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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