Monday, 18 September 2023

Lack of 4G Coverage, Low Data Rates and High-Costs is Impacting Equatorial Guinea Web Experience

Equatorial Guinea is located on the West coast of Africa with about 1.7 million inhabitants. It is a different country to Guinea (aka Guinea-Conakry) or Guinea-Bissau.

Two GSM-based networks are operating in Equatorial Guinea :Getesa (formerly: Orange, Getesa-Orange) and Muni.

There is also a CDMA-based provider that is not compatible with usual GSM-devices called Gecomsa.

Mobile phone adaption was rather slow in this country, but they now have more than 800,000 mobile connections. 2G and 3G are available on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. 

Equatorial Guinea is next to the ocean, which means it is connected to several submarine cables. This is essential to know because most landlocked African countries have slow speeds and bad connections because the country has to rely on neighbouring countries for fibre bandwidth.

The issue is that there is massive inequality in terms of internet access in Equatorial Guinea. Although internet services are widespread throughout the country, the quality of service is lacking due to the lack of proper broadband infrastructure. A country can have access to multiple submarine cables. However, if the domestic internet infrastructure is lacking, then the locals cannot take advantage of the connection.

According to a study done by, the mean download speed in Equatorial Guinea is less than 1 Mbps. In other words, it would take more than 22 hours to download a 5 GB file. This study focused on broadband speeds. Mobile speeds are often slower than broadband speeds, so one should not expect fast speeds in Equatorial Guinea.

The Getesa network was called Orange until 2018. The French operator left the country in a long legal dispute 2014-18.

Equatorial Guinea’s government lost a Paris Court of Appeal case against a fine imposed in 2014 by the International Court of Arbitration for reneging on a 2011 agreement to buy Orange’s Getesa 40% stake in the event of a new entrant launching (a clause it failed to honour after the 2012 launch of majority state-owned cellco Gecomsa). In October 2016 the government finally agreed to pay a total amount of EUR 150 million including interest to Orange.

Orange was soon rebranded first to Getesa-Orange and in 2018 to Getesa, that is now fully state-owned. It's still considered the best operator in the country.

Getesa switched on its 4G LTE smartphone network in January 2021. The operator encouraged users to ‘Use your 4G to stay connected with your family, friends, clients and with the whole world’, following its initial post announcing 4G’s availability on 24 December 2020, which stated: ‘4G arrives at Getesa’ alongside a picture of a smartphone user. 4G coverage or other details were not provided.

 TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that Getesa had previously claimed that it would be able to launch 4G in main cities by end-2019 supported by fibre backhaul/backbone availability, having held a demo of LTE technology in May that year, but a launch took a further year to materialise, whilst in the meantime Getesa repeatedly claimed in its marketing that its 3G network offered faster data speeds than some 4G operators.

Muni is the only private competitor to the state-owned networks. It's no.2 behind Getesa with a lower coverage/speed. Muni launched 4G LTE services in Equatorial Guinea in June 2019, although initially aimed at home internet modem users rather than mobile phone subscribers.

Gecomsa is another state-owned provider however its CDMA-only which is not compatible with usual GSM devices and hence not suitable for travellers. It started in 2012 as joint venture between the Guinea government and the state-owned ZTE manufacturer from China. Gecomsa also introduced LTE technology in December 2020 but strictly for fixed residential/office broadband services (initially covering Equatorial Guinea’s capital Malabo and adjacent districts.

The Equatorial Guinea government and operators signed an agreement to slash telecom tariff prices by 50% on May 1 2022, as the government looks to permanently reduce sky-high prices in the country. 

Equatorial Guinea is widely known for having the highest prices for connectivity globally. The 2021 study from also found that 1GB of data in Equatorial Guinea cost around US$46.97.

The nation’s vice president Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue stressed the discount is temporary and will continue as a permanent structure to pricing is agreed upon, reported Ecofin Agency. 

Operators that do not comply with the slashing of prices will lose their telecom licenses, warned Mangue.

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Belize Mobile Operators Have Many Challenges and No Plans for 5G

One of the smaller countries in Central America, Belize in many respects has closer ties to English speaking countries of the Caribbean than with its immediate neighbours. Prior to independence, Belize had been a British colony since 1862, only changing its name to Belize from British Honduras in 1973.

In Belize, the telecommunications market is predominantly served by two major mobile operators: Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) is a government-owned telecommunications company that provides mobile, landline, and internet services and operates as Digi (formerly DigiCell). It has a significant market share and has invested in expanding its infrastructure and services. The second operator is SpeedNet Communications operating under the brand "Smart," is the primary competitor to BTL. It offers mobile and internet services, providing consumers with choices in the market.

GSM users don't have much choice as the only GSM-based operator in the country used to be Digi (DigiCell). 2G/EDGE is on 1900 MHz and 3G/HSPA which is still marketed as "4G" is on 850 MHz. Real 4G/LTE started in 2016 on Digi and Smart! on the 700 (B13) and 1900 (B2) MHz bands. Smart! has become an alternative soon as it's moved from CDMA to 3G on 850 MHz.

Belize’s fixed-line teledensity and mobile penetration remain lower than average for the region, a legacy of insufficient market competition and underinvestment in telecoms services, exacerbated by lax managerial standards within the incumbent operator Digi. 

However, Digi has recently adopted a reforming strategy, partly expressed by its rebranding in August 2018 as it aims to transform itself at all levels into an effectively competitive operator more commercially minded and focussed on cheaper pricing and customer retention. The company has undertaken significant investment in infrastructure, launching an LTE-A service at the end of 2016 and in mid-2017 completing a submarine cable to Ambergris Caye, enabling it to launch an FttP service in San Pedro. Loans secured since 2017 enabled the company to migrate its infrastructure from legacy copper to fibre. BTL invested BZ$93 million dollars to provide high speed broadband to 80% of residences across Belize.

Digi has provided fresh details regarding its fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) rollout in its published 2021-22 Annual Report

The FTTH infrastructure now passes 90% of Belizean homes, after being extended to an additional 1,200 homes in Corozal Free Zone, Central Farm, Consejo Shores, Spanish Lookout, San Pedro South and Caye Caulker North. In terms of mobile upgrades, new 4G cell sites were deployed on Coco Plum Island and Manta Island in Southern Belize and the telco now operates ‘over 150 mobile sites’.

As of 31 March 2022 BTL claimed 204,000 mobile subscriptions (up from 194,000 year-on-year), 31,000 fixed broadband subscriptions (unchanged y-o-y) and 13,500 fixed voice lines (down from 15,700).

Smart launched the first LTE network in Belize in December 2015 over the B13 (700 MHz) band. Recognising the eventual deprecation of CDMA based networks and after years of delays, the company launched its 3G UMTS network in June 2017 over the B5 (850 MHz) band. 4G/LTE is on Band 13 / 700 MHz.

Smart now claims to operate the largest, fastest network in Belize, providing mobile, home and Internet service to over 100,000 customers.

The operators in Belize face several challenges for example: limited infrastructure, Belize's geography, with dense forests and low population density, poses challenges for building and maintaining a robust telecommunications infrastructure, especially in rural areas. Also the cost of service, Belizean consumers often grapple with high mobile service costs, including data charges. Balancing affordability with quality service remains a challenge for mobile operators.

A modern 5G network does not yet exist in Belize. The penetration rate of 4G, i.e., mobile communications with at least LTE speed, was recently 70 percent. In other words, 121,581.60 people in the country had to make do with a maximum Internet speed of the outdated UMTS standard (or even less).

A great deal more investment, collaboration, and a focus on meeting the evolving needs of consumers, However, with investment, collaboration, and a focus on meeting the evolving needs of consumers by Belize's mobile operators is needed to further improve and develop the mobile landscape. 

Thursday, 31 August 2023

United Arab Emirates has a Fantastic 5G Experience but Coverage Needs to Improve

The UAE has a strong mobile market, dominated by Etisalat and du. Both are majority-owned by the government. In a bid to attract additional foreign investment, it was resolved in early 2021 that the stake held by foreigners in the two companies could be increased.

The U.A.E. was the fastest 5G market globally in Q2 2023 according to Ookla's Speedtest Intelligence data, with growing competition between the nation’s two network operators helping to drive overall performance in the market to reach a median download speed of 557.63 Mbps. etisalat by e& was the fastest 5G operator globally with a median download speed of 680.73 Mbps.

Etisalat and du have deployed LTE networks providing national coverage, while the 5G penetration rate is the second highest globally after China. This has underpinned growth in the mobile broadband sector, and has enabled the strong development in the take-up of rich content and applications, as well as m-commerce. To help increase the capacity of 5G networks in coming years, and so keep up with data demand, the government has allowed for the GSM networks to be closed down and for spectrum and other assets to be re-purposed for 5G by the end of 2022.

According to the most recent Open Signal report  Etisalat remains top for award hauls. The operator takes home the greatest number of award wins, with nine outright victories and one shared win, a change from the last report when it was the sole victor in seven categories and shared first place with du in a further four. Du manages a respectable six first place finishes, five outright wins and its shared win with Etisalat for 5G Voice App Experience.

There has been a lot of focus on 5G in the United Arab Emirates, with both operators announcing partnerships with equipment vendors in February 2023. Du has partnered with Huawei to develop 5.5G (or 5G-Advanced) technology. They are expecting it to offer greatly improved data speeds, lower latency and increased energy efficiency. Not to be outdone, Etisalat has chosen Nokia to upgrade its existing 5G network, with the vendor providing services for replacing existing equipment and implementing automated transport slicing. Along with this, in late February 2023 Etisalat launched its commercial 5G standalone access (SA) network. The operator expects that the SA network will offer enhanced performance for business and residential customers

Both Emirati national operators have turned their attention to satellite connectivity, with du demonstrating what it claims to be the first satellite-enabled 5G backhaul in the Middle East, using SES's satellites in January 2023. Since then, Etisalat announced that it has launched a 5G satellite solution, partnered with Eutelsat. Using satellite technology would bring access to remote areas with low terrestrial connectivity, and it will be interesting to see how these technologies develop.

The Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced the completion of the second phase of testing of 5G-Advanced services in the 6GHz band. The regulator is working with local service providers Etisalat and Du on the trial, with the aim of achieving 10Gbps download speeds using 400MHz of spectrum in the 6GHz range. The TDRA’s director general, Majed Sultan al-Mesmar, commented: 
‘The exponential number of internet users, and the scientific advances witnessed by the world today, require new speeds to accommodate the increasing load on networks and keep up with the high specifications of emerging technologies on the world stage such as metaverse applications, to name a few. Having attained a speed of 10Gbps … this new, globally unprecedented speed will lead to faster data transfer, ushering in a new era of high-quality streaming and seamless cloud services. The trial will also enhance the IoT by providing the infrastructure necessary to simultaneously handle multiple connected devices, while ensuring seamless and reliable connectivity.’

Meanwhile in May 2023 Du completed a successful demonstration of 5G Voice over New Radio (VoNR) technology to showcase its 5G Standalone (SA) capabilities. The trial was carried out in conjunction with equipment partners Huawei and Nokia.

Saleem AlBlooshi, Chief Technology Officer at Du, said: 
‘The successful demonstration of 5G network VoNR capabilities represents a significant milestone at a time when the digital sector is entering a new era. It enables unprecedented simultaneous voice and data transmissions and provides incredibly rapid connectivity transmission rates.’

Du claimed eight million mobile subscriptions and 559,000 fixed broadband subscriptions at the end of June 2023, up 8.0% and 18.3% year-on-year, respectively.

While 5G speeds, rollout and adoption increasing rapidly, according to OpenSignal, 5G availability is still low for both the operators and has a lot of scope for improvements. With the rapid rate of deployment, this number is surely bound to go up in the coming years.

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Tuesday, 15 August 2023

Bulgaria Enjoys a Fantastic 5G Experience

Bulgaria’s telecom market was for some years affected by the difficult macroeconomic climate, as well as by relatively high unemployment and a shrinking population. These factors continue to hobble investment in the sector, though revenue growth has returned since 2019. There still remains pressure on revenue growth, however, with consumers migrating from fixed-line voice telephony to mobile and VoIP alternatives, while the volume of SMS and MMS traffic has been affected by the growing use of alternative OTT messaging services.

The mature mobile market has effective competition between A1 Bulgaria, Yettel (branded as Telenor Bulgaria before March 2022, the Telenor Group’s local unit that had been sold to the PPF Group in August 2018), and the incumbent operator Vivacom. Competition intensified following the implementation of a streamlined mobile number portability process. In addition, customer preference for bundled services has put pressure on pricing and encouraged operators to offer generous voice and data packages. This in turn has impacted on operator revenue.

Vivacom was sold to United Group in April 2020, following European Commission approval. The company is investing in network upgrades and its development of services based on 5G have stimulated other market players to invest in their own service provision. A1 Bulgaria and Vivacom both launched commercial 5G services in 2020.

All three operators have a good 2G and 3G coverage over 95% of the country. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz like in most of Europe. 4G/LTE is supported by all operators on 1800 MHz (B3) only, added now by 2100 MHz (B1) and 900 MHz (B8).

According to the most recent Open Signal report  A1 wins 12 awards out of a possible 13 — nine shared victories and three outright wins. A1 notably comes at least joint first in every single award category for overall and 5G experience, winning three speed awards outright (Download Speed Experience, 5G Download Speed and 5G Upload Speed), and shares Consistent Quality with Yettel.

A1 reported on its website that it has completed the integration of a Standalone (SA) 5G network consisting of a Nokia-supplied Radio Access Network (RAN) and Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core backbone network, with the latter vendor taking a lead role in the integration project. Todor Tashev, Network & Services Senior Director at A1 Bulgaria, confirmed that 5G SA solutions are now available for B2B customers, who can ‘take advantage of the new technology to automate processes and solve complex problems’. The operator also highlighted the development of Private 5G SA network services as a key element of the Industry 4.0 concept, alongside massive machine-to-machine/IoT connectivity and ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) supported by 5G SA’s near-real-time transmission.

Vivacom  claim to own the best developed network in Bulgaria. They are the only telecom operator in the country that provides converged solutions through terrestrial, copper and satellite infrastructure, a mobile network and public Internet. They maintain the only networked international networking center in Bulgaria, the network management center and the largest real-time data storage and booking center. Vivacom owns its own infrastructure, which includes: a 5G network, they launched the first Bulgaria 5G network in all 27 district centers of the country in September, 2020. The fifth-generation network provides higher speed, lower latency, and more connected devices, which is an important condition for the development of areas such as telemedicine, digital education, gaming, automated production, and others.  According to the most recent Open Signal Report  Vivacom was the outright winner for 5G availability. 

Yettel  has over 3 million subscribers in Bulgaria, they believe in putting the customer first, Yettel's mission is clear: to help people achieve balance in life. During its 20-year history in the Bulgarian market, the company (operating until March 2022 under Telenor brand) has built a strong reputation as a pioneer in the field of wireless networks and beyond, launching the first commercial 4G network in Bulgaria in 2015, the first VoLTE service in 2018 and paving the way for the development of 5G with the first test of a 5G network in the country.

Monday, 31 July 2023

Over 21 Trillion KPIs per Week

Earlier this year in May, Thomas Hodi, Senior RAN Expert & AI Product Owner, A1 Telekom Austria, while speaking in FutureNet World conference highlighted 

At FutureNet World conference earlier in May this year, Thomas Hodi, Senior RAN Expert & AI Product Owner at A1 Telekom Austria explained the KPIs challenges faced by operators. Austria, which is one third the size of UK, roughly has around 7,000 mobile base stations. Since A1 operates in different countries, they have roughly 50,000 mobile base stations. 

Each base station generates roughly 3,000 KPIs/hour. This means that the 50k base stations will generate three billion, six hundred million KPIs per day. Adding the KPIs for hundred million subscribers results in a massive 21 Trillion, 25 Billion, 200 Million KPIs per week. This is a massive number that provides an insight into one of the challenges faced by the operators. 

While the talk by Thomas is not available, you may be interested in the Panel on 2Autonomous Operations – Enabling the future of the telco industry?", available here.

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Tuesday, 18 July 2023

5G Coverage in Portugal has Increased Significantly

Portugal has a well-developed mobile network. Population coverage by 3G infrastructure is universal, much of the country have access to 4G and 4G+ connectivity. This includes the island communities of Madeira and the Azores. Furthermore, 5G is increasingly available in Portugal, although for now, this is limited to the largest cities.   

Despite its relatively small size, the Portuguese mobile phone market is an increasingly competitive place. There are three network operators to choose from: MEO, Vodafone, and NOS. 

When it comes to subscribers, MEO leads the way with around 42% of the market share. Operated by the former state-controlled Altice Portugal, MEO has historically been dominant in the Portuguese market. However, other operators, such as Vodafone (30%) and NOS (24%), are closing the gap.

In the most recent Open Signal report all three operators performed very well, although NOS did best with three outright wins (Download Speed Experience, Excellent Consistent Quality and Core Consistent Quality) and 11 shared victories. 

Market leader MEO  owned by Altice Portugal launched its 5G network on January 1 2022. 5G is now available in all district capitals. The operator also says its 4G network now covers 99.7% of Portugal’s population. 

Earlier this year the National Communications Authority (Anacom) imposed a fine of 2.5 million euros on MEO, Altice Portugal, for "violation of the rules applicable to the termination of contracts".

NOS is the smallest operator in terms of subscribers but is quickly gaining ground due to its excellent coverage and services. 

As of April 2023 their 5G network covered 88% of the population, with 3,441 base stations reinforcing its market leadership in the technology.

Vodafone  the second largest operator acquired Nowo which had been the fourth operator  in Portugal, last year. Vodafone also recently signed European solar power purchase agreements with Iberdrola to deliver clean energy for Vodafone customers in Germany, Portugal and Spain. For Vodafone Portugal, the power purchase agreements (PPA) will provide the energy from the newly built Velilla solar photovoltaic (PV) plant located in Palencia, Spain.

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Tuesday, 4 July 2023

Operators in Kyrgyzstan Cautiously Test 5G!

The Kyrgyz Republic, known as Kyrgyzstan, has the highest levels of mobile penetration across Central Asian (CA) countries — 159.9% with 2.94 SIMs per unique mobile subscriber, according to GSMA Intelligence. Despite being the second poorest country across CA, Kyrgyzstan came first regarding 4G Availability (the proportion of users of 4G-capable devices who spend most of their time on 4G networks). The National Development Strategy of the Kyrgyz Republic 2018-2040 is one initiative that facilitates digital transformation to hasten the country’s economic development. The State Communications Agency (SCA) stated in its annual report for 2021 that a total of 2,049 settlements across the country were covered by 4G LTE mobile networks at the end of 2021, equivalent to 96% of the country’s 2,130 officially registered cities, towns and villages. 2G mobile network technology extended to 2,088 locations (98%), while 3G networks were present in 2,081 (97%). Overall, 42 settlements (1.9%) were outside mobile network coverage, some due to a lack of power transmission lines.

Beeline Kyrgyzstan, Megacom,  and O! (Kyrgyztelecom) are the major mobile operators in the country. Megacom Kyrgyzstan, run by the state-owned Alfa-Telecom has started its rebranding campaign to MEGA following Megacom ownership transfer to the state-owned Kyrgyzstan State Development Bank. The operator announced that it expanded and upgraded its 2G, 3G, and 4G networks in seven regions and the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic. It plans to continue network coverage expansion across remote areas of Kyrgyzstan.

MEGA currently claims roughly three million mobile subscriptions, and its CEO Nurlan Mamytov stated that its strategic goals for 2023 include expanding the active user base, deploying at least 200 additional base stations in twelve months, upgrading network quality and data/internet speed, modernising existing technical infrastructure, further expanding the distribution/sales network, developing fintech services, and ‘creating favourable conditions for attracting large investments’.

In April of this year Mega launched Kyrgyzstan’s first VoLTE calling service. The IP-based 4G mobile voice service is available to compatible handset owners in all areas covered by MEGA’s LTE network, its press release claimed. VoLTE calls are provided at no extra charge to the user, with the cellco highlighting the technology’s benefits including fast call set-up time, high-definition sound quality and simultaneous high speed 4G mobile internet/voice connections.

Beeline is the biggest competitor of MegaCom in the country. They recently announced plans to leverage its parent group VEON’s partnership with satellite provider OneWeb to ‘become the first mobile operator in Kyrgyzstan capable of providing continuous communication and high speed internet to the most remote areas of the country, even those areas that have not had access to the network until now.’ Beeline said that the partnership with OneWeb will enable the elimination of digital inequality, ensure continuous communication in emergency situations ‘and increase the rate of economic growth of the population’ using high speed, low-latency satellite internet connectivity.

O! by Nur Telecom is the smallest of the three operators. Starting in Bishkek, Osh and Jalal-Abad, it offers 4G/LTE on 800 and 2600 MHz (B7 and 20). This has now spread to the country side and 97% of the population are covered in 2020 by LTE.

O! reported in August 2022 that they had conducted measurements of 5G data speed ‘which for the first time in Kyrgyzstan accelerated to 1.5Gbps.’ The company’s technical director Anton Kovalenko noted that ‘the launch of 5G into commercial operation is not far off, but it is too early to talk about a mass commercial launch, the transition will be phased.’ He added: ‘If [customers] are looking for a new smartphone, then in my opinion, it already makes sense to turn your attention to devices with support for the latest technology.’

5G in Kyrgyzstan is being tested in the n77 and n78 (3400MHz-3800MHz) frequency ranges, and will initially be integrated with existing 4G networks. O! expects its eventual 5G network to provide data speeds around ‘ten times faster than 4G’ with ‘average speed of 150Mbps-200Mbps.’

The mobile telecommunications sector in Kyrgyzstan is experiencing a dynamic phase with continuous efforts to improve network coverage, enhance service quality, and offer competitive pricing, mobile operators are striving to provide residents and visitors with an excellent mobile experience. As the industry evolves, customers can expect more advanced services, increased connectivity, and a vibrant mobile ecosystem in Kyrgyzstan.

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