonomous vehicles) in an effort to transform itself into a digital platform company. However, a major network outage in October 2021 drew the ire of the government and the police (in addition to the consumers and businesses directly affected by the shutdown), suggesting that the company may need to refocus its attention back on its core business.

On the mobile front, users have enthusiastically migrated from one generation of mobile platform to the next as each iteration becomes available. There also doesn’t appear to be any great concern about there being a lack of demand for 5G in South Korea (when the country is already well supported by 4G networks), with 30% of all subscribers having already made the switch. Part of the reason behind the rapid transition may be the subsidised handsets on offer from each of the MNOs and the MVNOs – a practice that has become so widespread and cutthroat that the regulators has regularly stepped in and fined the operators billions of won for breaching the subsidy level and risking a price war that will ultimately damage the entire industry.

There were over 22 million 5G subscribers in South Korea at the end of March 2022 which represented a penetration rate of 45%, served by 215,000 5G base stations. South Korea is one of the most advanced 5G markets in the world, and the scores of South Korea's operators in this report highlight the extent of 5G success.

The total number of 5G subscribers in South Korea reached nearly 24 million in May 2022, according to the latest available data from the Ministry of Science and ICT.

South Korea was the first country to launch commercial 5G networks in April 2019 and currently has 5G coverage across its 85 cities. Korean mobile operators have deployed a total of 202,903 5G base stations as of the end of February, according to previous reports. This figure is equivalent to 23% of total 4G LTE base stations installed in South Korea.

Not everyone is impressed by 5G in South Korea though as you can see in the Tweets above.

KT (Korea Telecom) is the public provider and 2nd network in the country with a good coverage. It's a formerly public enterprise, is relatively cheaper than SK Telecom with the largest WiFi coverage in Korea and a well-organized prepaid plan available. Remember, there is no 2G anymore, just 3G, 4G/LTE and now 5G NR.

KT has also unveiled plans to build a specialized 5G testbed running on the 4.7 GHz band with the aim of enabling multiple customers to access its core network equipment from the public cloud and test private or “specialized” networks.

“When KT’s 5G specialized network testbed is established, it will be possible to perform a one-stop service for testing equipment for 5G specialized network, interworking with terminals, and conducting network trial operation and inspection. It is expected to greatly reduce the cost and technical burden of companies considering the introduction of a 5G specialized network.”

The Korean operator added the testbed is expected to reduce the cost and technical requirements for companies considering introducing private networks.

KT is deploying private 5G networks at Seoul National University and Samsung Seoul Hospital.

SK Telecom is the biggest mobile provider in South Korea. SK operates 3G on the usual 2100 MHz, but 4G/LTE on the rather unusual 850 MHz (band 5) as primary frequency that is rarely covered by devices from overseas (except those capable of AT&T's LTE in the US). The more usual 1800 MHz (band 3) is only employed for back-up. But the coverage is reported to be better than that of KT, by press every year. 2G has been switched off in 2020.

In November of 2021, Swedish vendor Ericsson announced a partnership with SK Telecom, with the aim of supporting 5G Standalone networks through the deployment of a cloud-native dual-mode 5G Core.

Ericsson and SK Telecom had initially unveiled next-generation cloud-native 5G Core networks technology, architecture, implementation and operations plans in March 2019. The vendor said that this latest cooperation builds on the existing partnership. According to Ericsson, the dual-mode 5G core is deployed on its bare metal solution, known as Ericsson Cloud Native Infrastructure.

Ericsson had previously provided SK Telecom with 5G radio access network (RAN) equipment and network management system for their commercial 5G network rollout.

LG Uplus is working to further expand its 5G coverage across the country. In July this year, the operator secured an additional 20 megahertz of spectrum to use for 5G.

The Ministry of Science and ICT confirmed the allocation of the 3.4-3.42 GHz frequency band to LG Uplus, in addition to the 3.42 to 3.5 GHz spectrum that the telecom company bought in 2018.

LG Uplus had previously asked the Korean government for an additional 20 megahertz of spectrum to boost its 5G offerings. In a government spectrum auction in June 2018, rival operators SK Telecom and KT had secured 100 megahertz of spectrum, while LG Uplus had only acquired 80 megahertz.

During a keynote speech at Huawei’s 2022 Mobile Broadband Forum, held this week in Bangkok, Thailand, Yoon Ho Choi, president of XR business department at LG Uplus noted that the company’s 5G coverage had reached 85% of the population in large cities and central rural areas across Korea. The executive also highlighted that the level of 5G availability at a national level was 90.9% and 95.2% in capital Seoul. He also noted that the average download speed of the telco’s 5G service was 640.7 Mbps.

While the mobile operators have been very enthusiastic about 5G, people aren't as excited. While the data rates have increased and latencies reduced, there are still many technical issues that regularly plague the users. One of the lessons Japanese operators learned after being the first to launch 3G was to not roll out a technology until it was thoroughly tested. The Korean operators maybe learning this as well.

South Korea is seeing a rapid adoption of 5G private networks, chiefly due to the widespread coverage of 5G technology in the country and the allocation of specific spectrum by the government to enable private network deployments.

In August, South Korean tech firm Samsung announced a tranche of new private 5G deployments in its home country, including with three public sector agencies and two private sector hospitals. The vendor noted that this project is part of the government initiative to advance the country’s private 5G ecosystem, allowing non-telecom operators to build and operate 5G networks using 4.7GHz and 28GHz — which are dedicated frequency bands for private 5G networks in Korea.

Samsung said it was selected in each case – by three state-owned utilities and two privately-owned hospitals – “as part of the government’s” drive to release spectrum for industrial change. Its three public sector contracts – with Korea Electric Power Corporation, Korea Industrial Complex Corporation, and Korea Water Resources Corporation – are geared around “workplace safety and efficiency”, it said.

The vendor also said that this new project follows Samsung’s previous deployment of what it claimed to be Korea’s first private 5G network at Naver’s new headquarters.

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Monday, 17 October 2022

Malaysia is a Land of Competition with Plenty of Mobile Networks to Choose from


As part of a diverse range of initiatives designed to move the country from developing to developed status by 2025, Malaysia has enabled and encouraged open competition in its telecommunications market. The result is very high penetration levels in both the mobile (147%) and mobile broadband (127%) segments, and near-universal coverage of 4G LTE networks. The incumbent landline operator Telekom Malaysia retains an almost monopolistic hold on the fixed-line market as well as a significant lead in fixed broadband. But even here, steady growth is occurring as more fibre optic cable networks are being deployed around the country on top of Telekom Malaysia’s national backbone.

Consumers are the main beneficiaries of the highly competitive market. They enjoy widespread access to high-speed mobile services as well as attractive offers on bundles to keep data use up but prices low. The downside is that most of Malaysia’s MNOs and MVNOs have struggled to increase revenue in line with growth in subscriber numbers as well as demand for broadband data. While the operators have been very successful in moving a significant proportion (now over 30%) of customers from prepaid over to higher-value postpaid accounts, ARPU continues to fall year after year as a result of competitive pricing pressures. 

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the government’s next move to encourage the private mobile operators to sign up to the country’s wholesale 5G network being built by Ericsson for the government-owned and operated Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB). This special-purpose vehicle company was established by the Ministry of Finance to undertake the development and deployment of Malaysia’s 5G infrastructure across the country. The government’s stated intent was to avoid duplication of networks and infrastructure, and thus reduce investment costs for the operators. But with DNB being Malaysia’s single wholesale 5G network provider, the MNOs have been reluctant to commit due to having limited opportunity to differentiate their 5G services and being somewhat at the mercy of the wholesaler’s pricing. To date, no MNO has agreed to the deal and are instead demanding the development of a dual wholesale network model (one that no doubt offers more flexible terms, at least in the eyes of the MNOs). Malaysia’s 5G rollout has, in effect, come to a standstill while the government tries to find a way to restart negotiations.



In the most recent Open Signal report on Malaysia, the mobile network experience of users in Malaysia across six major networks is analysed: Celcom, Digi, Maxis, U Mobile, Unifi and Yes, over the period of 90 days between June 1, 2022, and August 29, 2022, to see how they stack up on different aspects of mobile experience. 5G measurements contribute to the overall experience scores. In addition to the national analysis, the mobile network experience across Malaysia's major provinces is examined .

Open Signal saw mixed fortunes, with each of the six operators winning at least one award category outright. Digi and Maxis take home the largest share of awards. While Digi is the outright winner of the Download Speed Experience and Excellent Consistent Quality awards, Maxis wins Games Experience outright and is a joint winner in a further two categories — with Digi in Video Experience and with U Mobile in Voice App Experience. U Mobile is next on the list as it wins the Upload Speed Experience award. Meanwhile, Celcom reigns supreme on 4G Coverage Experience, Yes is top for Availability and Unifi leads in Core Consistent Quality. Overall, these results highlight the importance of measuring multiple factors that contribute to a good mobile network experience rather than just focusing on speed.

Celcom claims to be the largest private mobile network operator with over 14 million users on its 2G and 4G networks. At the moment, the operator says it has 96.21% 4G population coverage nationwide and has invested over RM1 billion into its 4G network in the past 18 months. As shared during its recent H1 2022 report, the average data consumption by Celcom customers is 24.2GB per month.

Celcom has started its friendly 5G user trials with selected customers. Eligible Celcom customers will be able to access 5G for free until further notice and will also get to access 5G roaming in 15 countries.

Plans for a merger of Celcom and Digi were first confirmed back in June 2021, with a formal application for the merger subsequently lodged with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in November 2021. With the local telecoms regulator having confirmed its approval for the deal in June 2022, it was noted that this was subject to a number of undertakings that the two operators had submitted after the MCMC in April 2022 raised potential issues that could arise from the tie-up. Upon completion, Axiata and Telenor will each hold equal ownership of 33.1% in the new merged company, which will be named Celcom Digi Berhad and will continue to be listed on Bursa Malaysia.

Maxis is the first operator in Malaysia to provide its customers with 5G international roaming services in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. The 5G roaming service will be activated automatically on any 5G-enabled device.

The DNB was set up last year by the Malaysian government to speed up the deployment of 5G services across the country.

The new company has sought to partner with all six of the main operators in the country -- Maxis, U Mobile, Telekom Malaysia, YTL Communications, Celcom Axiata, and DiGi, and all take equity stakes in a state-controlled 5G single wholesale network run by the DNB.

All six of the operators agreed to the proposals last month, after being offered a combined 70 percent stake in DNB, dependent on all six operators agreeing to the terms. However Maxis and U Mobile pulled out at the last minute, as neither saw benefits to the agreement, although both 'want to remain in talks for access to DNB's 5G network'.

Operators have been sceptical of the proposals put forward by the DNB, with many initially reluctant to agree to the plans, but the DNB has insisted its 5G strategy will keep costs lower and speed up the deployment of 5G services in the country, which has faced regular delays.

The DNB says the rollout will cost RM16.5 billion ($3.7bn) for the next decade, with Ericsson selected as the network equipment provider.

In their quest to become Malaysia’s preferred digital operator, U Mobile have introduced many first-of-its-kind digital services to the market such as telco assurance products. U Mobile also has a comprehensive fintech ecosystem offering that consists of GoPayz, a universal e-wallet which offers consumers digital financial and lifestyle services, and GoBiz, a digital payment acceptance solution designed for businesses both big and small.

Being the youngest telco also means U Mobile has the most modern network infrastructure that enables us to scale up based on demand in the most efficient way. Our award-winning robust network is also ready for 5G and beyond and they are committed to continue investing in our network so that our customers will always enjoy a superior network experience.

U Mobile is the first operator to offer a massive 1,000GB (1TB) of high-speed 4G/5G-ready data with its new U Postpaid 98. Customers are able to experience true worry-free connectivity at just RM98. U Postpaid 98 customers can also share their huge 1,000GB of high-speed data and unlimited calls with up to 6 family members for only RM38 per line, making it the most unbeatable family option in the market today. Customers shopping for a new 5G device also have the option of getting the device on instalment with 0% monthly interest via U Mobile’s U PayLater, or with U SaveMore, which offers more savings on device.

In 2016, Telekom Malaysia and P1 now called Webe officially launched after its predecessor, TMgo, based on 4G/LTE-only running at 850 MHz (band 5) as well as TD-LTE bands 38 and 40 that are able to deliver download speeds up to 20 Mbps. This was closed later and relaunched as 'unifi Mobile' with 3G roaming included.

Yes by YTL Corporation started in 2010 and now covers more than 85% of population by 4G/LTE only on the West Malaysian Peninsula, but are rolling out networks in major cities in Sabah and Sarawak. Yes currently running on FD-LTE and TD-LTE on 800 MHz (Band 20), 2300 MHz (Band 38) and 2600 MHz (Band 40). 

When it comes to coverage, Yes is awarded the best for availability with users connected to 4G and above 98.8% of the time. At the moment, Yes is also the first and only telco to offer 5G coverage via Digital Nasional Berhad. This is followed closely behind by U Mobile at 98%, Maxis at 96.7%, Digi at 96.1%, Celcom at 96% and Unifi Mobile at 95%. Opensignal has stated that the availability metric is not a measure of a network’s geographical extent and it shouldn’t be used as an indicator if you are likely to get a signal if you visit a remote rural or uninhabited region.

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Wednesday, 12 October 2022

Belarus 'Ready' to Deploy 5G Technology

Belarus’s government and telecom regulator are concluding three major programs aimed at developing the telecom sector and digital economy. Major progress has been made, in particular enabling the mobile network operators to trial 5G services and extending the reach of fibre infrastructure.

These programs were initiated in 2015 and 2016 while the country experienced declining economic growth and formed part of wider efforts to develop the economy through promoting the digital economy and developing the ICT sector. Such considerations have also encompassed a growing interest in applications relevant for smart cities.

Following the political turmoil of mid-2020 the local currency has depreciated against the US dollar and the euro, and this has placed greater strain on operator revenue.

The mobile sector has also experienced some growth, with a rise in mobile penetration attributed to effective competition which has helped drive down consumer prices. Operators have concentrated on developing mobile broadband and data services with a view to capitalising on such services to increase ARPU.

Recent spectrum auctions have facilitated the development of mobile broadband access, particularly in rural areas, while the state-sponsored operator beCloud, charged with developing a wholesale-based LTE network, has enabled commercial LTE services to be extended to about 80% of the population. beCloud is also charged with developing the network infrastructure to support 5G services. It is undergoing the process using spectrum in three bands.

These mobile networks are operating in Belarus in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE: MTS [袦孝小] (owned by Beltelecom & MTS Russia), A1 (formerly Velcom, owned by A1 Telekom Austria Group), Life:) (mostly owned by Turkcell) for 4G/LTE: beCloud (partly state-owned, providing only 4G/LTE, for all providers above)

Many people in Belarus carry two mobiles, one with an MTS and the other with a A1 SIM card to avoid paying for more expensive cross-network calls. Life is in 3rd place with a lower coverage but very good prices.

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz. In 2016 the two major operators cover 53%, which has been extended to more than 97% in the meantime.

4G/LTE has started in 2015. A 4th state-owned provider called beCloud had a monopoly license for 15 years and is building up the 4G/LTE network on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz (bands 3, 7 and 20), which is marketed by the private operators. MTS has been launching its 4G/LTE marketing in 2015, life:) followed in 2016 and A1 in 2019.

MTS (or 袦孝小 in Belarusian for "袦邪斜褨谢褜薪褘褟 孝褝谢械小褨褋褌褝屑褘") is a joint venture co-owned by state owned Beltelecom and Russian owned MTS operator and is the leading provider in Belarus. Its network coverage is 98% on 2G and 95% on 3G.

As part of its ongoing 4G LTE rollout, MTS Belarus is extending LTE-800 coverage to the Brest region, targeting more than 130 settlements, including rural areas. The deployment will be carried out in stages it said with the initial phase taking in the settlements of Brest, Baranovichi, Drogichinsky, Kobrinsky, Luninets, Ivanovsky, Pruzhany, Kamenetsky and other areas. In a recent press release, the MNO highlighted that the launch and development of LTE-800 in rural areas is being implemented jointly with infrastructure partner Belarusian Cloud Technologies (beCloud).

MTS Belarus said its LTE-800 network covers ‘thousands of settlements’ across Belarus. Previously, it was launched in Vitebsk, Gomel, Mogilev and Minsk regions. In fiscal 2022, it plans to provide dense 4G coverage to the western regions of the country – e.g. the Brest and Grodno regions.

A1 is the strongest competitor of MTS in Belarus with almost the same 2G/3G coverage. About 76% of the population are covered by 4G/LTE in 2020. It was called Velcom before.

In 2019 A1 finally announced the launch of 4G/LTE services in the city of Minsk and parts of the Minsk region, using the common infrastructure of national LTE access provider beCloud. Coming more than three years after rivals MTS and life.

beCloud and A1 Belarus have collaborated to expand coverage of 4G LTE in the Vitebsk region by ‘almost seven times’, blanketing more than 5,200 settlements in the process. In a press release, beCloud confirmed that mobile internet services using LTE-800 technology are now available in more than 75% of the region’s territory, including rural areas where more than 98% of its population lives. During the deployment, more than 200 base stations operating in the 800MHz band were installed in the region to provide wide geographical coverage and reliable signal reception in rural areas.

Turkish owned life:) is the smallest operator in Belarus. Its 3G is still more limited to population centers as the 900 MHz frequency is not yet employed. Where available, they give data at much better rates, but at a lower coverage.

life:), has announced that following the latest improvements to its network, a further 59 4G LTE base transceiver stations (BTS) have been launched throughout the country. In extending the reach of its 4G network the MNO said that BTS have been deployed in new parts of the capital Minsk and the Minsk region, as well as in towns and villages in the Vitebsk region, such as Begoml, Ozertsy and Obukhovo, and in the cities of Brest, Grodno, Gomel and Lepel. The company notes that the majority of its 4G BTS operate at 1800MHz, but that 800MHz sites are being activated to provide coverage over a wider geographical area.

As part of its ongoing national network rollout, beCloud has announced the deployment of a further 59 4G LTE base transceiver stations (BTS) across the country. In a press release outlining its progress the company confirmed that in February 2022 new 800MHz BTS were switched on in both the Vitebsk and Minsk regions, covering people living in Novaya Guta, Begoml, Krasnoseltsy, Obukhovo, Ozertsy, Osintorf, Ostrovenets, Prozoroki, Surazh, Zubrevichi, Dukovshchina, Dobrino, Dubrovo, Berezinskoye and Perezhir. Furthermore, beCloud significantly expanded its 1800MHz network coverage last month via 44 new base stations in Brest, Vitebsk and Vitebsk region, Gomel and Gomel region, and Minsk and Minsk region. As a result of the latest network expansion, beCloud’s network now comprises 3,508 BTS operating in three bands (1800MHz, 2600MHz and 800MHz), yielding combined network coverage of more than 97.4% of the population and 76.7% of the territory of Belarus.

News portal BelTA reports the Belarusian Communications and Informatization Minister, Konstantin Shulgan, as saying that his country is ‘ready’ to deploy 5G technology. ‘We’ve been making preparations by arranging test areas where every mobile carrier had a go at 5G technology. We saw how it erases boundaries between the city and the village in service provision,’ he is quoted as saying, noting that national PTO Beltelecom, MTS Belarus and Huawei have ‘arranged a test site’ in Kopyl District, Minsk Oblast. Shulgan went on to say: ‘This technology already allows starting practical work in this direction because the effect of the 5G technology is dozens of times higher than that of the 4G technology’.

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database writes that in June last year, Belarus’ national infrastructure operator Belarusian Cloud Technologies (beCloud) announced the ramping up of its 5G test zones in the country, as it entered the second stage of widescale testing ahead of the commercial launch of the technology. In a press release at the time, the company noted that since 2020 it has been carrying out trials to explore the possibilities of 5G technology and determine the optimal scenarios for its implementation in Belarus. With the tests organised into frequencies in the 2500MHz-2570MHz/2620MHz-2690MHz and 3400MHz-3800MHz bands, between May and December 2020 beCloud began verification of fifth-generation technologies in Minsk and Gomel.

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Monday, 3 October 2022

Pakistan is Hoping for 5G in 2023


Pakistan continues to lag most other Asian countries in terms of the maturity of its telecom sector. This is partly due to the poor state of its fixed-line network following years of under-investment and neglect by the state-owned incumbent telco Pakistan Telecommunication Company (PTC), with teledensity now down to almost 1%.

This lack of focus has left the door open to mobile to become the dominant platform for both voice and data. While penetration rates are low by Asian (and rest-of-world) standards, the mobile voice and mobile broadband markets have been growing at double-digit rates of late – at least in subscriber numbers. In contrast to the fixed network market, Pakistan’s mobile segment is highly competitive. The result has been continued downwards pressure to pricing and ARPU, such that mobile revenues have been unable to keep pace with the rate of market expansion as 4G LTE networks, in particular, stretch ever deeper into the more remote parts of the country.

Future growth (in market size as well as revenue) is likely to come from the wider availability of value-added services on top of the expansion of 4G LTE and (from 2023) 5G mobile networks. The Universal Service Fund (USF) continues to direct investment towards the development of mobile broadband (and, to a lesser extent, fibre-based networks) in under-served and even un-served areas of the country, with multiple projects being approved to start in 2021 and 2022.

As Pakistan strives to overcome the immediate hurdles and pave the way for 5G, Opensignal has examined the mobile network experience of users on the four nationwide mobile operators — Jazz, Telenor, Ufone, and Zong — over a period of 90 days beginning on April 1, 2022, and ending on June 29, 2022, to see how they stack up.

Pakistan's telecom industry is also facing major challenges due to ongoing power outages and economic turmoil in the country. To ensure that they can provide uninterrupted services to subscribers and cope with these challenges, telecom operators have urged the regulator — Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) — to take urgent measures. While PTA is yet to come up with an immediate solution, some operators like Jazz and Telenor are reviewing their operations and preparing to deal with the impact. In contrast, despite these challenges, Zong has continued to upgrade it's 4G network with FDD Massive MIMO solution to improve its 4G network’s capacity and spectrum efficiency. The operator has reportedly upgraded more than 170 sites since September last year.

Possibly that is why Zong wins the bulk of Opensignal's awards, winning four out of 10 categories outright (Download Speed Experience, Games Experience, Availability and 4G Coverage Experience) and jointly winning in a further four, including three awards alongside Jazz (Voice App Experience, Upload Speed Experience and 4G Availability ) and the Video Experience award alongside Ufone. On the other hand, Ufone picked up both Consistency awards — Excellent Consistent Quality and Core Consistent Quality.


Jazz Pakistan is the market leader with nearly 43 million mobile broadband subscriptions as of April 2022, having a market share of 38 percent.

Jazz has signed an agreement with fibre-based broadband provider Nayatel to connect all of its mobile sites in Lahore to fibre. The programme is expected to be completed by December 2022. In a press release from the provider, Jazz noted that the upgrade would improve capacity, reduce latency and enhance network availability. Further, the development paves the way for future technologies, such as 5G, which require low latency and high backhaul throughput. Jazz is aiming to increase the proportion of its sites that are connected to fibre to 70% over the next five years.

Jazz, jointly with JazzCash and Mobilink Microfinance Bank, has pledged Rs1 billion for flood relief efforts, the company said in a statement. The amount includes provision of emergency supplies and extension of telecom services. For immediate rollout, Jazz will work with NGOs and the government for distribution of emergency supplies including shelter, food items, and medical supplies, the company claimed.

According to Aamir Ibrahim, CEO of Jazz, there are around 1% to 2% users on their network that have 5G handsets. Even if the spectrum is provided for free, still the business case for 5G in the country is quite weak. Jazz launched 4G around eight years ago, and still, 50% of the handsets being sold today are 2G. Therefore, Jazz believe they need to focus on 4G for all before thinking about 5G for a few. 


Telenor Pakistan is third in terms of market share (22%) with nearly 25 million subscriptions.

Recently they have declared a massive operating loss in the half-year ended June 30, 2022.

Telenor Pakistan, along with its parent company, Telenor Group, have pledged PKR 1.1 billion in cash and in-kind services to support nationwide flood relief efforts. Telenor Pakistan made a cash donation of PKR 100 million to UNICEF Pakistan to support them in relief efforts by providing life-saving nutrition and hygiene packs in affected areas on an immediate basis.

Irfan Wahab Khan, Chief Executive Officer, Telenor Pakistan and chairman, Telenor Microfinance Bank, said:
“In this moment of national tragedy and calamity, our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the floods. With the support of Telenor colleagues from around the world, we are committed to supporting impacted families and communities through these testing times and will do all we can. The road of rehabilitation for the affected is long and treacherous, and we will continue to support to the best of our abilities.”


Zong Pakistan is the second largest operator with 31.3 million subscriptions and a market share of 28 percent. 

Zong has commercially launched a dual-band (1800MHz and 2100MHz) FDD Massive MIMO upgrade on its 4G network in partnership with ZTE. In a statement from the Chinese vendor, ZTE notes that the solution has improved Zong’s 4G data traffic capacity by 21% and improved averaged user throughput by 40%. Zong and ZTE launched the first Massive MIMO site in Peshawar in September last year and by May 2022 the upgrade had been deployed on more than 170 sites. Zong and ZTE are planning to continue expanding the large-scale commercialisation of the FDD Massive MIMO solution to further improve 4G network capacity and spectrum efficiency.

Jazz has been quite vocal about the fact that 5G is not an option for at least the next two years and if it stands by this theory, the company won’t be bidding for the 5G spectrum anytime soon. However, Zong might be an exception to this as it has more strategic interest in Pakistan than commercial ones. Further with a cash-rich parent company in the form of China Mobile and synergies brought in by other Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE, Zong might just take a leap of faith in the 5G spectrum. 

In the wake of the recent unprecedented floods which has affected millions of people across the country, Zong 4G has announced free of cost services for all impacted areas.


Ufone is the smallest operator with 12.4 million subscriptions and 11 percent market share.

Ufone 4G acquired 1800 Mhz spectrum in 2021 and it continues to expand its 4G services in Pakistan to provide an unrivaled telecom experience to its customers. The transformation went on to raise the bar in terms of service delivery and redefined quality connectivity through its world-class voice and data services. The measures helped Ufone 4G to pull off the fastest customer acquisition in the industry during 2022. Owing to the continued modernisation and up-gradation of its network, Ufone 4G went on to register as “Pakistan’s No 01 Voice and Data Network” on Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA)’s Mobile Networks Benchmark Report 2022.

Ufone 4G has launched an accurate weather update service ‘WeatherWalay’ to facilitate customers, especially with regard to the monsoon season and extensive flooding that has affected every province across the country.

The service has been introduced as an Interactive Voice Response (IVR), where customers can call 3392 and obtain precise details of the weather and any changes in it over periods of 24 hours, 72 hours and even a week within the city or other areas in Pakistan. Curated by a team of expert meteorologists led by Dr. Muhammad Hanif, WeatherWalay is being offered free of cost until the 30th of September to assist customers and ensure safer commutes.

Industry watchdog the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has announced that 96% of damaged network sites in flood-affected areas have been restored. At its peak 3,386 sites were damaged by the recent floods, but repairs carried out by the telcos, civil and military authorities and the PTA have restored 3,251 of those sites, the regulator confirmed. Only 135 sites remain offline, with those mostly located in inaccessible areas of Balochistan and Sindh but the PTA notes that other sites are active in those areas, preventing a communication blackout. The PTA added that it had recorded 120 breaks in national fibre-optic backhaul infrastructure, but all of these have now been repaired.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Iraqi Operators Trying to bring 4G/LTE to the Masses

 

Iraq continues to face a number of political and economic challenges, though increasing civil stability has made it easier for mobile and fixed-line operators to rebuild telecom services and infrastructure damaged during the last few years. The government was minded to extend the licenses held by the MNOs for an additional three years to compensate for the chaos and destruction caused between 2014 and 2017 when Islamic State held sway in many areas of the country. However, this plan was scuppered by opposition among some politicians, who asserted that the market needed more competition rather than extensions of existing licenses.

The three major MNOs are Zain Iraq, Asiacell, and Korek Telecom, which together control over 90% of the mobile market. The operators have struggled to develop LTE services, partly because of issues related to damaged infrastructure but also partly due to wrangles with the government and regulator concerning the conditions of their licences. With the availability of LTE services being very low, there is little change for 5G to be available in the short term. In the meantime, most services are still based on GSM and 3G, except in the Kurdish region where LTE is more widely available.

In the most recent Open Signal report on mobile network experience of Iraqi users, Asiacell wins the lion’s share of awards, winning both speed awards (Download Speed Experience, Upload Speed Experience), all three of the experiential awards — but sharing Games Experience with Zain — and all of the Coverage awards (Availability, 4G Availability and 4G Coverage Experience. On the other hand, Zain picked up both Consistency awards — Excellent Consistent Quality and Core Consistent Quality. Zain also places second in almost all of the award categories that Asiacell wins outright, with the only exception being Availability where it had to settle for third place behind Korek. Korek does not claim any awards this time — either solely or jointly — but placed second in Availability and both Consistency categories.

Asiacell describe themselves as leading the change with their nationwide fast, reliable, and secure 4G+ data speed coupled with award-winning coverage serving more than 16 million customers at 21000 points of sales and outlets throughout the country thanks to their extended advanced network of 7200 LTE sites. 

Asiacell in August 2021 signed a five-year deal with Nokia to upgrade its microwave network to address growing capacity demands and provide reliable, low-latency connectivity. Under the agreement, the Finnish vendor will replace or modernise legacy equipment, deploying around 3,000 network links across the country. Nokia will supply products from its ‘Wavence’ microwave packet radio portfolio, which it claims will improve cost efficiency and performance, adding that its ultra-broadband transceivers will enable Asiacell to provide ‘fibre-like’ connectivity in areas where fibre cannot be deployed.

Commenting on the deal, Asiacel CEO Amer Sunna was quoted as saying: ‘We are pleased to extend our partnership with Nokia by trusting them with yet another project. Improving network performance and enhancing the end-user experience has always been our top priority and having Nokia as a strategic partner is helping us achieve this. By leveraging Nokia’s global scale, we look forward to building a future-proof network that will help us meet the growing mobile traffic demand in Iraq.’

Korek Telecom proclaims themselves the fastest growing mobile operator in Iraq, offering the largest and most reliable mobile network. Their network covers the entire country and its cutting edge technology ensures they match the best network quality with best in class services. Serving the 18 provinces of Iraq, Korek offers a comprehensive range of wireless communications services bringing the freedom of mobility to consumers, businesses and government users.

Zain Iraq works to provide the best and most modern telecommunications services to the Iraqi customers and to provide exclusive and innovative offers to its subscribers, specifically after launch 4.5G+ services as the first telecom company in all parts of Iraq through a cooperation with its global technology partners certified for the latest technologies and communication solutions

Zain Iraq’s vision for the year 2022 is centered on creating partnerships with the youth, providing them with products and services that can help them communicate with the world.

Zain Iraq’s 2021 revenue reached USD 769 million, and EBITDA amounted to USD 312 million, reflecting an EBITDA margin of 41%. Net profit reached USD 42 million for the period. The operator’s customer base increased by 2% to reach 16.4 million customers. It should be noted that the Iraqi dinar devaluation also impacted Zain Iraq’s revenue by USD 172 million for the year.

Zain has launched a virtual 5G-ready network in Iraq, under the name Oodi, with US-based digital commerce company Matrixx Software. Zain, based in Kuwait, says that Oodi uses out-of-the-box software capabilities to provide Iraqi customers with complete flexibility, transparency and ease-of-use.

Ali Al-Zahid, CEO of Zain Iraq, said: “Our number one priority is to provide our customers with the best and most advanced services.” According to Google Translate, “oodi” means “friendly”.

Al-Zahid added: “Delivering upon those promises requires forging partnerships with forward-thinking companies that can make the future of mobile services and customer experience a reality.”

Zain said customers can create their own plan, and can see account balances, services and spending using the software.

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Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Tanzanians are Embracing LTE and Internet Services


Tanzania’s telecom sector enjoys effective competition, particularly in the mobile segment. There remains considerable movement within the market, with Smart having stopped services in late 2019 and Tigo Tanzania having completed its merger with Zantel. Millicom in April 2022 completed the sale of its Tigo Tanzania unit to Axian Group, as it sought to focus on its operations in Latin America.

The government has encouraged foreign participation to promote economic growth and social development, and policy reforms have led to the country having one of the most liberal telecom sectors in Africa. The government has also sought to increase broadband penetration by a range of measures, including the reduction in VAT charged on the sale of smartphones and other devices, and reductions in the cost of data. Public opposition to a controversial tax on m-money transactions forced the government in late 2021 to reduce charges by 30%.

The MNOs became the leading ISPs following the launch of mobile broadband services based on 3G and LTE technologies. Operators are hoping for revenue growth in the mobile data services market, given that the voice market is almost entirely prepaid, and voice ARPU continues to fall. To this end, the MNOs have invested in network upgrades, which in turn has supported mobile data use, as well as m-money transfer services and m-banking services. Together, these have become a fast-developing source of revenue.

Currently, 5 networks (plus further 3 on LTE) are operating in Tanzania: Vodacom, Tigo, Airtel, Halotel (by Viettel), Zantel (mainly in Zanzibar; merging with Tigo).

In summer 2015 Zantel was aquired from Etisalat by the parent company of Tigo. So it can be expected that their networks may be merged. A 5th license was given out to Vietnam-backed Viettel which started in October 2015 under the brand name of Halotel.

Coverage is generally less than in neighbouring Kenya or Uganda. 2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz and 3G in some larger villages and towns on 2100 MHz on all providers plus 900 MHz on Airtel. While operators have so far been able to deploy mobile networks to up to 97% of the population, only around 1/3 of them of are able to access 3G networks in the country, so that only 5% are using 3G/4G connections in 2016. In 2017 the regulator TCRA fined all 5 operators for their poor quality of services.

4G/LTE has been started so far only with Tigo in Dar es Salaam on 800 MHz, with Vodacom on 1800 MHz and Zantel in Zanzibar (only Stone Town) on 1800 MHz. Airtel and Halotel are launching 4G/LTE soon.

In 2018 new spectrum on 700 MHz (Band 28) was auctioned and won by Vodacom and still unknown Azam Telecom owned by a Tanzanian businessman for 4G roll-out. From 2012 new operators have started to roll out 4G/LTE only: Smile and TTCL. These operators mostly center on the capital only and don't have any 2G or 3G coverage.

As of June 2022 Tanzania had 56.22 million mobile subscriptions. 

 

Vodacom, jointly owned by Vodafone and South African Telekom, is the market leader in Tanzania with almost 16 million mobile subscribers at the end of 2021 and a 29.4% market share. 

It has the widest coverage in the country for the highest rates. In 2016 4G/LTE was started in Dar es Salaam on 1800 MHz (Band 3), now spread to a few more places. In 2018 it won spectrum on 700 MHz (B28) for 4G with the obligation to cover 60% by 2021 and 90% by 2024.

Vodacom has launched its 5G mobile network service, offering initial speeds of up to 400Mbps and low latency with a wide variety of potential use cases. The company plans to deploy 5G at 230 sites in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Arusha, Dodoma, Mwanza, Iringa, Kagera, Njombe and Mbeya, amongst others. The 5G network is available to fixed enterprise and home internet customers through 5G routers, while mobile phone users will require a 5G-capable handset or device. In the coming months, maximum speeds of up to 800Mbps will be unlocked, with this set to reach 1Gbps ‘once the 5G spectrum is made fully available’. Vodacom’s new network is powered by Finnish equipment vendor Nokia which supplied its 5G AirScale portfolio, Subscriber Data Management software and 5G Gateways.

Vodacom has also announced plans for a US$10 million infrastructure investment to help enhance connectivity in rural Tanzania. The operator said it had signed a contract with the National ICT Broadband Backbone (NICTBB) worth US$4.59 million. That will allow Vodacom to use the government-owned fiber-optic cable infrastructure to better serve customers in rural areas.

This investment comes after an initial investment of US$6.2 million in October 2021 and is set to further spread high-speed Internet facilities upcountry to reach more underserved areas of the East African nation.

  

Tigo was the first to start 4G/LTE on 800 MHz (B 20) in Dar es Salaam and is available for prepaid (coverage map) in Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Dodoma, Tanga, Arusha with plans to extend connectivity to Mwanza, Zanzibar (Stone Town) and Kilimanjaro (Moshi). 

With a total of 13 million subscribers as of December 2020, Tigo held a 25 percent subscription share in a market. 

Axian Telecom and local businessman Rostam Azizi closed the acquisition of Millicom International Cellular’s operations in Tanzania (Tigo) and Zanzibar (Zantel). The consortium says its growth plan includes significant investment in Tanzania over the next five years to strengthen the network coverage and quality of service of the merged entity. 

  
Zantel used to be the local provider on the island of Zanzibar. That's why it has a good coverage there, but had almost no coverage on the mainland. The merger of Zantel with Tigo earned the latter another one million subscribers.


According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Airtel is the country’s second largest mobile operator with 14.70 million subscriptions at the end of 2021, representing a market share of 27.2%.

Airtel Tanzania has so far upgraded over 80% of its mobile sites to LTE-A technology, after launching the new high speed ‘Supa 4G’ network in February last year, reports IPP Media. The network, which utilises spectrum in the 700MHz and 2100MHz bands, support speeds of more than 40Mbps and is being rolled out nationwide. ‘We have also significantly increased our coverage by increasing the number of sites in rural areas as our commitment to provide affordable mobile services to all Tanzanians,’ commented the firm’s Managing Director Dinesh Balsingh. 

By improving the quality of its 4G services, Airtel Tanzania aims to build customer loyalty and attract new clients, therefore increasing its market share and outrunning Vodacom, the current leader of the Tanzanian market. 

  

Viettel Tanzania, which operates under the brand name Halotel, is aiming to reach the milestone of ten million mobile subscriptions by the end of 2023. In order to attract the additional three million new subscriptions over the next two years, the Vietnamese-owned cellco’s Director of Business Abdallah Salum said it will invest in upgrading network infrastructure, improving service quality and expanding network coverage, particularly increasing the availability of 4G services in more rural areas. At present, the firm’s combined mobile network coverage reaches 95% of the population. In addition, Halotel says it aims to increase the number of its ‘Halopesa’ mobile money subscriptions to five million by the end of 2023.

According to Ookla Halotel offered by far the fastest median download speed in Q1 of 2022 at 17.84 Megabytes per second (Mbps) followed by Vodacom (12.09 Mbps), Airtel (10.6 Mbps), TTCL (10.4 Mbps).

Tigo Tanzania and its sister company Zantel were revealed to have a median download speed of 5.99 Mbps and 4.31 Mbps respectively.

Halotel’s business director Abdallah Salum has attributed the telco’s internet speed to the investment and thought-out strategies. “We have for the past three years directed focus and strategies into expanding internet services coverage in Tanzania,” he said. Mr Salum said with nearly 30 percent of the customers using 4G the company plans to increase the numbers to at least 60 percent by the end of the year.

TTCL for Tanzania Telecommunications Company Ltd. is the state-owned monopoly landline provider in the country. TTCL launched its 4G/LTE mobile data network in 2015 with a five-year rollout plan to cover all regions and main roads in the country called T-Connect. It started in Dar es Salaam on 1800 MHz FD-LTE (band 3) and 2300 MHz TD-LTE (band 40)

In 2016 they announced to deploy 4G/LTE services countrywide by 2018, as the operator intends to accelerate coverage. A number of regions that will benefit from the initiative in phase one: Arusha, Iringa, Mbeya, Dodoma, Morogoro, Mtwara, Mwanza, Tanga, Kilimanjaro and Unguja.

Smile by Smile Communication Tanzania Ltd (Smile TZ) began commercial operations in 2013. The company is a subsidiary a South African telecommunications conglomerate, who has networks in Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda too. Smile Tanzania was the first operator to launch commercial 4G/ LTE services in Tanzania using the 800 MHz frequency (band 20).

Smile recently expanded its 4G LTE mobile broadband services to Zanzibar last month, with customers on the island now able to access maximum speeds of 50Mbps. ‘Following Smile Tanzania’s recent investment in network expansion, we are excited to bring the best 4G LTE broadband internet services to customers in Zanzibar,’ said Smile’s Country Manager Zuweina Farah, adding: ‘The investments have laid a foundation for a more digitally enabled economy, in line with the government’s digital transformation strategy.’ By the end of 2021 Smile’s network reached seven regions of Tanzania but the start of 2022 has seen services enhanced and expanded in locations including Zanzibar, Pwani, Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Dodoma, Mwanza, Mbeya, Kilimanjaro and Arusha, with more cities and regions scheduled to be switched on in the coming months.

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