Wednesday 29 May 2024

North Macedonia is a 5G Leader within Central and Eastern European Countries

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was renamed as the Republic of North Macedonia in February 2019. The country has been a European Union (EU) candidate since 2005 with accession discussions facing delays over the years. As part of the EU pre-accession process, North Macedonia has built closer economic ties with the Union which accounts for 77.5% of Macedonia’s exports and just over half of its imports. Closer regulatory and administrative ties with European Commission (EC) institutions have done much to develop the telecom sector and prepare the market for the competitive environment encouraged in the EU.

Macedonia’s mobile market is served by three mobile operators, MakTel (Makedonski Telekom), A1 Macedonia (known as One.Vip before a rebranding exercise in September 2019) and more recently Mtel. A1 Macedonia was formed from the merger of the local business units of Telekom Slovenije and Telekom Austria. In May 2016 they also merged with sister company Blizoo, and so has been able to provide a full suite of converged services. Mtel, a subsidiary of Telekom Srbija, launched mobile services at the end of 2022, a move that broke the former duopoly. The operators are increasingly focused on expanding their 5G networks, seeking stronger coverage across North Macedonia’s high value urban areas. Mobile data services are also becoming increasingly important following investments in LTE network rollouts and in upgrades to LTE-A technology.

MakTel or Makedonski Telekom is the dominant fixed and mobile line operator in the market of North Macedonia; it also operates as an Internet service provider, and as integrated telecommunications and entertainment services provider. Offering communication services and entertainment contents ensuring its future revenues, the company is also improving the competitiveness in North Macedonia, as well as growth in mobile and broadband services on national level.

The company has been active in the mobile telephone business since September 1996, when it was introduced as MobiMak when it was the first GSM mobile operator in the Republic of Macedonia. It was bought by Deutsche Telekom and in 2006 changed its name to Т-Mobile. In 2015 it changed its name to Makedonski Telekom, synchronising itself with other Deutsche Telekom group members. The network covers 99.9% of the population and over 98.5% of the territory of North Macedonia.

Makedonski was the first telecommunications company in the country to introduce 4G LTE, GPRS, EDGE and various converged internet and mobile services.

Makedonski Telekom has expanded its 5G footprint to 26 cities, since first launching its 5G network in February of last year. Its 5G service is available in several cities, including its capital Skopje and the wider area. Other areas include Stip, Veles, Kavadarci, Negotino, Sveti Nikole, Bitola, Prilep, Krushevo, Ohrid, Struga, Resen, Strumica, Radovish, Gevgelija, and Dojran. Makedonski also revealed that it has installed 900 new NB-IoT (narrowband IoT) enabled base stations for M2M communication in the country, with capacity of the new modernized network up by 70 percent.

A1 describe themselves as the leading mobile network operator and number two in the fixed-line market in North Macedonia. They say that have the fastest mobile network in the country. On top of this, the mobile network is becoming even faster by launching 5G. Close to 1,000 employees working under the ”A1 Makedonija” brand are constantly dedicated to providing the best user experience to more than 1.2 million customers.

Through its own network, A1 Macedonia provides its customers complete coverage with 4G/LTE mobile data all over the country and 4G+ in urban areas and coverage ratio of 99.8 % of the total population. A1 customers, as well as roaming visitors, enjoy the mobile network that provides fastest mobile internet which is confirmed by the independent regulatory the Agency of Electronic Communications. By the end of 2022, A1 started building its 5G network and accomplishing coverage of 56,6 % of the total population. Tourist centres, such as Ohrid Lake, are covered by LTE network and A1 Macedonia will continue investing in its modernisation.

MTEL has great ambitions in the North Macedonian market and also plans to offer to its customers other telecommunications services and digital services in the period to come. Telekom Srbija is already offering a wide range of telecommunications services in the field of mobile and fixed telephony, televisions and the Internet for more than 11 million customers in three regional markets – Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.

In its report on 'Sunsetting 3G to Aid 5G Progress in Central and Eastern Europe', Ookla said:

Our data shows that in Q2 2023, North Macedonia achieved the highest median 5G download speed in Central and Eastern Europe at 317.91 Mbps. Bulgaria was the only other country in the region that topped 200 Mbps (233.63 Mbps). It’s worth noting that North Macedonia not only excels in terms of median 5G speed but also when looking at 90th and 10th percentile results. For example, 5G download speeds in the 90th percentile reached 788.30 Mbps, while speeds in the 10th percentile clocked in at 90.90 Mbps. Makedonski Telekom and A1 Macedonia launched their 5G services with a combination of 4G frequencies using DSS before the 5G spectrum auction, with the regulator, AEK, awarding the licenses for frequencies in the 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz bands for 5G in July 2022. Makedonski Telekom invested over EUR 70 million in 2022 for network development. 

Given that North Macedonia had the fastest 5G among its peers, it isn’t surprising that its capital ranked first among regional capitals, with Skopje boasting a 475.92 Mbps median 5G download speed and a 59.94 5G upload speed in Q2 2023. 

The conditions of 5G licenses for Macedonian operators state that by the end of 2023, at least one Macedonian city should be covered with a 5G signal. But it is not only 5G that is achieving good performance. Skopje also ranked 25th on our Global Index City Speeds in July 2023, with a median mobile download speed of 96.79 Mbps, placing the city just behind Sofia in our rankings but ahead of some Western European capitals like Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Berlin, Rome, and London.

Friday 24 May 2024

Deutsche Telekom on the Role of AI in their Network

Deutsche Telekom has been actively promoting the role of Artificial Intelligence, both Predictive as well as Generative (GenAI), within their network. At FutureNet World 2024, Ahmed Hafez, VP Technology Strategy at Deutsche Telekom explained the role AI plays in their network. This Analysys Mason research note nicely summarises it as follows:

Deutsche Telekom’s (DT’s) Vice President of Technology Strategy, Ahmed Hafez, was forthcoming during a presentation at the event about the operator’s use of GenAI to improve employee productivity. Hafez said that DT had numerous GenAI-based use cases in production, including a coding assistant for developing test cases and an “FTTH roll-out chatbot” that helps contractors to adhere to regulation during fibre broadband installation. This chatbot uses retrieval augmented generation (RAG) based on information gathered from around 400 documents, each of which has about 900 pages, to respond to contractors’ questions and provide links to the relevant sections within these documents.

The presentation from that is embedded below:

At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2024, CEO Tim Höttges provided an insight into the ambition, the framework and governance of AI in Deutsche Telekom. His presentation is embedded below:

You can also read this article from Deutsche Telekom AGM 2024 where Tim Höttges talks a lot more about the use of AI in some 400 projects all across Deutsche Telekom. It is in turn helping optimize quality, bringing them closer to their customers, and enhancing productivity by up to 50% for routine tasks.

The adoption of AI within the networks is going to accelerate in the next few years and as 6G is billed as AI-native network, the ambition would be to have as little people interaction as possible and have most major tasks work autonomously.

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Friday 10 May 2024

Tunisia is Ready to Launch 5G in 2024

Tunisia has one of the most sophisticated telecom infrastructures in North Africa. Penetration rates for mobile and internet services are among the highest in the region. A number of regulatory measures and infrastructure projects have been instituted in recent years as the government continues to extend broadband infrastructure to remote areas and develop a digital economy.

Supported by the Digital Tunisia 2020 program, the MNOs have built extensive LTE infrastructure, and have trialled 5G services, though commercial services are not expected to be launched before 2023.

The political events of 2021 have put into question the country’s economic recovery. Although the economy was severely impacted by the collapse of the tourism sector in 2020, it returned to growth in 2021. Nevertheless, there is high unemployment and emigration, as well as continuing economic pressure on households. These factors have in turn held back the potential for revenue growth in the telecom sector.

Operators Ooredoo and Orange Tunisie are also licensed as fixed-line operators and have launched DSL and FttP services. In addition, a dozen public and private ISPs compete in this sector, supported by a nationwide fibre backbone network and international access via submarine and terrestrial fibre.

There are three mobile network operators in Tunisia: Tunisie Télécom (TT), Ooredoo (formerly Tunisiana) and Orange Tunisie.

All 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G in the populated areas on 2100 MHz up to HSDPA speed like in Europe, 4G/LTE started in 2016 in major towns on all three providers in 800 and 1800 MHz (B3, B20) and gives theoretical speeds of up to 150 Mbps.

In late June 2022, a Tunisie Telecom executive said that the operator is planning to shut down its 3G network and refarm its spectrum as its 3G users are rapidly migrating to 4G. The operator intended to launch VoLTE to allow it to transfer voice traffic from 3G to 4G. However, no timeline was given for the 3G network shutdown. Refarming 3G spectrum would allow Tunisie Telecom to improve the mobile experience of its 4G users.

The Tunis Afrique Press agency says that spectrum auction process is expected to take place between July and August of this year. Licenses will be awarded in September. 5G marketing is likely to be carried out soon after – in November.

A sectoral committee representing the National Telecommunications Authority (INTT) and the National Frequency Agency (ANF) was created in May 2023 to prepare for the transition. The ministry claims it has consulted with relevant stakeholders with experience in other countries.

During a press conference organized to reveal the roadmap for the launch of 5G, the ministry indicated that the call for tenders for operators would be launched at the end of April after validation by the Council of Ministers.

Three licenses will be granted to operators; Tunisia Telecom ; Ooredoo Tunisia and Orange Tunisia, which each consist of 5MHz duplexed in the 700MHz band and 100MHz in the 3.5GHz band as entry tickets.

In a second phase, each operator will also have 60MHz TDD in the 2.6GHz band.

As for the millimeter band; 26GHz, the ministry specified that it would later announce the parts of the spectrum which will be allocated to operators.

The licenses extend for a period of fifteen years each and should be awarded in September 2024. Thus around November, operators will have the opportunity to launch the marketing of 5G offers.

A representative of the INTT explained that there are 16 million SIM cards in Tunisia, and that Tunisians' data consumption increased fivefold between 2016 and 2023, from 600,000 to 1.7 million.

About 90.8% of Tunisians use mobile phones, 65% own smartphones, 72% use fixed internet, and 88% are active on social media, figures that are said to underline the need for 5G rollout. on.

According to the OpenSignal October 2022 report Tunisia’s mobile network experience continues to be hard fought, with only three out of nine awards being won outright (the same number seen in the last report). Ooredoo still has the largest haul of awards, successfully defending its outright win for Core Consistent Quality, while being a joint winner in six categories — including all three experiential awards (Video Experience, Games Experience and Voice App Experience) and both coverage awards (Availability and 4G Coverage Experience). Orange is a joint winner in five categories, including Upload Speed Experience where our users observed a three-way tie. Tunisie Telecom wins two awards outright (Download Speed Experience and Excellent Consistent Quality and is a joint winner for Video Experience (alongside Ooredoo) and Upload Speed Experience.

Ooredoo Tunisia leads the market with a 40.9% share as reported by the National Telecommunications Authority (INT). Moreover, the commercial deployment of 5G and 5.5G in North Africa is anticipated to boost Ooredoo's revenues.  

Ooredoo Group has announced a partnership with Nokia that will see its networks enhanced in Algeria and Tunisia, and forged an agreement with Huawei to adopt its technologies and wireless offerings, including 5G, in some of its MENA operating companies. In March 2023, the group inked a new partnership deal with Nokia to make its network 5G-ready in both Tunisia and Algeria. In Tunisia, Ooredoo began the first technology tests as early as December 2020.

Nokia will also upgrade the existing radio network for Ooredoo Tunisia and expand it with the addition of new radio sites. Upgrades will include deployment of Nokia’s AirScale portfolio, including base stations supporting multiple generations of radio technology from 2G, 3G and 4G to 5G; massive MIMO Adaptive Antennas for urban and wide-area coverage; dual-band Remote Radio Heads (RRH); and the AirScale indoor Radio (ASiR) small-cell service for seamless indoor coverage. 

Orange Tunisie is the smallest of the main operators. Last year they launched a project for the progressive solarization of their mobile network, in partnership with International Telecom Services (ITS.COM). The goal is to deploy solar panels on more than 1,000 sites, thereby reducing the operator's carbon footprint. This project aims to produce renewable energy to power Orange Tunisia's low-voltage radio stations, thus contributing to the country's energy transition.

Ultimately, Orange Tunisia's mobile network should reach a rate of 15% of renewable energy in its overall consumption, with the objective of reducing its carbon footprint by nearly 3,550 tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2025. This project is part of Orange Tunisia's strategy in terms of social responsibility and ecological transition, in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to their website state-owned Tunisie Telecom has more than 6 million subscribers in fixed and mobile telephony. making it the largest operator in Tunisia’s growing telecoms market.

Tunisie Telecom (TT) is currently embarking on an ambitious all-optical network transformation program with longstanding strategy partner Huawei.

TT, as a No.1 service provider, is transforming to provide a high-quality home broadband experience

“ADSL technology is no longer meeting user high-speed requirements” asserts Oussama Samet, TT’s Chief Network Officer.

Samet, speaking to at the recent Huawei Global Ultra-Broadband Forum held in Dubai, reported that TT held a 50% share in the county’s fixed broadband market, serving more than 1.3 million households with a mixture of xDSL and FTTH products. The days of copper-based broadband access in TT’s network are numbered, however.

Aside from rising traffic volumes and greater demand for high-quality connectivity, other drivers for TT’s all-optical transformation are increased use of cloud services, industry vertical digitalization and cloudification. The operator also wants to be prepared for the impact of 5G-Advanced on underlying networks.

By using existing civil works, TT is looking to extract as much cost‑efficiencies as possible in terms of FTTH rollout, service delivery and O&M. “This strategy has helped us double the number of homes passed with fiber by the end of 2023 and we’re on track to reach 500,000 households by 2025,” said Samet. “This will improve the average bandwidth to 30Mbit/s, and maybe up to 50Mbit/s, by the end of 2025 and greatly enhance the customer experience."

For more information on Tunisia's 5G plans please watch: 

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Friday 19 April 2024

The Status of Mobile Networks in Latin America

The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) represents the voice of the mobile ecosystem with members including vendors, operators, academia and regulators. GSA has nine Executive Members, including Apple, Ericsson, Huawei, MediaTek, Nokia, Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung and ZTE. With a further 80+ Members and Associates, GSA draws its membership from across the global mobile ecosystem, including mobile operators, regulators, analyst firms, academia and an extensive vendor community spanning chipsets to devices, and network equipment to FWA and private mobile specialists. GSA is a Market Representation Partner in 3GPP and co-operates with other key organisations including ITU, GCF, CITEL, COAI, ETSI, GSMA, CEPT-ECC, ATU, and other regional regulatory bodies.

The first GSA report closely tracking the status of 4G and 5G network deployment in Latin America was published earlier this month. It uses the latest GSA data and draws on various GSA reports, including private mobile networks, to provide a comprehensive overview of the status of 4G and 5G roll-outs in the region. Quoting from the paper summary:

In recent years, Latin America has witnessed significant advancements in telecommunications technology, particularly in mobile networks. The proliferation of 4G LTE networks has transformed the digital landscape, enabling faster data speeds, enhanced connectivity and the widespread adoption of mobile broadband services across the region. Moreover, the advent of 5G technology promises to usher in a new era of connectivity, characterized by ultrafast speeds, low latency and greater security.

This report delves into various aspects of mobile network evolution including the status of LTE, the roll-out of 5G networks, advancements in LTE-Advanced, the emergence of 5G standalone infrastructure, the development of private networks and the switch-off of 2G and 3G technologies.

You can download the paper from this page here.

In this regional spotlight webinar, the GSA Research team was joined by senior representatives from telecom regulators, including Alejandro Navarrete, Head of the Radioelectric Spectrum Unit at IFT and ANATEL’s Deputy Superintendent of Granting and Resources, Mr Sidney Azeredo, to explore the challenges and opportunities for 5G in the region. During the webinar, the GSA Research team shared the latest data on:

  • The status of LTE and 5G in the region
  • Private Networks in LATAM
  • Spectrum assignments, both recently completed and upcoming

Following the data snapshot is a roundtable discussion with regulators where the panel explores the market dynamics and what the future holds for 4G and 5G in their markets. The webinar is embedded below:

Thursday 21 March 2024

5G in Liechtenstein Gains Ground

The Principality of Liechtenstein (Fürstentum Liechtenstein) is one of Europe’s smaller countries nestled between Switzerland and Austria. It’s a German-speaking, 25km-long principality, known for its medieval castles, alpine landscapes and villages linked by a network of trails. It only measures 160 square kilometres. But it’s in a very special position. It's part of the EEA, so EU laws apply, but it's attached to networks of Switzerland too, where they don't.

Liechtenstein has 3 network operators: Telecom Liechtenstein (FL1, formerly Mobilkom Liechtenstein), Swisscom and 7acht (by Salt Mobile SA of Switzerland, formerly Orange CH).

It has an excellent coverage on 2G and 4G. Telecom Liechtenstein TLI) is the market leader in this country, but has no prepaid product so far. 4G/LTE has started with all three operators. Frequency bands 800, 900, 1800, 2100 und 2600 MHz (Bands 1, 3, 7, 8 and 20) were allocated. 3G on 7acht (Salt), Swisscom and Telecom Liechtenstein have been shut down by 31 Dec 2023, so for data service, you will need a 4G/LTE or 5G/NR capable device. For prepaid offers you need to turn to Swiss providers or roam with another EEA SIM card.

The Liechtenstein mobile phone system is attached to Switzerland. This means that customers of all three providers can roam in Switzerland on Swiss networks without additional fees. This applies to data too.

Telecom Liechtenstein (FL1) uses its partner network Salt for free roaming in Switzerland, while 7acht (Salt) and Swisscom are linked to their respective Swiss home networks.

Telecom Liechtenstein received approval to expand its 5G network the Principality of Liechtenstein in January 2023 by acquiring the rights to use frequencies through reallocation. TLI will expand its 4G/LTE network capacity and introduce 5G, the most powerful mobile communications standard currently available, to FL1 customers by mid-2023. The expansion will require FL1 customers to have an FL1 LIFE subscription and a 5G-capable smartphone. After the successful roll-out of the fiber optic core network in Liechtenstein, Telecom Liechtenstein and Nokia have also signed the contract to expand their 5G network.

Swisscom “Liechtenstein” is the largest mobile operator in Switzerland and also in Liechtenstein.
Hence, it is also the largest mobile operator in Liechtenstein. It is a mostly state-owned company (51%) with the best overall performance in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Salt Mobile “Liechtenstein”, just Salt Mobile or 7acht, is the smallest mobile operator in Switzerland. Hence, it is also the smallest mobile operator in Liechtenstein.

Thursday 7 March 2024

Kosovo Getting Ready to Launch 5G Mid-2024

Kosovo is Europe‘s youngest nation after gaining independence from Serbia in 2008. They have benefited from financial and regulatory assistance as part of the EU pre-accession process. The EU remains Kosovo’s main trading partner and its main source of foreign direct investment. The economy is significantly driven by trade with Germany and Switzerland, where most expatriates live and work. Remittances from such workers form an important part of household incomes.

The telecom sector has been liberalised, and legislation has aligned the sector with the EU’s revised regulatory framework. Measures have also been adopted relating to competition and to facilitating the market entry of new players. Nevertheless, poor telecom infrastructure has meant that fixed-line penetration remains low by European standards.

The mobile sector accounts for most telecom lines for voice services, as well as the greater part of telecom revenue. Kosovo has two mobile operators: Vala (Kosovo Telecom) and IPKO.

Kosovo’s state telecom operator Telecom of Kosovo, a business unit of Post and Telecom of Kosovo trading as Vala, is the largest mobile operator in Kosovo. It is also the fastest mobile operator in the country.  

Vala uses the following frequencies: 2G: 900 & 1800 MHz, 3G: 900 MHz & 2100 MHz,4G/LTE: 1800 MHz (Band 3). Vala started with 3G coverage on 2100 MHz in Pristina in 2014. Vala’s 3G network covers Pristina and the surrounding area, including Pristina International Airport, Vushtrri, Mitrovicë, Ferizaj and Gjilan, whilst launches are also planned in Prizren, Gjakova and Suva Reka. Vala also has 4G/LTE coverage on 1800 MHz (Band 3), which works in many areas of Kosovo.

IPKO is owned by Telekom Slovenije (Si Mobitel) from Slovenia, hence IPKO's mobile phone number calling prefix was +386 (for Slovenia) before fully migrated to the new Kosovo code +383. Telekom Slovenije has stopped the sale of its 100% stake in Kosovo-based operator IPKO in 2020 and IPKO will remain part of Telekom Slovenije Group.

IPKO has 2G on 900 MHz and 3G coverage on 2100 MHz. Its population coverage on 3G is 90% and on 4G/LTE is 84% in 2017. It claims to have the largest 3G and 4G coverage and WiFi network in the country in 2021.

Regarding the development of 5G: Telecom Kosovo has been awarded a 2×10MHz block in the 800MHz band (811MHz-821MHz/852MHz-862MHz) alongside a 1×100MHz block in the 3.6GHz band (3,510MHz-3,610MHz).

IPKO has picked up spectrum in the 2×10MHz in the 800MHz band, (791MHz-801MHz/832MHz-842MHz) plus a 1×100MHz block of the spectrum at 3,410MHz-3,510MHz. Both licenses are valid for 20 years and are technology-neutral.

According to the regulator, an additional 90MHz block of 5G spectrum in the 3,710MHz-3,800MHz range has been awarded to the Next Generation Networks Institute, with the goal of supporting the deployment of local private 5G networks.

IPKO revealed it completed 5G testing in July 2023, where it was able to achieve speeds of more than 1.2Gbps. However, the operator didn't disclose the vendor it worked with.

Telekom Kosovo signed a deal with Ericsson Nikola Tesla, a Croatian subsidiary of Ericsson, to modernize the operator's mobile network, including 5G broadband, noted Broadband TV News in December of last year. As per the latest news, Vala will start delivering 5G services from mid-2024.

Friday 16 February 2024

Samoa is Content with 4G/LTE, no Plans for 5G

Samoa, officially the Independent State of Samoa and until 1997 known as Western Samoa, is a Polynesian island country consisting of two main islands (Savai'i and Upolu); two smaller, inhabited islands (Manono and Apolima); and several smaller, uninhabited islands, including the Aleipata Islands (Nu'utele, Nu'ulua, Fanuatapu and Namua).

Samoa was one of the first Pacific Island countries to establish a regulatory infrastructure and to liberalise its telecom market. In 2006, it became the first country in the region to see the market entrance of Digicel, which has since launched services in other Pacific nations. The advent of competition in the mobile market saw prices fall by around 50% and network coverage increase to more than 90% of the population. Samoa also boasts one of the highest rates of mobile phone coverage in the Pacific region.

LTE is developing on the back of an initial launch of the technology in 2016 by Digicel Samoa, followed by BlueSky Samoa (now Vodafone Samoa) in 2017. Digicel Samoa completed its LTE network in September 2020. 

Digicel Samoa’s financially troubled parent company, Digicel Pacific, had been on the lookout for a potential buyer for several months as it struggled financially. After various Chinese firms registered interest in taking a stake, the Australian government sought to block further Chinese investment in the region by providing financial support for a local buyer. In October 2021, Telstra agreed to acquire Digicel Group’s Pacific operations for around $1.6 billion, with a financial input from the Australian government of around $1.33 billion.

Both operators have 2G/GSM on 900 MHz and 3G/UMTS/HSPA+ on 900 MHz/2100 MHz. 3G/HSPA+ was marketed as a "4G" network, but real 4G/LTE started in 2016 on Digicel using 1800 MHz (B3) band. 

Vodafone Samoa is Samoa’s leading mobile operator and their existing mobile network covers 98.5% of where Samoans live, work and play.

Digicel Samoa as well as Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu markets have all emerged as the winner of the Speedtest Award™ for mobile network speed in the respective countries for the first and second quarters of 2023.

The Speedtest Award™ is a highly esteemed acknowledgement in the telecommunications industry, benchmarking and celebrating the providers who excel in delivering the fastest data speeds and reliable network performance.

Ookla® is a global leader in mobile and broadband network intelligence, testing applications, and technologies. It utilises user-initiated tests completed on Speedtest® to substantiate the award.

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