Monday 23 December 2019

Top 5 Posts for 2019

Japan and Switzerland posts dominated the most read articles on this blog in 2019. Not sure if this is because English news from these places are not readily available or if we just did a fantastic job. We would like to think the second case but do let us know otherwise. Here are the top 5 posts:

1. World's largest mobile networks by subscriber numbers - Jan 2019

2. Rakuten Japan: Transitioning from MVNO to MNO later in 2019 - March 2019

3. Japan Mobile Subscribers and MNO Market Share - Feb 2019

4. Switzerland 5G Spectrum Auctions Results - Feb 2019

5. Swisscom Plans to Deploy 5G Standalone (SA) in 2020 - Nov 2019

This post narrowly missed out but I am still including it

6. Japan allocates 5G Spectrum in 3.7GHz, 4.5GHz and 28GHz bands - Apr 2019

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Sunday 22 December 2019

Singapore: Surplus of MVNOs

Back in 2016, there were three major Singapore operators— Singtel, StarHub and M1. The cheapest SIM-only plan with 3GB of data cost $20 from Singtel, whilst users on M1’s network had to pay $125 for 13GB.

In 2016 the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Circles Life entered into the market. Since then, more MVNOs have flooded the scene. MVNOs do not own or operate any network infrastructure and have to lease it from Singtel, M1 or StarHub at a cost. For example MyRepublic and VivoBee use StarHub’s network, while Zero Mobile and Zero 1 are hosted on Singtel. Circles.Life, the first MVNO in Singapore, has a partnership with M1.

Fast forward to 2019, and prices have fallen. That same $20 will buy you 20GB of data on Singtel’s network, with similar deals available from the other operators. However, operating a wireless network hasn’t suddenly got cheaper; in fact, with the deployment of LTE-Advanced technology and new spectrum requiring more equipment and cell sites, capital expenditure has been up for Singtel and M1 since 2015.

This decreasing price pressure has been led by this emergence of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), which buy wholesale capacity from the network operators and resell the service to consumers. Through aggressive price points and novel rate plans, MVNOs have been able to target particular niches, and have carved out a small but significant market share – the biggest, Circles.Life, claims a three to five percent market share.
The 3 newest MNVOs that have joined the fray mid-2019 are: redONE, ViViFi and Grid Mobile.

Different MVNOs have different market strategies targeting various market segments, such as the lifestyles of various age groups. Circles.Life major selling point was that they offered off-contract data plans. They were more cost-effective than the three big telcos, and able to offer more competitively priced plans than them. Therefore they have become Singapore’s fastest growing MVNO, gaining market share at the MNOs expense and insisting they “gave power back to the consumers”.Circles.Life, MyRepublic and Zero Mobile all target data heavy users who prefer the contract-free route.

While redONE  for example gave more value to commuters travelling between Singapore and Malaysia because of the absence of Singapore and Malaysia roaming charges in the data bundles offered by them.

VivoBee, which has partnered StarHub, also offers low-cost plans with flexible overseas top-up schemes catered for the foreign workforce. Grid Mobile appeals to millennials with a points system that rewards consumers for loyalty and helps offset their spending.

So is this fierce competition a positive phenomenon? Many analysts seem to think so. For consumers, competition from MVNOs and new entrants should keep prices low, and Singapore’s networks are well-positioned for a rapid transition to 5G, which will enable even lower prices and larger data plans.

For operators, the short-term pain from MVNOs will help protect their long-term positions, and the experimentation with pricing schemes and data plan features can help hone a more sustainable business into the 5G era and beyond.

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Saturday 21 December 2019

VIVA Officially Rebrands to its Parent STC

Saudi Telecom Company (STC) have  launched a new unified brand in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, representing a strategic shake-up to enhance its presence in the region.

The operator, which previously offered services under the name VIVA Bahrain and VIVA Kuwait, will replace VIVA in both instances with STC.

To mark the rebranding move, the operator announced new offers for its customers for free international roaming, mobile data and free minutes in the three countries.

STC announced the launch of this new branding, according to a statement to the Saudi Stock Exchange website (Tadawul). Launching the new branding for the company and its subsidiaries comes in line with the STC’s strategy for digital transformation and customer experience enrichment.

The company has also changed its Arabic trading name on the Tadawul platform from Al Eitsalat to STC.

STC Group had officially launched commercial 5G services in Saudi Arabia, becoming the Kingdom’s first telecom operator to provide this service across a number of cities in the country.

STC has developed the infrastructure of wireless networks in the Kingdom, extended their range, provided the latest global technologies and accelerated the deployment of 5G networks, which provide the foundation for a range of innovative future applications, including the provision of high-speed mobile internet all over the Kingdom.

VIVA (now STC) and Huawei have also cooperated to advance solutions over 5G to develop IoT solutions and 5G ecosystem in Kuwait.

This agreement is a road methodology promoting synergies and best practices in line with the digital transformation to deliver outstanding services to Viva customers not limited to consumers, home and enterprise, and driving the mission of STC leading the digital lifestyle enabler for its customers. They aim to  launch the nationwide 5G services, that will bring VR, AR, and other ultra-HD video services such as Mobile Video 3.0 to STC customers. They especially intend to accelerate Kuwait’s digital transformation to various industries from oil/gas industry to smart cities to public safety and achieve new business growth for all participating parties.

See also 'How STC is leading the digital revolution in MENA'.

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Friday 13 December 2019

Poland: Gearing up for 5G

Poland have 4 GSM-based network providers:

Play (by P4)
Orange (formerly IDEA)
Plus (by Polkomtel, merged with Aero2)
T-Mobile (formerly ERA)

GSM up to EDGE is on 900 and 1800 MHz like all over Europe. 3G/UMTS covers all of the country on 900MHz up to HSPA+ and 2100 MHz up to DC-HSPA+ speed available in most of the country. 4G/LTE has been rolled out on 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2600 MHz frequency (= bands 1, 3, 7, 8, 20, 38) frequency.

The mobile market in recent years has been characterised by the rapid extension of LTE networks and the development of mobile data services based on newly released and re-farmed spectrum. The regulator is preparing to release additional spectrum in several bands for 5G, though delays to the process mean that 700MHz spectrum is unlikely to be available before mid-2022.

Where coverage is concerned T-Mobile and Orange are best sharing 11,000 transmitters in the country, followed by Plus/Aero2 with 9,500 in 2017. Play is in 4th position with only 7,200 antennas, but compensates this lack by roaming agreements with the other 3 providers, that are only available on some tariffs and coming to an end soon.

Mobile penetration in Poland is above the European average, standing at 137% by mid-2019. This reflects the continuing popularity among consumers to keep two or more SIM cards, which has distorted the real mobile penetration rate. Nevertheless, the distortion has been addressed on two fronts: by network operators being encouraged to disconnect dormant SIM cards, and by legislation, effective from February 2017, which obliges subscribers of prepaid services to register their details. These forces have resulted in a significant readjustment in the number of subscribers in the market.

Poland has still not launched a fully functional 5G communications network, but more and more Polish cities are planned to have 5G tests and, next year, one of them may implement the network for commercial use. Operating on a government-granted test license on the 3.4 - 3.6GHz band, the test network has been set up between nine sites in the Ochota and Powiśle districts of the Polish capital.

Play, owned by P4, was the smallest of the 4 network operators in Poland. But due to their aggressive marketing, Play finally moved to the 1st position in 2017/8 as far the number of subscribers is concerned, having over 15 million subscribers as of March 31, 2019.

By the half of 2018 it had covered 97.4% of the population with 3G/UMTS on 900 and 2100 MHz. LTE is called according to Play "4G LTE" and it's operating on 800, 1800, 2100 and 2600 MHz. Play Coverage Map (click on "internet". Here it shows "4G/LTE" which is UMTS and LTE combined! The bright purple area is 3G/HSPA+, only the dark purple 4G/LTE.) covering 98% of population. "4G LTE Ultra" is an area that on LTE Advanced is available (maximal speed: 300 Mbit/s) covering 86.8%. From 1st March Play also starts with "5G READY" (=LTE-Advanced with QAM256, MIMO 4x4, phase synchonization and Cloud Air technology), which you can get over 900 Mbps in compatible devices , but coverage is very limited - 18%. Operator want to be first to offer commercial 5G network on 2100 MHz frequency in Tri-Citi in the half of 2020.

Currently, Play has the best network quality in Poland - it builds modern network and improving it to get faster speeds. Where you can find Play, it usually offers good speeds, however coverage is very limited.

Play has been authorised to begin 5G trials in the 2100MHz band. The Office of Electronic Communications (Urzad Komunikacji Elektronicznej, UKE) is allowing the operator to carry out 5G tests in the Tri-City area of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot, with a view to progressing to a commercial launch early next year.

The number 2 operator Orange Polska operates on 2G and 3G, 4G/LTE (on 800, 1800, 2100, 2600 MHz): Orange has good coverage in Poland. LTE is open for prepaid and covers already 99.85% of population in 2018 with speeds up to 600 Mbps. Orange used to be the market leader with the best coverage and speeds until 2017 when it was overtaken by Play.

Orange has network sharing with T-Mobile called NetWorks! - Both operators are building a common cellular network (UMTS 900 MHz and LTE 1800 MHz) and subscribers can use both networks base stations (that is not equal to domestic roaming, but basically Orange and T-Mobile subscribers are sharing the same antennas).

Orange had 13.43 million mobile subscribers at the end of June 2019, plus a further 1.53 million M2M connections on its network.

Orange Polska has made more than 100 5G smartphones and routers available for invited customers to test and experience 5G download speeds of up to 900Mbps. The operator expects to roll-out commercial 5G in Poland in 2020 - 2021, following the acquisition of the necessary 5G spectrum.

T-Mobile in Poland has the best coverage in Poland on 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE. 4G/LTE is open for prepaid and covers 99.7% of population in 2017 already. On the majority of 4G base stations LTE Advanced is available to compatible devices at no extra cost. LTE-A in a T-Mobile can offer up to 300 Mbit/s of download speed.

Before 2011 it used to be a second operator in Poland, but after rebranding to "" (from "Era") and during period with disappointing offers compared to other operators, it started losing customers. Currently it has least market share.

It has the best coverage and quality of network in Poland (after Play). T-Mobile has a union with Orange Polska to improve infrastructure called NetWorks! - T-Mobile and Orange are building cellular network together (UMTS 900 MHz and LTE 1800 MHz) that subscribers can use both networks base stations (that is not equal to domestic roaming, but basically T-Mobile and Orange subscribers are using the same antennas).

Plus (formerly Plus GSM) is the brand name of Poland's mobile phone network operator Polkomtel. The company is entirely owned by Spartan Capital Holdings sp. z o.o. Plus uses LTE base stations from Aero2, because its own Plus LTE coverage have been limited (mostly up to 3G/HSPA+)

For 4G/LTE these frequencies from Plus and partners are employed together:
Plus: 900 MHz (B8), 1800 MHz (B3), 2100 MHz (B1) and 2600 MHz (B7)
Aero2: 900 MHz (B8), 1800 MHz (B3), 2600 MHz (B7) and TDD-LTE 2600 MHz (B38)

From 2019 Plus/Aero2 will also add TDD-LTE 2600 MHz (B38) to boost coverage and speed. Summing up, Plus has a good coverage throughout the country on 2G and 3G while their 4G/LTE network already covers 99% right now. 4G/LTE (called LTE PLUS) is available on prepaid cards with speeds up to 150 Mbps. LTE-Advanced (called LTE PLUS ADVANCED) is available for 73% of Polish population, is open for prepaid with speeds up to 300 Mbps. Plus is the local Vodafone partner.

Currently Plus has the slowest 4G network compared with other operators. The operator hasn't modernized its network by adding frequencies to base stations. Their network is still based on Aero2's 1800 and 900 MHz predominantly. Additionally, many MVNOs run on Plus  with very big data packages at quite low price. The result is that network tends to be overcrowded and you have slow speeds (about 0.5 - 10 Mbps usually).

From January 2019 Plus has lost its license of 4G/LTE on band 20 (800 MHz). If you have a device, which doesn't work on band 8 (900 MHz) in 4G instead, you'll be downgraded to 2G/3G network in rural areas.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Morocco: Emerging 5G Markets of Africa

Morocco’s mobile market is one of the more mature in the region, with a penetration rate of about 125%. All three mobile network operators offer fixed-line or fixed-wireless services and have developed mobile data services based on the extensive reach of LTE infrastructure. Growth in mobile data traffic is supported by the popular use of smartphones, which account for about 80% of all mobile phones in use.

The mobile operators are the main providers of internet services, accounting for the great majority of all internet connections. The issuing of LTE licences in 2015 included conditions to ensure that services covered at least 65% of the population by 2020, while the promotion of broadband accessibility nationally is also supported by the National Broadband Plan through to 2022 and by the Maroc Digital 2020 strategy. The extensive deployment of mobile broadband infrastructure will further consolidate the dominance of mobile players in the broadband sector in coming years.

Morocco has three network operators: Maroc Telecom (a.k.a. Itissalat Al-Maghrib, IAM),
Orange (rebranded from Méditel in December 2016) and Inwi.

2G is on 900 MHz only, 3G on 2100 MHz in plain UMTS standard (up to 14.4 Mbps). 4G/LTE has started in 2015 on all providers in the cities. Licenses on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz were given out. 4G is open to prepaid, where available. Maroc Telecom is market leader with the best coverage in the country, followed by Orange and Inwi, which is still sufficient when you stick to towns.

Maroc Telecom, a.k.a. IAM is the biggest mobile provider, mostly owned by UAE-based Etisalat, with the best coverage . In 2015 they have started with 4G/LTE with speeds up to 225 Mbps in major towns that is available for prepaid without surcharges.

A live 5G demonstration was organised at Maroc Telecom headquarters  in partnership with Ericsson  in Rabat earlier this year, showcasing the capabilities of the next-generation mobile technology.

The demonstration showcased several 5G use cases using a standalone end-to-end 5G system from Ericsson, including a prototype radio, baseband, and prototype UE device. The demo delivered 5G throughput, achieving speeds up to 25.8 Gbps, which is the highest speed reached in Africa to date.

Orange is the second provider in the country and mostly owned by Orange in France (formerly called France Télécom). That's why it was decided to rebrand it from the original brand of Méditel to Orange starting in December 2016. Coverage is not as good as Maroc Telecom but still reasonable. 3G is available in most towns, 4G/LTE has been started in 2015 in about 8 towns so far.

Inwi is the smallest provider in Morocco but still reasonable, if you stick to the towns mainly. 4G/LTE has started in 2015 in 26 cities.

Inwi is also conducting 5G trials in collaboration with Huawei and is installing new equipment on its radio to expand its backhaul fibre backbone network.

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Wednesday 4 December 2019

Orange: Leading the way in Cameroon

Orange are creeping up on MTN as the number one mobile operator in Cameroon. Currently with 7.9 million subscribers (MTN has 9 million) they impressively cover 49.3% population with 4G, while  82% is covered by 2G and 65% by 3G.

According to GSMA Mobile Economy 2019 Report, 3G will play a big role in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2025 with a significant number of devices still on 2G. Having a good 2G & 3G coverage is important but a good 4G coverage brings in new ARPU due to data usage and mobile internet subscribers.

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Thursday 28 November 2019

Emerging 5G Markets: Kyrgyzstan

The mobile subscriber growth rate in Kyrgyzstan has slowed considerably over the past four years due to a mature mobile market. Mobile broadband continues to grow strongly in Kyrgyzstan. The mobile broadband subscriber penetration has grown strongly over the past five years. 4G networks now cover over 50% of the nation as the major mobile operators gain momentum in their rollouts.

Strong growth is predicted over the next five years to 2024. The mobile broadband market will be driven by increasingly faster speeds offered by the mobile operators as they roll out 4G and eventually 5G networks and improving tariffs due to strong competition.

There are three GSM-based operators in Kyrgyzstan: Beeline (by Sky Mobile), MegaCom (by JSC Alpha Telecom) and O! (by Nur Telecom).

2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz (and 900 MHz on MegaCom) in up to DC-HSPA speed on the three major operators. 4G/LTE started on O! in 2014 and on MegaCom and Beeline in 2016 on 800, 1800, 2100 and 2600 MHz (Bands 1, 3, 7 and 20). Their 4G/LTE networks now cover a significant proportion of the country as the 3 major mobile operators gain momentum in their rollout of these faster networks. Coverage and speeds are generally good in the major cities, but can be very slow to non-existent in the countryside.

Beeline operated by Sky Mobile is the biggest competitor of MegaCom in the country and has a 36% market share. It has a limited 3G coverage shown. In 2016 it added 4G/LTE on the 800 MHz (B20) frequency.

MegaCom, owned by JSC Alpha Telecom, is the market leader in this country with 37% customer share. It has the best coverage: 98% of the population are covered by 2G and about 2/3 of the populated areas by 3G in 2015. This means that you have good coverage in the cities, but it can become patchy elsewhere.

In 2017 3G frequencies on 900 MHz were added for more coverage. They started 4G/LTE in the cities of Bishkek, Osh and Jalal-Abad in 2016 and started in regional cities in 2017, partly open for prepaid.

MegaCom has launched a ‘Safe City’ project in the capital Bishkek in collaboration with Russian company Vega with applications to include video surveillance of road traffic.

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 94% of the population are covered in 2019 by LTE.

O! has upgraded its LTE network in more than 60 settlements. The list includes the city of Bishkek and several villages in the Chuy region, two villages in the Talas region, the city of Jalal-Abad and several dozen villages in the Jalal-Abad region, and the city of Osh and several dozen villages in the same region. The LTE network has been upgraded in more than 1,300 settlements across the country this year. More than 96 percent of the country's population can access LTE services from the operator. This year, data traffic grew by 70 percent year-on-year, and 80 percent of the traffic was on the LTE network.

Kyrgyzstan has also seen growing interest from China’s tech giants, with Huawei now connecting eight in every 10 Kyrgyz residents to the outside world. The company has been making significant strides to secure lucrative deals as first supplier for the country’s top telecommunications providers such as Sky Mobile.

However its usually the security services that China targets most directly in order to win a place in Central Asia. Since May, China has provided buses, minibuses, SUVs, armored police cars totaling about $4.3 million to Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of the Interior. At the same time, an agreement was concluded on the introduction of video surveillance systems in the country.

For Central Asia’s fragile states, the technology is a welcome boost in monitoring their own populations. But it’s also a dangerous entanglement with a power that has already used that technology to imprison and oppress at home. Debt to Beijing, meanwhile, continues to pile up.

Smart cities are part of a strategy formulated in 2015 to turn China into the world’s foremost tech superpower by 2025. Packaged as the Digital Silk Road, the initiative aims to boost the country’s tech giants worldwide, construct China-centric digital infrastructure, and gain a monopoly over the global data supply chain. Chinese companies have been buying footholds in the region’s digital infrastructure. Huawei, the beleaguered 5G giant, is a key player in China’s smart cities program.

There are genuine civic benefits from the smart cities program, such as traffic safety and law enforcement. While the project could enhance digital connectivity in developing states such as Kyrgyzstan, critics point out that it may also spread authoritarianism and increase dependence on Chinese loans.

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Tuesday 26 November 2019

BT's Converged Core to Launch in 2023

At last year's Total Telecom Congress, Howard Watson, BT's CTIO laid out his vision (see Tweet) where Fixed, Mobile & Wi-Fi networks work together in a converged network.

While those slides are not publicly available, a similar set of slides are available here on BT's homepage from Barclays CTO Conference earlier this year.

This year, Howard Watson was able to expand further on their vision for converged core of the future.

The slides in the tweet above gives a good idea of BT's vision of convergence where their fixed broadband customers and mobile customers from BT, EE, Plusnet & Wholesale along with Wi-Fi can get the same consistent experience regardless on where and how they access the network.

Total Telecom wrote a nice summary from the congress, part of which is reproduced below:

BT’s Hybrid Network, to be launched in 2023, will be comprised of the company’s mobile, fixed line and WIFI networks, offering customers ever present, gigabit connectivity
Consumers in the UK are increasingly intolerant of complexity, even as they begin to demand ubiquitous, gigabit capable connectivity, according to BT’s CTIO.

Speaking at the Total Telecom Congress in London on Tuesday, Howard Watson said that while consumers were essentially technologically agnostic as to how they received their connectivity, they were becoming increasingly demanding about the speed, quality and reliability of that connection.

At last year’s Congress, Watson announced that BT would be launching a fully converged, hybrid network that would offer seamless connectivity across the company’s mobile, fixed line and WIFI networks, with the aim to have all of its customers signed up to the network by 2023.

This year, Watson stressed the crucial role that WIFI and mobile connectivity would play in this hybrid next generation network.

“Whether you are connecting through fixed, mobile or WIFI, bound by intelligence and software driven common infrastructure, we truly believe we can transform the customer’s experience and deliver that seamless connectivity that they demand. We are in a unique position to do that because we are the only operator in the UK to build this type of network.”

“Making this happen is not east or trivial and we need to push the boundaries of the available technologies in terms of what they can do in terms of coverage, capability and interoperability. We need to rollout new technologies like 5G and WIFI 6 across the whole of the UK.”

BT was the first operator in the UK to launch 5G mobile network services through its mobile subsidiary, EE, which now has a 5G presence in 20 towns and cities cross the country. BT has subsequently launched 5G for its own brand customers and Watson said that EE and BT would try to provide 5G network coverage in an additional 25 towns and cities across the UK by the end of 2019.

Earlier I wrote about how the new 5G Core Architecture promoted Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) and also another feature called Access Traffic Steering, Switching and Splitting (ATSSS) would play a key role in convergence. It is very likely that BT is moving in that direction for their converged core.

While the slides from Total Telecom Congress is not publicly available, they are present in BT's Technology’s Business Briefing here.

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Friday 22 November 2019

Oman: On course for 5G

The Sultanate of Oman has established a progressive mobile sector which comprises substantial coverage of both 3G and 4G LTE networks. There have also been trials conducted, networks upgraded, and spectrum allocated, in readiness for 5G.

The mobile sector in Oman is led by Omantel and Ooredoo, and both operators have a similar, and sizeable, market share. The two mobile network operators (MNOs) were awarded 15 year licenses in 2019.The mobile industry became more competitive in the last decade or so, due to the introduction of MVNOs, which have captured around 11-12% market share.

Omantel is the Sultanate’s incumbent telecoms operator and primary provider of internet in the country on landline and ADSL. It's mostly state-owned and market leader in mobile networks too. In 2018 it reached 56% of the market.

It has the best coverage and speeds and most customers. It's mobile branch is also known as Oman Mobile. Its 4G/LTE reaches most populated areas

In 2019 Omantel, announced that its network was 5G ready. Ericsson in association with Oman Telecom Authority and Omantel hosted an event in Muscat highlighting how 5G connectivity is making the future a reality. During this technology event, visitors experienced a range of 5G use cases from smart cities to virtual, augmented and mixed reality. The demos displayed how 5G-capabilities such as low latency and high data rates, combined with Augmented Reality (AR), can enable new and innovative real-time applications and services.

Use cases included 5G Football demo highlighting how 5G will transform gaming. In addition, City Model demo presents flexible and cost-effective solutions for businesses, charting the potential of using today's infrastructure to build tomorrow's 5G networks. Other exciting demos included the Augmented Reality Carousel, which outlines how the digital transformation of different industries will be powered by 5G and IoT using simple, intuitive yet powerful tool like AR.

Ooredeoo is the 2nd provider in the country still giving good coverage in 3G and 4G. 3G covers 90% of the population and has reached 96% coverage of the Sultanate’s population with its ‘SuperNet’ 4G/LTE mobile network in 2019.

Ooredoo from Qatar has acquired the majority of the operator which was called Nawras before and renamed it to Ooredoo in 2014. It's the no.2 slightly behind Omantel at 46% share of the market in 2018. Generally Ooredoo has lower prices than Omantel at a slightly lower coverage.

The launch of a third mobile network operator in Oman in 2020 will increase competition further. Oman’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) recently signed a strategic MoU with The Vodafone Group, along with a local consortium of investors, to form a third mobile network operator in Oman which will be branded as Vodafone. This new company will develop “new services … to drive the next stage in the development of the country’s telecommunications market”, the joint statement said. The new operator is expected to begin commercial operations in the second half of 2020.

According to the Oman TRA, it has begun early preparations to enable companies to provide 5G services and exempt companies from annual frequency usage fees for one year to encourage investment in the sector. In the next five years, 4400 stations will be constructed by Omantel and Ooredoo and they will conduct workshops to inform relevant government agencies of the applications in preparation for their readiness to use it.

Oman is well positioned to be a technology hub in the Middle East as it is well located between Asia, Africa and Europe and has access to several submarine cable systems.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Swisscom Plans to Deploy 5G Standalone (SA) in 2020

We wrote about Swisscom's 5G Fast and 5G Wide when they launched their 5G network earlier this year. In a recent presentation at Total Telecom Congress, Christoph Aeschlimann, CTO & CIO of Swisscom AG provided a bit more detail of what it is. This can be seen from the picture below

While 5G Fast aggregates the C-band spectrum Swisscom owns, 5G Wide relies on Dynamic spectrum sharing using 4G spectrum only.

In addition, he presented Swisscom's the next phase of 5G deployment, Standalone 5G with 5G Core. This can be seen below:

As can be seen the 5G SA trial is planned for H1-2020 and first deployments are expected in H2-2020. If you are unsure of what the difference between SA and NSA 5G is, please refer to our 3G4G tutorial here. While it does not say what 5G Network Architecture Option Swisscom will be deploying, it is assumed to be Option 2. Nearly all operators are thinking of that option when moving to 5G core, except a few like NTT Docomo that believe that Option 7 will be needed in the interim, followed by Option 4 and then Option 2.

Finally, a slide that lists Swisscom's latest facts and figures. Just in case you were wondering, Mio, is an abbreviation for "millions" as a unit indicator in some financial markets, such as the German, Swiss and Dutch markets.

Christoph Aeschlimann, CTO & CIO of Swisscom wrote a LinkedIn post titled "90% 5G coverage in 2019. How to turn the impossible into reality" back in August. It's worth a read.

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Thursday 14 November 2019

Emerging 5G Markets: Tajikistan

Tajikistan’s telecommunications infrastructure is arguably the least developed of all the previous Soviet republics,  With a telecom network that was near total collapse, the government had the daunting task of bringing it up to modern standards. Despite the launch of 4G/LTE services, the overall the telecom sector has continued to struggle. Tajikistan still has one of the lowest fixed-line penetrations in the Asian region and one of the lowest broadband levels of broadband penetration.

The mobile sector has been on a strong growth path for over a decade. It continues to be the standout feature of the country’s telecom industry. However, as the market has moved closer to a saturation phase there has been an inevitable slowing in the growth rate.They have seen a strong increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past four years however the mobile broadband market is still at an early stage of development and penetration remains relatively low compared to other Asian nations. Very strong growth is predicted over the next five years to 2023. The mobile broadband market will be driven by a rising level of mobile subscribers, increasingly faster speeds offered by the mobile operators as they roll out their 4G networks and improving tariffs due to strong competition.

Tajikstan is ranked 31st with a Telecoms Maturity Index score of 12. This places it in the Market Emergents category. BuddeComm’s “Asian Telecoms Maturity Index”, is an index (on a scale between 0 and 100) that measures and ranks the relative maturity of the telecoms industry in all of the 34 countries in Asia). Compared to other Asian nations, it has very low fixed-broadband penetration and very low mobile broadband penetration.

According to a World Bank Report despite modest improvements to international bandwidth (to about 6-8 Gbps), Tajikistan’s data transmission speeds remain the slowest among regional peers and other small, landlocked countries. Such slow international bandwidth speeds cannot support significant increases in trade in services, the development of a knowledge economy, or reposition Tajikistan as a regional hub. Though Tajikistan’s difficult geography is a factor in the slow technological development, a lack of adequate government initiatives/planning do not help either. For example earlier this year, the state anti-monopoly agency announced that mobile telecommunication services providers would be permitted to sell online data for no less than 5 dirhams per megabyte. With sales taxes and surcharges factored in, that would have amounted to $6.50 per gigabyte of traffic (up from the previous ceiling of $3.40), but the proposal was dropped after much public indignation.

Tcell is the dominant mobile provider in the country. It has more than 2/3 of the national subscribers. It was owned by Swedish Sonera group, who decided to exit their Asian markets and divested it to the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) in 2016.

It has the best coverage in 2G and 3G. 4G/LTE started in 2014 in the capital of Dushanbe and Ghafurov, Chkalovsk, Khujand and Kayrakkum on 800 MHz. By 2019 Tcell claimed to have the widest 4G coverage in Tajikistan, having reached seven major cities plus several other towns by the end of 2017.

Tcell has announced that it is the first operator in the country to receive a commercial 5G licence, also claiming that it will ‘launch the first 5G network in Central Asia’. A company press release lacked details such as 5G spectrum band(s) allocated or launch timeframe, however. The release highlighted how ‘the introduction of 5G technology will allow Tcell to create a new technological basis for Tajik society’, supporting ‘government e-services, smart cities and innovative entrepreneurs’, adding that ‘for the full implementation and development of  5G services. Tcell has to do a lot of work and make considerable investments to prepare the existing platform. Tcell claim they have already started this investment.

Tajikistan-based mobile operator Babilon-M is the 2nd provider in the country. It was the first to launch 4G/LTE in 2012 using 1800 and 2100 MHz in Dushambe. Recently it has expanded the coverage of its LTE network for the first time. New cities covered by the expansion include Khujand, Qurghonteppa (formerly known as Kurgan-Tyube) and Kulob.

Russian-owned MegaFon operates 2G and 3G networks in Tajikistan. As of 2014 it was the country’s 3rd largest mobile service provider in terms of subscribers with a 20% market share. In 2014 MegaFon’s 4G LTE pilot network covering the cities of Dushanbe and Khujand was started available over its 800 MHz LTE test network. The 4G network is now available in the cities of Dushanbe, Khujand and Kurgan-Tube.

Beeline is the smallest operator in Tajikistan now with a 2G and 3G network, but no 4G/LTE: 2G/3G coverage area. It has the lowest coverage in the country at the lowest prices too. In 2018 Russian-backed, Amsterdam-headquartered VEON agreed to sell its stake to Tacom which is 100% owned by ZET Mobile, itself reportedly owned by Hasan Asadullozoda, the brother of President Emomali Rahmon’s wife. It was announced that it will rebrand as ZET-Mobile on 1 June 2019. The operator has begun replacing its logo at its offices, shops and service outlets and has launched a new tariff plan under the ‘Z’ banner.

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Tuesday 12 November 2019

Turkmenistan:Finally opening up to the future?

There has been slow growth in telecom services in Turkmenistan which is attributed to the slow development of the private sector and state control over most economic activities.

Turkmenistan’s mobile market had experienced extraordinarily strong growth over 2007 to 2012 period. Over the 2013 to 2018 the mobile market increased at a much slower pace, as the market has moved closer to a saturation phase there has been an inevitable slowing in the growth rate. However there has been a strong increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past four years however the mobile broadband market is still at an early stage of development and penetration remains relatively low compared to other Asian nations. Very strong growth is predicted over the next five years to 2023.

Turkmenistan has experienced a number of problems relating to communications technology. Despite efforts to upgrade the country’s telecom infrastructure, the telephone network remained poorly developed and many villages have been left without telephone services. Fixed line penetration over the past four years has been increasing slowly from a relatively small base.

Altyn Asyr is the only operator in Turkmenistan. It's state-owned and works under the TM CELL trademark. Its 2G/3G coverage is pretty good and reliable all over the country. 2G GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G up to DC-HSPA+ on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE started in Ashgabat and Türkmenbaşy in 2013 on band 7 (2600 MHz), is in active development nowadays, already available for all users including prepaid without any surcharges.

MTS Turkmenistan (MTS TM) was historically the first mobile operator of Turkmenistan. It was fully owned and controlled by Russian MTS. It has been previously shut down in 2010 by the government after a dispute and re-opened again in 2012. In 2017 it served nearly 2 million subscribers, before it was shut down again in September 2017. In 2019 Russia-based Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) is said to have begun the process of dismantling its equipment in Turkmenistan with a view to fully withdrawing from the country.

In 2017 Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Communication is preparing for the launch of a new operator to offer services under the ‘Ay Nazar’ brand over infrastructure owned by TM-Cell (Altyn Asyr), which is a subsidiary of state-owned fixed line incumbent Turkmentelecom. Ay Nazar is being created within the structure of another state-owned telecoms provider Ashgabat Shaher Telefon Ulgamy (ASTU or Ashgabat Urban Telephone Network).

Turkmenistan is one of the most secretive nations in the world, all satellite TV reception was banned. That's why the internet remains the only accessible media from out of the country. Internet access in Turkmenistan is censored and heavily regulated available only to a small fraction of the population. Censorship is ubiquitous and extensive. Surveillance is significant, and the few citizens who benefit from access to the internet are closely monitored by state agencies.

While there is no 'firewall' like in China or 'blacklist' like in Russia, websites run by human rights organizations and news agencies are blocked. Moreover, ordinary citizens have no access to the WWW and instead are limited to the use of the Turkmenet, an online community in Turkmen language, but effectively a censored version of the internet. Social media and well-known western (and even Chinese) websites and services are blacked out, including LiveJournal, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, WeChat, Line etc. are not accessible through the Turkmenet. Note that attempts to get around this censorship by VPNs or proxys can lead to grave consequences.

In 2019 Turkmenistan has launched its own Biz Byarde (We Are Here) social network. All other social networks remain blocked in the country, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Оdnoklassniki and VKontakte. Also VPN applications have been blocked in Turkmenistan from January 2019. Internet services are switched off when the VPN applications are activated on smartphones by Turkmenistan users. Then it's necessary to replace the SIM in order to continue using services. 

In 2018 the Turkmenistan President ordered the Turkmenistan Academy of Sciences to design the state programme 'Digital Turkmenistan'. The programme is planned to be focused on fostering the development of ICT in the country.

Turkmenistan has also recently signed a MOU with South Korea who will share their know-how in 5G network technology with Turkmenistan and contribute to the Central Asian and Caspian region country’s commercial satellite development plan.

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Friday 8 November 2019

Orange Romania Finally Launches 5G

Orange has entered the 5G fray with the launch of its first commercial network within its footprint, deploying the technology in three major Romanian cities. The operator launched 5G services in capital Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca and Iasi, with other Romanian cities to follow from 2020 onwards. At a launch event Ramon Fernandez, deputy CEO for Finance, Performance and Europe, explained the country was a natural choice to lead the operator’s 5G charge, having been a key part of its footprint since 1997. He also said the operator had invested “more than €3.5 billion” in its Romanian operations over the past 22 years.

Fernandez explained the operator deployed 115MHz of spectrum in the 3.4GHz to 3.6GHz bands, “more than double” the amount available to competitors. Orange stated the network offers peak download rates of 1.2Gb/s, with average rates of 600Mb/s.

Orange is the largest operator in Romania with 10.3 million connections according to GSMA Intelligence, just ahead of rival Vodafone’s 10 million.Vodafone and number four player Digi launched 5G earlier this year.

This launch and this network is the result of an attractive exclusive partnership with Samsung. An interesting partnership which works both ways. Samsung devices can only be sold by Orange, and Orange 5G tariffs can only be run through Samsung devices. It might sound unusual that two companies would want to limit this potential in this manner, but considering Orange is the market share leader for 4G (roughly 40%) while Samsung is the devices market share leader (estimates range between 50-55%), there are attractive gains for both parties.

The second interesting element of this announcement is the focus on Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). Orange has never been shy about its convergence ambitions, the success of bundling is evident in numerous markets but with no fixed assets in Romania it becomes difficult. There is a wholesale agreement in place with Telecom Romania, however this is far from an ideal position.

With 5G, FWA becomes a much more apparent opportunity to compete with the fibre services which are being offered by competitors. It certainly isn’t perfect by any means, but if Orange can deliver the promised gigabit speeds over the air, there will certainly be demand from increasingly speed obsessed consumers.

The final interesting aspect of this story could count against the Orange. After performing a number of speed tests across Bucharest, it became very apparent, very quickly, that the 4G network is excellent (60-96 Mbps), providing speeds which even the most demanding consumer could not make use of. In delivering such eye-watering speeds over 4G, one should ask whether this weakens the selling point of 5G. As attractive as 1.2 Gbps download speeds are, who actually needs that much power right now?

Despite the number of features and wild promises here, the success of Orange Romania in the 4G era might undermine the pursuit of early adopters for 5G. This is a difficulty which only remains while the operators discuss little more than speed upgrades, though as the ecosystems develop new services will be pushed at the consumer.

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Wednesday 6 November 2019

Bulgaria taking small steps towards 5G

Bulgaria has three major physical network providers in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE:

A1 Bulgaria formerly known as Mtel (Мтел), owned by Telekom Austria
Telenor (Теленор): formerly known as Globul, owned by PPF Group
Vivacom (Виваком): taken over by Russian investors in 2015

The country has good 2G and 3G coverage over 95% of their area. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz like in most of Europe. 4G/LTE has been started by all operators on 1800 MHz (B3) only, added now by 2100 MHz (B1) and 900 MHz (B8).

All 3

A1 Bulgaria is owned by Telecom Austria and was rebranded in 2018 from Mtel (Мтел), and before that Mobitel (Мобилтел).

A1 Bulgaria  has commenced trials of 5G technology, following the activation of one base station at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. The trial, utilising spectrum in the 3.6GHz band and equipment provided by Nokia, will run for six months. The operator is aiming to commence commercial operations over its 5G network in 2020.

In 2013 Telenor (part of PPF) from Norway acquired Globul from Cosmote in Greece. In 2014 they changed their logo and name from Globul to Telenor. In 2018 Telenor sold its Bulgarian network to the Czech PPF Group.They started 4G/LTE in 2015 on 1800 MHz (band 3) covering 75% of population in 2016.

Telenor commenced its series of practical 5G technology tests by introducing the first remote medical exam over 5G in Bulgaria. The examination of a patient was held by Prof. Asen Baltov, Executive Director of “N. I. Pirogov” Hospital, who was at the Telenor headquarters in Sofia,
During the event, Telenor also made its first 5G video call in Bulgaria. Telenor also intends to  perform demonstrations of 5G technology beyond Sofia covering numerous other geographic locations across Bulgaria. These tests will be related to virtual reality and the streaming of video content and gaming which will be made publicly available. To make this possible, Telenor will use Huawei equipment, which includes both fixed base stations, as well as a mobile base station that can be transported across the country.

Vivacom (vivatel or BTC, BTK) is the 3rd provider in the country, but still has a good coverage in 3G in Bulgaria. In 2015 they were sold to Russian-backed Spas Roussev.

4G/LTE started in 2016 on 1800 MHz (B3) in the towns of Sofia, Pernik and Vratsa. The 4G network was extended to Varna, Bourgas, Ruse and Plovdiv. The operator has the country’s largest towns within its LTE footprint and 2100 MHz band is added.

In other 5G developments the European Commission has stated that the Bulgarian and Greek transport ministers, Ivaylo Moskovski and Nikos Papas, and Tatjana Matić of the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications of Serbia, have signed an agreement at the Digital Assembly 2018 in Sofia to develop an experimental 5G cross-border corridor that will test driverless vehicles.

They agreed to work together on the Thessaloniki – Sofia – Belgrade corridor, which will provide a technologically neutral hub for industry, research centres, academia and any other stakeholders for testing and evaluating innovative mobility technologies.

Mr Moskovski stated that Bulgaria is now preparing its infrastructure to accommodate a 5G network for ‘connected driving’. European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel added that “we have agreed that the digital transformation has its challenges, such as cyber attacks and the online spread of misinformation” and that “people need to trust and be able to take advantage of this digitalisation.”

Monday 4 November 2019

Serbia is Gearing up for 5G

Serbia has three main mobile operators.

MTS (Mobile Telephony of Serbia - not related to MTS Russia) is a consumer brand of state-owned Telekom Srbija under which it offers and provides all of its services to both private and corporate users. At present they have 2129 LTE base stations and are the market leader in Serbia with 45.5% of all mobile SIM cards as of 2018.

MTS have carried out 5G tests in cooperation with Ericsson:

Telenor, formerly called Mobtel Srbija, was sold by the Norwegian operator in 2018 to the Czech PPF Group. It's the 2nd provider in the country with a 31% market share in 2018 and a good coverage.

4G/LTE has started in the two largest cities Belgrade and Niš and has spread to 41 cities in 2016 and currently is available for prepaid trough 1955 LTE base stations country-wide.

On the 22nd June 2019 Telenor launched the first 5G base station in Serbia in Science
Technology Park Belgrade, creating a 5G test environment that can be used by domestic and
foreign companies, startups and students of technical faculties to develop technological solutions
for the future.

Vip Mobile, owned by Telekom Austria, is the smallest provider in the country by customers. Nevertheless, it gives a good coverage. In 2016 Vip opened its 4G/LTE network which is the most widespread in the country right now to prepaid users trough 1912 LTE base stations. Netherthess they are the smallest network with 23% of all mobile SIM cards in 2018.

Serbia has also joined a European project to establish 5G corridors to test driverless cars.

Sunday 3 November 2019

China's Synchronized 5G Launch

As reported by Mobile World Live:

China’s three major mobile operators officially launched 5G services in parts of 50 cities, claiming the largest rollout in the world just six months after the government issued licences.

The three operations deployed about 86,000 5G base stations and expect to have more than 130,000 by year-end. Market leader China Mobile aims to install 50,000 sites by end-December, while China Unicom and China Telecom each target about 40,000.

China Unicom claimed ubiquitous 5G coverage in 14 cities and 28,000 base stations.

All three operators announced similar packages with different speed tiers. Users without a 5G device can still subscribe to the 5G plans to take advantage of the larger data allowances.

China Mobile, for example, offers five plans with two speed tiers: speed limits of 500Mb/s and 1Gb/s. Monthly prices range from CYN128 ($18.10) for 30GB (low tier) to CNY598 for 300GB (high tier).

It’s giving 30 per cent discounts to existing customers, who have subscribed for three to five years. The company said it already registered 10 million customers to 5G packages.

China Unicom, the third largest operator in the country, claimed ubiquitous coverage in 14 cities, with plans to have service in 40 cities by the end of the year.

Chen Zhaoxiong, vice minister of Industry and Information Technology (centre), kicked off the launch with representatives from the three operators at PT Expo China in Beijing today (31 October).

Arjun Kharpal, China Technology Correspondent at CNBC pointed out in the tweet above that China Telecom has changed its app logo to “Hello 5G”.

Mike Dano from Light Reading points out in his tweet that China mobile is selling 5G 30% cheaper as compared to 4G, which will simulate demand for 5G networks.

Picture Source: Dean Bubley on Twitter

The picture above shows summary of 5G Spectrum that has been allocated to the operators. Both China Telecom and China Unicom has 100MHz in the 3.5MHz band (C-band), while market leader China Mobile has 160MHz of spectrum in the 2.6GHz and another 100 MHz in 4.8GHz band. China Broadcasting Network (CBN), which was established in 2014 by the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) to consolidate the country’s fragmented cable-TV industry also has 100 MHz in 3.3GHz band.

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Wednesday 23 October 2019

Emerging 5G Markets: Azerbaijan

There are three major mobile operators in the Azerbaijan market. Azercell dominates the market. Bakcell and  Nar (Azerofon) account for the majority of the remainder of the market.  Mobile broadband subscribers have grown very rapidly over the past five years supported by widespread rollouts of 4G infrastructure and the release of a growing range of mobile broadband packages by the major mobile operators. Market penetration has increased from 107% in 2013, to over 110% by 2017. Moderate growth is predicted over the next few years to 2023. The mobile broadband market will be driven by increasingly faster speeds offered by the mobile operators as they roll out their 4G and 5G networks and falling prices due to growing competition.

2G/GSM is on 900 MHz with Azercell and Bakcell and 1800 MHz with Nar, 3G is on 2100 MHz with all operators up to DC-HSPA and 4G/LTE was started on all three providers on 1800 MHz (Band 3) fairly recently.

Azercell is Azerbaijan’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, it is still owned by Swedish Telia group and Turkish Turkcell. Currently, 4.8 million subscribers choose Azercell services they control 49% of market share; while its geographical coverage constitutes 99.2% (excluding the occupied territories); and population coverage 99.8%.  But some of them are on 2G. 3G had started in 2011, to be followed by 4G/LTE in Baku and the Absheron Peninsula with 79% coverage of the capital and Absheron in 2017 and new in Ganja, Barda, Shamkir and Lankaran.

Azercell has selected Ericsson to modernise its radio access network (RAN), under a two-year programme including the nationwide supply of multi-standard radio equipment from Ericsson Radio System and a comprehensive set of services. Based on Ericsson’s RAN and services portfolios, Ericsson will evolve Azercell’s mobile network to be 5G-ready.

Bakcell was the first provider in the country established in 2002. It's partly state-owned and today no.2 in the market with a 30% user share.Today, Bakcell has the largest 4G network in the country in terms of coverage area and capacity, covering almost 91 percent of the country’s population and the central parts of all the regions of Azerbaijan (excluding Nakhchivan AR and occupied territories).

With more than 8000 base stations, Bakcell network covers 99 percent of the population and 93 percent of the land area of the country (except for the occupied territories). In 2017, Bakcell network has been recognized as the “Best in Test” in Azerbaijan by P3 Communications, being one of the most trusted independent authorities in mobile benchmarking. Bakcell has been recognized as the Fastest Mobile Network in Azerbaijan. This award, presented by world-famous “Ookla” company, recognizes Bakcell’s commitment to delivering fastest speeds to customers all across Azerbaijan.

Bakcell, recently entered into an agreement with Kazakhstani Transtelecom and KazTransCom to build a fiber-optic cable line stretching over nearly 400 km (249 mi) along the bottom of the Caspian Sea, which will help increase regional capacity and global connectivity. The initiative is a part of the Trans-Caspian ambitious project implemented by AzerTelecom within its “Azerbaijan Digital Hub” program. With the full completion of the Digital Hub program, Azerbaijan will shift from a local center to a regional hub in greater geography that includes the South Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia regions, in which 1.8 billion – one-fourth of the world’s population –  lives.

Azerfon launched its activities in 2007 under brand name Nar mobile. Azerfon claims to reach 80% of the territory which is almost all given that some 15% of the territory is 'under occupation'. In certain remote areas Nar is the only provider offering service, but generally coverage is lower. In 2015 4G/LTE was launched in the city of Baku and 3G extended, but they remain at no.3 with a 25% user share. In 2019 they announced to have covered 97.6% of the country’s population by 3G.

Nar continues to expand its high-speed 4G network across the country. As a result of improvement and expansion works, 4G network now covers 91,5% of the population in the country. The mobile operator has successfully installed LTE base stations in 53 districts so far. Currently, every third customer of Nar is an active 4G user, while the total number of 4G users exceeds 850,000.

Nar provides its customers with the high-speed network with over 2740 4G base stations, including 1018 LTE-A type installed in 2019, as well as 2722 3G base stations. Currently, the mobile operator provides high quality service for more than 2,3 subscribers through over 8500 base stations.

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