Monday, 21 September 2020

Afghanistan has a Healthy Mobile Ecosystem but No Plans for 5G yet

Afghanistan continues to be confronted by challenges due to the instability following years of war and civil strife. Their efforts to establish a functional telecommunications sector virtually from nothing are encouraging. The telecommunications network now covers over 90% of the population.

Efforts are being made to roll out fixed-line services, but the country’s telecommunications services rely heavily on its mobile infrastructure. Fixed-line broadband market penetration has not grown significantly over the last five years. Over the next five years to 2024 growth is expected to continue but overall market penetration will remain extremely low.

Afghanistan is making good progress on the roll-out of the government project for a nationwide optical fibre backbone. The work on the ‘Wakhan Corridor Fibre Optic Survey Project’ officially started with the first phase of a plan to install a cross-border fibre link connecting Afghanistan with China.

Afghanistan’s mobile market experienced reasonably strong growth between 2012 and 2017 but faced a serious slowdown in 2018, with the number of subscribers falling 8% year-on-year. This was partly due to increasing violence in the country (creating population displacement as well as damage to infrastructure), and also to a downturn in the regional economy. However, there were positive signs of recovery in 2019, with slow growth despite the uncertainty created by the presidential election. Overall, the mobile market has experienced reasonable growth since 2014, with mobile penetration rising from 55% in 2014 to 60% in 2019 and the number of subscribers reaching 22.9 million.

Further moderate growth is predicted over the next five years (through to 2024), though this assumes stable governance and an improving economic environment. Subscriber penetration is expected to reach 69% by 2024, with the market estimated to grow at a CAGR of 5% between 2019 and 2024.

Afghanistan has seen a strong increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past five years, with penetration reaching to 22% in 2019 compared to only 1% in 2013. The sector is still at an early stage of development and penetration remains relatively low compared to other Asian nations, though stronger growth is anticipated over the next five years in line with operator investments in 4G and increased competition among operators encouraging lower pricing for end-users and improved service offerings. Mobile broadband penetration could reach 35% by 2024, with a subscriber base of 14.8 million. A CAGR of 12% is forecast between 2019 and 2024.

As of most recent figures from 2018, mobile phone service is available to 90% of the population (ATRA, 2018). Interestingly, there are 26,351,256 active mobile service subscribers out of a national population of 36,373,176, which suggests that mobile phones currently have 72% market penetration–five times that of ISP usage. For Afghans, smart phones are preferred to computers as they are cheaper and better value when equipped with Internet functionality. Smart phones have become the preferred way for Afghans to access the Internet.

Therefore despite all the challenges Afghanistan has a highly competitive mobile market that continues to flourish. The mobile sector has been boosted by the absence of effective fixed-line alternatives. There are now 5 mobile GSM operators competing in Afghanistan’s telecom sector: Afghan Wireless (AWCC), Etisalat, MTN Group, Roshan and Salaam Network (Aftel).

2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G started 2012/3 on 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE services have started 2017 on Afghan Wireless on 1800 MHz (band 3) with other providers announcing it too.

Meanwhile 3G/4G subscriptions doubled from 2.6 million in June 2016 to 5.7 million at the end of March 2017.

Afghan Wireless (AWCC) was Afghanistan's first mobile communications company today it has over 5 million subscribers.  They recently topped Afghanistan’s fastest mobile internet networks based on analysis by Ookla of tests taken with Speedtest® covering the first half of 2020.

Ookla reported that Afghan Wireless achieved a speed score of 6.81 Mbps with average speeds of 8.32 Mbps for download and 3.74 Mbps for upload on 4.75G+ LTE-capable devices to become the only Ookla certified network in Afghanistan. Speedtest is Ookla’s flagship product, and is the most accurate way to measure internet performance and network diagnostics.

Etisalat was the first mobile provider to launch 3G services and now has 3G coverage in 21 provinces of Afghanistan. They now provide voice and data services to approximately 3.5 million subscribers in 34 Afghan provinces and more than 200 districts supported by more than 12,000 retail outlets

Etisalat, which is in competition with Afghan Telecom (Salaam), but the two operators complement  each other by sharing infrastructure. Currently Etisalat share 60 to 70 mobile towers with Aftel.

MTN Group despite have a strong presence and 6.5 million subscribers is due to share its shares and exit the country.  The company is accused of bribing the Taliban militants in Afghanistan to ‘safeguard’ its telecom towers. MTN Group is due to sell its shares in Syria, Yamen and Afghanistan to other telecom providers in order to end its operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Roshan claim 6.5 million subscribers, covering 34 provinces with their network. They actively contribute to the country’s long-term development with more than $750 million invested in Afghanistan to date. They directly employ more than 900 people – 97% Afghan nationals and 19% female – and provide indirect employment to more than 35,000 people.

Finally Afghan Telecom’s wireless network, called Salam, is the latest player to enter the mobile communications market. With more than 2 million customers out of a total population of around 36 million in Afghanistan, Salam currently has a market share of nearly 11 per cent. The company is looking to grow this by a further 5 per cent. Afghan Telecom plans to roll out 4G services and expand its share of a crowded market dominated by foreign players such as Etisalat. They are working with a mix of vendors including Huawei, ZTE and Cisco to launch their 4G services.

 Afghan Telecom will not be the first operator to offer 4G services in Afghanistan. Its main competitor, Afghan Wireless — the first wireless communications company in the country — rolled out a 4G network in 2017.

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Monday, 14 September 2020

Niger is looking forward to a more reliable 3G, and 4G eventually

Niger is one of the largest countries in West Africa but also one of the poorest in the world. As with many other countries in Africa they suffer from a lack of fixed telecoms infrastructure and this has led to growth in mobile services.

However Niger still has a modest mobile penetration rate of less than 55% according to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, ranking 45th out of Africa’s 57 countries by this metric at the end of March 2020.

World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) has approved a loan and a grant – each worth US$50 million – to help Niger improve access to vital social services in the country’s poorest regions, as well as augmenting infrastructure nationwide.

CommsUpdate notes that part of the funding will be used for Niger’s Smart Villages project, which seeks to boost rural broadband and mobile connectivity. In turn, this will increase access to mobile financial services in the most remote areas of Niger.

Recent international investment to complete the Trans-Saharan Dorsal optical fibre (SDR) network has also extended the reach of fibre-optic infrastructure in the country and also increased international capacity. Despite this, investment among operators has fallen dramatically since 2015. This is partly the result of a poor economic climate since then, which saw a 7.5% fall in market revenue in 2019, year-on-year. The Pandemic will further contribute to this.

There are 4 mobile operators in Niger: Airtel Niger (by Indian Bharti Airtel), Orange Niger (by France Telecom), Moov Niger (by Maroc Telecom) and Sahelcom (by Niger Telecoms).

2G/GSM is mainly on 900 MHz and rarely on 1800 MHz in towns, 3G is on 2100 MHz in limited areas. 4G/LTE started in July 2019 in Niamey on Airtel using bands 3 (1800 MHz) and 20 (800 MHz).

GSMA Intelligence figures last year place Airtel (4.7 million) as the market leader with Moov (2.9 million) and Orange Niger as the third-largest player in the market by connections (including cellular IoT), with 2.6 million.

The poor quality of service remains a major obstacle in the country.

In 2018 the government of Niger is proposing to reintroduce the tax on international calls in 2019. The government is seeking to restore the tax, after accusing telecom companies of failing to honour commitments to improve services.

With a market share of 47% at the end of 2017, Airtel is Niger’s largest wireless operator by subscribers. It was formerly called Celtel and Zain. It's now owned by Indian Bharti Airtel. It's payment system is called Airtel Money.

Airtel Niger's 2G/3G network covers 18,000 villages in 264 communes out of the total 266 across the country in 2018. In 2018 Airtel Niger has secured the country’s first 4G/LTE mobile licence and in July 2019 Airtel announced the commercial launch of 4G/LTE services. Coverage of the 4G network is currently available in the capital Niamey, but will be expanded to the regional capitals and other main cities in the future.

The most recent company to join the mobile market Orange Niger has become the second-largest operator with a mobile market share of 29%. As the first operator to have launched a 3G network in 2011, Orange Niger is leading the broadband mobile internet market. Their payment system is called Orange Money.

Orange Niger is set to build out and modernise its network after being granted a loan of XOF31 billion (US$56.3 million) by Coris Bank Niger. The operator has also stated its intention of obtaining a 4G licence in order to launch an LTE and LTE-A offering before the end of 2020.

Orange has now sold its 95.5 per cent stake to Zamani Com S.A.S. The French operator was ordered to close offices by the Niger government in 2018, over a tax claim. However services will continue to be marketed under the Orange brand during a transition period.

The government of Niger has announced the award of a 4G licence to operator Zamani Com. The award of the 15-year licence for the establishment and operation of a 4G network to Zamani Com, the new owner of mobile operator Orange Niger, makes it the second operator in Niger, after Airtel, to plan to offer 4G in the country. The announcement also notes that Zamani Com’s existing 2G and 3G licences have been renewed for a further 15 years.

Moov is the 3rd player in Niger with only 10% of all subscribers on the market. In 2014 it was bought by Maroc Telecom from Etisalat. They claim to have 2G and 3G coverage in many towns and villages. Their payment system is called Flooz.

State-owned fixed and mobile provider Niger Telecoms has officially launched commercial operations, including 3G mobile voice and data services in 2017. The government of Niger approved plans to merge state-owned fixed line operator Sonitel and its mobile unit SahelCom into a single entity, and Niger Telecoms was formally established in December 2016.

Niger Telecoms says its 3G network is available in parts of all regions, but this is very questionable as it's network is mostly based on 2G. SahelCom only accounts for less than 5% of all mobile users and is not recommended for travellers so far.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Would Tunisia Succeed in 2021 5G Rollout?

Tunisia has one of the most advanced telecom infrastructures in North Africa. Penetration rates for mobile and internet services are also among the highest in the region. Stimulated by the Digital Tunisia 2020 program, a number of regulatory measures and infrastructure projects have been instituted aimed at improving internet connectivity to underserved areas. The MNOs have built extensive LTE infrastructure, while operators such as Ooredoo are working with vendors to develop 5G networks and services though the regulator does not expect to offer 5G licenses until 2021. Other investment has been earmarked for vectoring VDSL and fibre to deliver improved fixed-line broadband services. 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 optic backbone network and international access via submarine and terrestrial fibre.

The events of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolution in 2011 drove the country into a brief recession, but GDP growth soon returned to pre-crisis levels. While GDP growth has been modest yet sufficient to encourage confidence in economic recovery, the government’s measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to result in a significant decline in GDP for 2020.

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

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 has 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. Generally, Tunesian 4G coverages and speeds are pretty good for an African country at average 18 Mbps and 61% covered of the time according to OpenSignal in 2018, but can't match those of Europe or Asia.

Tunisie Télécom and Ooredoo are both on par and have the best network. Orange has a slightly smaller network, but still reaches 87% of the population with 3G and is heavily investing into 4G/LTE deployment.

According to market figures in 2019 TT is slightly ahead of Ooredoo with Orange in third place. But when it comes to 3G and 4G data Ooredoo leads the table with Orange in second and the incumbent TT in 3rd place.

TT the incumbent (and partly state-owned) operator in the country has re-gained its lead in the country, having a is a 48% share of subscribers in 2019. But it has the smallest number of data users.
4G/LTE is available at the same rates as 3G in the areas of Greater Tunis (Tunis, Ariana, Ben Arous, Mannouba), Bizerte, Sousse and Sfax in 2016 spreading to the rest of the country. TT is more or less on par with Ooredeoo.

Ooredoo has rebranded the Tunisiana label a few years ago. Their network is generally on par with Tunesie Télécom what coverage and speed is concerned.

They are no.2 with a 43% user share in 2019 and a 99% coverage on 3G. 4G/LTE started in 2016 and seems to be the fastest network in the country. Ooredoo is the data leader with the most 3G and 4G customers.

Orange Tunisie is the smallest network operator in the country, but it's strong on data. Though it has only a customer share of 5.6% in 2019, it produces about 1/3 of all mobile data traffic in the country. 4G/LTE has started in at least 20 cities in 2016. It's particularly popular among data users, as it normally gives good speeds as long as you have coverage.

Tunisia maybe one of Africa’s best places for effective 4G, there is no 5G as of  yet. The country’s mobile network operators are expecting licenses for the technology’s rollout in 2021.

According to GSMA, in Tunisia, the 700 MHz band is already available since analogue TV switch-off. The 3500 MHz licences have been modified to allow LTE and there is some use of the 26 GHz band for fixed links. There is the potential to award the 700 MHz band now and possibly rearrange the 3500 MHz and 26 GHz bands to release spectrum and ensure contiguous frequencies.

Ooredoo Tunisie, the Tunisian arm of Qatar-based telecoms giant Ooredoo, has selected Huawei to build the infrastructure. They will make use of  Huawei’s 5G Single RAN radio solution with advanced Massive MIMO technology, in addition to its 5G Cloud Core technologies.

Meanwhile, Tunisie Telecom, the country’s legacy operator—which is 65 percent state-owned and consistently dominates the market of fixed-line subscriptions by a wide margin—is also joining hands with Huawei to build one of the fastest LTE networks ahead of the 5G era.

Nevertheless, Orange Tunisie may be the odd one out, because its French headquarters has made it known it won’t be joining the bandwagon. “We don’t foresee calling on Huawei for 5G,” Orange CEO Stephane Richard told reporters in Paris. “We are working with our traditional partners – they are Ericsson and Nokia.”

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Monday, 31 August 2020

Is Saudi Arabia Winning the 5G Race?

Opensignal has analysed the real-world 5G experience of their users across mobile operators in a number of countries globally. In an article they have compared 5G users’ overall experience across 12 of the world’s leading 5G markets. Surprisingly there is no Japan or China in the list but you still have other big players.

The article states:

Globally, our 5G users in Saudi Arabia see the fastest overall average download speed with a Download Speed Experience of 144.5 Mbps ahead of Canada’s 5G users in second place with 90.4 Mbps. Strikingly, 5G Users in the country with the highest adoption of 5G to date, South Korea, rank just third. Our 5G users in the U.K. have the slowest overall Download Speed Experience with a score of 32.6 Mbps because the 4G experience greatly brings down the overall score. Download Speed Experience – 5G Users takes into account the average 3G and 4G Download Speed that 5G users see, as well as their average 5G Download Speed and time connected to each type of network to reveal the overall download speed experience.

When we consider the average download speed using 5G technology we see a very different story. While Saudi Arabia remains in first place, South Korea jumps to second place with average 5G Download speeds of a staggering 312.7 Mbps — over five times faster than South Korea’s already fast 4G speeds. The U.K. moves up the rankings with the U.S., Netherlands and Germany now dropping into the last three positions.

The modest 5G Download Speeds in the U.S. are due to a combination of the limited amount of new mid-band 5G spectrum that is available and the popularity of low-band spectrum – T-Mobile’s 600MHz and AT&T’s 850MHz – which offer excellent availability and reach but lower average speeds than the 3.5GHz mid-band spectrum used as the main 5G band in every country outside of the U.S. However, Verizon’s mmWave-based 5G service offers very considerably faster average 5G Download Speeds of 494.7 Mbps in our recent U.S. report, which is faster than the average 5G download speeds Opensignal has seen on any operator, or in any country to date including Saudi Arabia. 

The amount of time users spend connected to 5G – 5G Availability – is an important factor in the overall experience 5G users enjoy. We are still in the early stages of a 5G era that will last for at least a decade because the first 5G services launched only in 2019, and in a number of countries we continue to see 5G services aimed at smartphone users launching for the first time.

STC, Saudi Arabia was one of the first operators to roll out 5G. Another OpenSignal report back in April about the Video experience in Saudi was a bit critical of the experience there. It said:

Our first look at our new Games Experience metric at the operator level in Saudi Arabia, reveals that all three operators have much work still to do before they can provide their mobile gamers with an experience free of connectivity issues. Both STC and Zain fall into Very Poor for this measure of the mobile experience, while the winner, Mobily, is just ahead with a score of 42.5, which places it in the Poor category.

While that report focused heavily on 4G, things may yet change with 5G.

The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has launched a public consultation setting out its five-year outlook on radio spectrum for commercial and innovative use. The consultation invites views on a range of measures, with the aim of enabling the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a leading digital society in alignment with the goals of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and CITC's recently approved National Spectrum Strategy.

In this consultation, CITC is proposing to release more than 10 GHz of additional radio spectrum by 2024 across a wide range of frequency bands to cater to the needs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, accelerate innovation and create a thriving environment for emerging radio technologies. Through this consultation, CITC is inviting all interested parties, both locally and internationally, to provide their views and input on the future of this unprecedented spectrum release. Views are welcome from local and international telecom and technology providers, industrial stakeholders, public entities and members of the public as well as consumers of telecom and digital services.

The PDF is available here and this picture below from that summarises the details of current IMT spectrum assignments in Saudi Arabia.

As you can see, the 3 main operators have a good chunk of spectrum below 1 GHz as well as in the 3.6 GHz band. This definitely gives them an edge in 5G as compared to others.

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Tuesday, 25 August 2020

5G in Israel ... still coming soon

Israel has a highly developed economy and one of its major sectors revolves around high technology products, primarily used in the medical, biotechnology, agricultural, materials and military industries. Israel also attracts investment in its cyber-security industry and has established itself as a hub for thousands of start-up companies.

To underpin these advanced developments; Israel is developing a robust telecoms sector. It has a high household internet penetration rate, almost all of which are broadband connections and fibre-network deployment is well underway, led by the Israel Broadband Company (IBC).

When we last wrote about Israel back in 2019, we were expecting 5G to be available by now. Coverage of 4G in Israel is significant and the regulator is forging ahead with a planned auction of 5G spectrum. The regulator has offered financial incentives to encourage operators to participate. The operators have also seen a flurry of merger and acquisition activity over the last 6 or so months.

Israel has five main network operators: Cellcom, Partner (formerly Orange), Pelephone, Golan Telecom and HOT Mobile.

2G and 3G: GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G is on 2100 MHz like in most of Europe with additional 850/900 MHZ. Most of the country is covered aside from parts in the unsettled north of the desert in the south, but mostly there is full coverage of the country. 4G/LTE: LTE works in most big cities on 1800 MHz (band 3) and there are plans to add 2600 MHz (band 7) to all networks in the future.

Cellcom is one of the historical providers. Shops and reloads can be found everywhere. They still have the most customers in the country on their network. Cellcom's prepaid plan is called "TalkMan" and referred as the generic word for prepaid cards in Israel.

The Israeli Ministry of Communications have accepted Cellcom’s request that Golan Telecom will merge with Cellcom but remain a virtual carrier and an active player in the market under Cellcom's wing.

The merged company will be the largest in Israel's mobile market, with some 3.6 million subscribers, a clear lead over the number two, Partner, which was not far behind Cellcom’s 2.7 million before the merger. It was in February 2020 that Cellcom announced that it would buy Golan Telecom at a valuation of about $216.3 million at current exchange rates.

Partner, formerly known as Orange, is another historical provider. They are owned by local Partner Communications, who used the Orange brand under license until 2016, but have rebranded getting rid of the orange color.

Partner is the second-largest mobile operator, and has been reported to be paying together with HOT Mobile, 62.3 million shekels for its frequencies. Partner operates a joint radio network with HOT, a subsidiary of telecoms and cable group Altice Europe.

Pelephone is the oldest operator in Israel, founded in 1986. It was a CDMA only network from 1998 until 2009 when it became a GSM compatible 3G/4G network, that means that only GSM phones supporting 3G on 850 and 2100 MHz or 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz can use it. Today it is the only network without 2G coverage in Israel since the 2G CDMA network has been shut down in July 2017.

HOT Mobile together with Golan Telecom (another operator which is hard to use for foreigners) started a "mobile revolution" in Israel in 2012. They are 3G and 4G-only networks, but there is a national network sharing agreement with Partner, so you get full coverage including 2G fallback. You may need to enable data roaming on your phone to get stable internet connection all over Israel, without surcharges. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz on Partner network, 3G on 900 MHz (through Partner) and on 2100 MHz (own network). 4G/LTE started recently on own 1800 MHz network.

Golan Telecom started offering own prepaid plans under the brand GolanTalk from June 2018.
Golan Telecom has now been sold to rival Cellcom. So it can be expected that Golan Telecom will be merged to the Cellcom network soon.

In their first operator-level outlook on the Israeli mobile market, Open Signal found no single dominant operator across the mobile network experience metrics. Four of the awards — Video Experience, Games Experience, Voice App Experience and Download Speed Experience — resulted in a tie between two or three operators, while the three clear wins — Upload Speed Experience, 4G Availability, 4G Coverage Experience — were achieved by three different operators.

Partner appeared to be the best-placed operator in our award table with four draws and one clear win, but Pelephone and Hot Mobile also won one metric each and drew in another two. Golan Telecom drew in Voice App Experience — the only three-way draw — while Cellcom was the only operator which did not win or draw for any of the awards.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Ireland's new 5-year Roadmap to bring 5G connectivity to the nation

Ireland’s telecom market has been boosted by the economic recovery seen during the last few years, emerging from a period in which it had been held back by low broadband uptake, reduced investment among operators and lower spending among consumers. This optimism has been seen in operator investment in extending fibre-based networks providing 1Gb/s services, in the government progressing with the national Broadband Plan (with the NBI starting work on the network build in January 2020) and with plans to auction spectrum in a range of bands suitable for 5G services later in 2020.

However the current outbreak of the Coronavirus is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

On the consumer side, spending on telecoms services and devices is under pressure from the financial effect of large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes. However, the crucial nature of telecom services, both for general communication as well as a tool for home-working, will offset such pressures. In many markets the net effect should be a steady though reduced increased in subscriber growth.

There are three main operators in the Republic of Ireland: Vodafone (Ireland), Hutchison 3 (= Three),
and eir (previously Meteor).

In terms of mobile broadband subscriptions, Vodafone had the largest share with 46.3 per cent. Three’s market share was rose from 37.2 per cent to 40.4 per cent while Eir’s declined to 13.1 per cent from 15.4 per cent in 2019.

4G/LTE is on 800 MHz (B20) and 1800 MHz (B3). Eir was the first to offer 4G/LTE in 2013 to be followed by Vodafone Three started its LTE network in 2014. 5G started in 2019 on eir and Vodafone on n78 (3500 MHz) in very limited areas, but so far not available on prepay plans.

Vodafone has the most subscribers in the country with a good coverage and speeds on 2G, 3G and 4G. Open Signal's most recent report also confirms Vodafone performing well in most of their categories.

Vodafone claims to cover 99% of the population by 4G/LTE in 2020. 5G has started in 2019 on n78, but is not yet available for prepaid.

Vodafone Ireland anticipates they will have 30% population 5G coverage by March 2021 thanks to new technology called dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS). The technology, provided by Ericsson’s Spectrum Sharing, will allow the mobile operator to deliver both 4G and 5G speeds on the same spectrum using existing antenna infrastructure.

By the end July 2020, Vodafone said DSS will be deployed in 57 sites across 11 counties – Cork, Cavan, Galway, Dublin, Roscommon, Kerry, Limerick, Meath, Mayo, Offaly and Wicklow. Further expansion will be rolled out in the years ahead.

After the acquisition of O2 by Three, Hutchison merged the two brands in 2015. This has been largely a re-branding exercise and the networks have been fully united in the following years. Customers of both networks have been experiencing some problems during the merger, as it requires Three to built some new base stations and all the associated back-haul capacity while they will also consolidate some of their existing sites.

3G coverage can be very good in very isolated and remote areas due to the (now defunct) NBS government subsidy to help serve these areas, but this coverage is in 3G only on 2100 MHz which gives poor indoor coverage. Three operates 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (B3) and 800 MHz (B20) in some rural areas. Occasionally, you will be switched to HSDPA even though 4G+ coverage is present. In that case, reconnecting to the network (e.g. by going into flight mode for a few seconds) should get you connected to 4G again. Three claims to cover 97% of the population by 4G in 2020.

Eir, a trading name of Eircom, its mobile brand was Meteor until 2017. Eir has the third-largest market share in the mobile market and its parent company has the advantage of owning a nationwide fibre backbone, enabling it to offer fast data speeds at a good coverage.

In 2013, Eir became the first operator to commercially launch LTE/4G capability in Ireland. In April 2020 Eir claims 98% coverage and 99% of the population by LTE.

Eir’s 5G roll-out was also confirmed to be expanded by a further 20 towns by April of this year, on top of the 20 towns and cities already announced. The company aims to have 100 additional sites operational by the end of 2020.

Eir’s expansion of its existing 4G infrastructure was also confirmed, with the addition of 500 sites. Its aim is to achieve 99% geographical coverage of Ireland, with only three counties so far meeting this target. However, it said that its reach nationally currently stands at 92%. The company’s population coverage currently sits at 98% across Ireland. With regards to the use of Huawei for its 5G radio infrastructure,  Eir are “very happy with them as a supplier”.

In a new discussion document titled, "5G and Future Connectivity - An Emerging Framework for Irish Cities and Towns", mobile operators, telecoms vendors, and city authorities were polled. It says national and local government must be proactive and coordinated, and proposes a National Working Group to collate infrastructure assets and navigate rollout of 5G networks, for usage by the public, as well as by smart cities, enterprises, and Industry 4.0 operatives. The state-owned Electricity Supply Board (ESB) must also be closely engaged, to resolve unmetered power issues for the installation of small cells on unmetered supply.

A neutral host model, where open 5G radio infrastructure is shared by these various groups, should be followed across Ireland, it suggests. It recommends a neutral host model — available in “many flavours”, but geared so a  local authority works with a facilitating entity who manages small cells affixed to city asset — over a shared infrastructure model, where multiple equipment from different operators resides on a single city asset, and an ‘exclusive concession’, where one operator gains exclusive access to city assets.

The document states: “It is an attractive model from a local authority perspective seeing that the neutral host network will rely on single equipment and devices compared to multiple such installations. This is especially true in high footfall areas of cities and towns where there is risk of limited number of assets for installation, and potential ‘visual pollution’ from too many deployments as seen in the following graphics.”

It notes: “The neutral host model also comes with additional costs and technical risks for operators which will require a lot more upskilling across the wider telecoms sector, which are likely to be offset by reduced infrastructure and maintenance costs.”

Dublin City Council has already been trialling a neutral host model in the city’s docklands, as part of a research and industry partnership between CONNECT and Dense Air, a subsidiary of network infrastructure vendor Airspan. The project is designed to hasten network densification in support of in-building connectivity, IoT implementations, wireless backhaul and boosting carrier services.

Dense Air controls its own mid-band spectrum in Ireland, as well as in Belgium, Portugal, New Zealand, and Australia. The company provides neutral host network services “designed to improve coverage and capacity in locations that are technically difficult or commercially uneconomic to support,” according to its website.

But a nationwide neutral host strategy within Irish cities and towns would require local authorities to engage with third-party operators through the development of a public/private partnership (PPP) to help fund, operate and maintain the network for ‘open access’, notes the document. “Collaboration with a third-party operator would enable local authorities to explore opportunities to generate new revenue streams from the neutral host network,” it says.

Indeed, local authorities will play an instrumental role in Ireland’s “path to 5G”, the report says, by virtue of their operational influence and ownership of assets such as poles, ducting, and street furniture in key locations.

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Saturday, 15 August 2020

How many 5G Cell Towers & Base Stations Worldwide?

A question I often see people ask is how many cell towers / base stations are there worldwide? Surprisingly this information is not as easy to obtain as you may think initially. We can use this chart from a Light Reading webinar as a starting point:

Many years back someone explained a rule of thumb to me. There is on an average 1 site for every 1000 subscribers. With roughly 8 billion subscribers, this will amount to 8 million sites.

Omdia statistics from above says that there are 7 million physical sites and 10 million logical sites. As there are many sites hosting infrastructure from multiple operators, the number of logical sites are more than the number of physical sites.

In addition there will be small cells mounted on lamp posts, side of the buildings, indoors, etc. that generally may not be included in the count mainly.

When it comes to base stations, there is a debate on what is included. For example on a tower hosting multiple operators, each of them will have their own Baseband Unit (BBU), so this is multiple base stations. If for an operator, there are multiple generations of technologies and within each of these generation, multiple frequencies, sectors, etc. Do they count as a single base station or multiple?

Then there are towers and masts. Wikipedia nicely explains that "The terms "mast" and "tower" are often used interchangeably. However, in structural engineering terms, a tower is a self-supporting or cantilevered structure, while a mast is held up by stays or guys."

So coming back to 5G, how many base stations have been rolled out in the major markets?


In an earlier post on NTT Docomo, we pointed out that Docomo coverage is forecast to increase from 500 base stations in 150 locations to 10,000 sites (in about 500 cities) by June 2021 and 20,000 by March 2022.

According to Tefficient, Rakuten had 5739 LTE base stations on air at the end of June. The three incumbent operators have roughly 200000 LTE base stations each.

South Korea

South Korea were the first to launch commercial 5G by all operators in the country. As of July 2020, they had 121,000 5G base stations


Back in December last year, Global Times reportedthere are currently approximately 6 million 4G base stations worldwide, more than half of which are in China and about 300,000 in the US. Why does China have so many base stations? This is because of a nation-level project in China in 2003. The project required that more than 95 percent of remote mountainous areas should be covered with communication signals and the fees must not be higher than those in urban areas.

In an earlier post we reported, the total number of 4G base stations in the first half of 2019 was 2.71 million including a net addition of 300,000, providing robust support for the development of large volumes of data traffic business.

European 5G observatory reported that China intends to have 600,000 5G base stations by the end of 2020. According to RCR wireless, Chinese telcos have already deployed over 20,000 5G base stations in Shanghai.

According to Tefficient, China Mobile had 188k 5G base stations in June 2020. So China then had a total of 398k 5G base stations

This video from CGTN a few months back gives some good info on the Chinese 5G deployments.

There isn't information available from other countries. If available in the next few months, I may add them here.

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