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.

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