Monday 29 June 2020

Costa Rica Telecom Market is Evolving Rapidly

With Long Term Evolution (LTE) rapid expansion and slowdown in 2G and 3G services, the Costa Rica telecom market is evolving rapidly. Embracing mobile connectivity, IoT, cloud services and smartphones has become vital for telecom companies. Operators are forced to adapt to these emerging market changes to sustain revenue and profit.

There are 3 network providers on the air in Costa Rica: ICE, with its prepaid product called kölbi (state owned), Movistar (sold by Telefónica to Millicon, possible rebrand to Tigo) and  Claro (Mexican owned by América Móvil).

Although the state-owned operator ICE remains the dominant provider of fixed-line services, the regional operators Claro and Movistar are significant players in the important mobile services market. Considerable change to the market emerged from the 2019 sale of Movistar to Millicom International, trading as Tigo. The deal, still to be finalised, was part of a wider plan which also saw Tigo acquire Movistar’s business units in Panama and Nicaragua.

BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

ICE or Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, is the state-run electricity and incumbent telco service provider. Their prepaid product is called kölbi. They used to have the monopoly until 2011 and are now down to 52% of all users in the country in 2017. 2G (to EDGE) on 1800 MHz, wide coverage, 3G (to HSDPA) in the populated areas on 850 MHz: 2G/3G/4G coverage map. 4G/LTE has been rolled out this year as the first provider on 2600 MHz (band 7) mostly in the Central Valley but is gradually expanded to more towns.

Movistar by Spanish Telefónica is the 2nd network. 2G is on 1800 MHz, 3G on 850 and 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE has started in San José on 1800 MHz (Band 3) and spread major towns in the provinces so far with a 70% coverage: Movistar coverage map. It has a market share of 26% in 2019.
In 2019 Telefónica sold its Central American networks to Millicom. So a possible rebrand to Tigo can be expected once the acquisition is closed.

Claro is the latest arrival and 3rd network in the country. It has good coverage in the Central Valley, but can be quite patchy elsewhere. 2G is on 1800 MHz, 3G (to HSDPA) on 2100 MHz in the centers only. 4G started on 1800 MHz (Band 3) in the Central Valley mostly Claro Coverage Map and now has CA on 2100 MHz too. In 2019 it has around 21% of the country's users.

In the recent Open Signal report Costa Rica, Kölbi remains the dominant operator across the majority of our mobile experience measurements, but  this is starting to change as its peers are now slowly closing the gap. Kölbi won four out of eight award categories — Video Experience, 4G Coverage Experience, Download and Upload Speed Experience. Claro won the Games Experience award, and broke the dead-heat between it and Kölbi that was seen in the previous report to win the Voice App Experience award outright. Meanwhile, Movistar won the 4G Availability award for the second report in a row.

This report examined the mobile network experience of the three main mobile network operators in Costa Rica: Kölbi, Claro and Movistar, over a period of 90 days beginning February 1, 2020, to see how they fared on real-world measurements. They further delved deeper into five regions — Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Puntarenas and San José — comparing the experience users received on these three operators.

Costa Rica has also recently completed a six-year program to expand fixed and mobile broadband access, new opportunities are emerging for operators who have yet to help the country close a 60% gap in 4G mobile penetration. Significant results were achieve in 2019  with the deployment of telecommunications infrastructure, especially in those areas operators shied away from due to high costs and low demand.  And the country's three main mobile operators increased their coverage as Telefónica left the Central American market.

Telecom regulator Sutel reported at the end of 2019 that it had accomplished 301 new wireless-internet zones, 130,000 new connected homes and connectivity in 103 new districts and one indigenous territory through the four US$222mn programs that telecom fund Fonatel finances.
But the programs are not over yet, and Sutel, trusted with the supervision of the projects, has 83 isolated districts and 17 indigenous territories left to connect this year.

Costa Rica was the Central American country with the most fiber optics imports in the first half of 2019. Monge whose company has actively participated in the deployment of new infrastructure in isolated territories, also said that Costa Rica’s current 4G mobile penetration stands at 40%, “which means they still have 60% left to invest and to reach that, they need more sites with broadband.

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Thursday 25 June 2020

Nigeria: The Dual-SIM World Leader

Nigeria is Africa’s largest mobile market, with about 173 million subscribers and a penetration rate of 123%. The number of subscribers fell in 2017 as consumers responded to a poor economic climate and as regulatory measures that required operators to disconnect unregistered SIM cards, though growth into 2019 was strong. The initial rapid growth in the number of subscribers had led to problems with network congestion and quality of service, prompting the regulator to impose fines and sanctions on network operators. These operators have responded by investing billions of dollars in base stations and fibre transmission infrastructure to support the increasing demand for data. The migration from the CDMA platform to GSM technology is almost complete, and though GSM still dominates the market there is a growing shift to services based on LTE. Although LTE coverage remains relatively low, investment among operators is extending the reach of services and is helping to develop consumer use of mobile data services.

Efforts are also being made to encourage network sharing and to outsource the management of tower infrastructure to third parties. There remains considerable growth potential in rural areas where development of network infrastructure and operations is expensive, and consequently mobile penetration is lower. The government’s plan to increase broadband penetration to 70% by 2021 largely depends on mobile infrastructure.

The mobile penetration is above 100% because many locals have 2 or more SIM cards. Nigeria is dual-SIM world leader with a market share of 66% dual-SIM phones in 2015. Nowhere else in the world devices holding two SIM cards are more popular. This is because of the variable network situation, many promotions and low starter prices.

Nigeria has four main mobile operators.

South African-based MTN is the mobile market leader.  MTN has invested heavily in Nigeria in recent years. They also bought CDMA-provider Visafone and moved their clients to the MTN network. In 2016 MTN launched 4G/LTE in the cities of Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt and coverage will be expanded to other parts of the country in the near future (LTE coverage map). It utilises the 2600 MHz (band 7) frequency so far for LTE, but received additional spectrum on 800 MHz (band 20) from the Visaphone acquisition.

Over the next three years, MTN plan to invest about N600 billion in their network. This
investment will enable them to accelerate their 4G network expansion, deepen population
coverage and support the Federal Government’s broadband initiative. MTN have also conducted a 5G trial and have 5G demo centres in Abuja, Calabar and Lagos. However despite the successful 5G trial, MTN is not abandoning older generation cellular networks any time soon. According to a top executive, they will continue to roll-out 3G and 4G networks across the country for the next few years.

Glo Mobile by Globacom is the second major mobile operator in Nigeria.  Globacom Ltd. is a Nigerian privatly-owned multinational telecommunications company headquartered in Lagos. It currently operates in 4 countries in West Africa under the Glo brand.

In 2016 their 4G/LTE launched in 9 cities across the country, namely Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Jos, Warri, Eket, Benin City, Yola and Zaria. The 4G network will be extended to other major cities in the near future.

Airtel Nigeria is a subsidiary of Indian telecoms group Bharti Airtel. Airtel and Glo are competing fiercely for the number 2 operator spot in the country. Airtel started to roll out its 4G/LTE network in 2018 in major cities and towns in Anambra state, including Onitsha, Awka, Nnewi and are now available in Onitsha, Awka, Amawbia, Nkpor, Obosi, Ogidi, Ogbunike, Umuoji, Nsugbe, Onitsha and Nnewi. Airtel is playing catch-up with its three main rivals which launched LTE services in the second half of 2016.

9mobile is the smallest of the 4 major providers. Formerly Etisalat Nigeria and owned by Etisalat from the UAE until summer 2017. Etisalat suddenly exited the country after debt restructuring talks failed. They were taken over by Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Ltd. (EMTS), who rebranded the operator as ‘9mobile'.However they continue to struggle and are losing subscribers.

With a population estimated at around 200 million, it’s often the case that more than one Nigerian subscription will be held by the same person. However, recent laws on the registration of SIM cards – making both registration and multiple SIM card ownership more difficult – may affect future mobile take-up calculations. Nevertheless the growth of mobile communications can be seen as positive news for Nigeria’s operators at a time when 4G coverage is being phased in/developed across the country.

Due to Coronavirus COVID-19, closure of Nigeria’s schools during lockdown has hit access to learning for poorer children. In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, about 20,000 children have been given a phone containing an app called Roducate to bridge digital divide. Local authorities plan to roll out the scheme to 300,000 children in the coming weeks. The freely distributed smartphone loaded with data and an app containing the curriculum and video, audio and chat-based classes. Exams will still be held in schools, she said, but officials will conduct studies on the effectiveness of digital learning on results.

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Tuesday 23 June 2020

Nepal has long way to improve 4G and start thinking about 5G

Over the years, efforts to expand the telecom sector in Nepal have met with many challenges. The fixed line market in Nepal remains underdeveloped. A major reason for this is due to the dominance of the mobile segment. Overall penetration reached only 2.8% in 2019.

The market is predicted to decrease slightly over the next five years to 2024 as the mobile segment continues to grow for both voice and data/broadband usage.

Fixed broadband penetration in Nepal remains very low mainly due to a limited number of fixed lines and the subsequent dominance of the mobile platform. Also, the declining number of fixed lines is restricting more widespread development of fixed broadband. However, the market has grown strongly over the past five years from a very small base with penetration increasing from 0.9% in 2014 to 3.9% in 2019.

Fibre-optic networks are developing all over the country under private and public funding. The growing demand for high speed internet will strongly push the development of fixed broadband. Over the next five years to 2024 strong growth is expected to continue. Fixed broadband penetration is predicted to reach 10% by 2024.

Between 2018 and 2019 numerous ISP announced contracts with Nokia to deploy fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) in the country. This is in line with the government’s vision of a digital society, whereby 90% of the population will have access to broadband services by 2020.

Nepal’s mobile market is now relatively developed and has experienced extraordinarily strong growth over the last years. Slower growth is predicted over the next five years to 2024. The market will be constrained from higher growth due to an already high penetration rate.

Nepal has seen a very rapid increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past seven years driven by increasing numbers of 3G and 4G mobile subscribers. However, the mobile broadband market is still at an early stage of development with penetration well below most other Asian countries. Strong growth is predicted over the next five years to 2024.

BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

The Nepal Telecommunications Authority said in its latest management information system report (July 17-August 17 2019) that 52 percent of Nepalis had access to mobile broadband. The number of 3G and 4G users has also increased within a year. There were 11 million 3G users in Nepal, up from 9 million. The number of 4G users has also increased to 4 million from 1 million. This implies that the number of video engagements has also been swelling with many people using TikTok, YouTube and Facebook video streaming sites.

However the quality of mobile video experience in Nepal is still somewhere at the bottom, according to the latest report by Opensignal which gave a rank of 86 among 100 countries. Mobile service providers have been expanding 4G services across Nepal, but the quality of video received on cell phones has not improved much in the past year. According to the Open Signal report, Nepal's quality of mobile video experience received a score of 43.3 percent this year, remaining unchanged compared to last year. Experts said lack of infrastructure was the major reason for the country's not being able to provide better quality mobile video.

Nepal has three GSM mobile operators: Nepal Telecom (state-owned),  Ncell (owned by Axiata) and
Smart Cell (by Smart Telecom, limited coverage on 2G, 4G/LTE; no 3G).

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz and 3G on 2100 MHz. In 2016 the government of Nepal had begun the process of converting existing wireless licences to technology neutral permits, enabling operators to use their current 900 MHz for 3G and free their 1800 MHz (B3) frequency holdings to offer 4G/LTE services. 4G/LTE had been launched by all three providers in 2017.

Have in mind that given its mountainous territory, coverage can be very spotty and data speeds extremely slow outside the Kathmandu central valley or Pokhara.

Nepal Telecom (NTC) is the state owned, national provider in Nepal. It has a monopoly on landlines and broadband, but competes with Ncell for mobile customers. In 2017 it held about 50% of the mobile market.

NTC uses 900 Mhz for 2G and 2100 Mhz for 3G. Simultanously, it runs a CDMA network too which will be switched off by 2021. GSM-coverage is slightly lower than Ncell. Until 2017 only about 60 3G sites have been installed and on air including Banepa, Bhaktpur, total 59 sites in Kathmandu and 1 site in Pokhara. 4G/LTE has started as first provider in Nepal in 2017 on 1800 MHz (B3) only in the Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara only opened for prepaid. NTC signed 40,000 LTE users in two weeks alone. In 2019/20 the 4G network was expanded

Ncell is the no.2 in Nepal with 46% share and was renamed 2010 from Mero Mobile. In 2015/6 it was sold from Telia to the Malaysian Axiata Group giving it a new logo.

Its 2G is on 900 and 1800 Mhz and reaches 90% of population, 3G is on 2100 Mhz in about 20 of the biggest towns. Ncell Coverage Map. Ncell is the better provider in the country, but there are still many areas uncovered and don't expect high speeds.

The start of their 4G/LTE was further delayed in 2017 by taxation issues and was finally launched in June 2017 on 900 and 1800 MHz in the Kathmandu Valley, including the areas of Nagarkot, Banepa and Dhulikhel. In summer 2017 the cites of Biratnagar, Birtamode, Damak, Dharan, Bharatpur, Hetauda, Birjung, Bhairahawa, Butwal and Nepalgunj were added to the 4G/LTE network. In 2019 seven of the country’s provinces and over 1,000 locations nationwide are covered, making it Nepal’s most extensive 4G network.

Fixed-wireless operator Smart Telecom was granted a licence in 2013 allowing it to expand into the mobile market. It used to be called Smart Cell, but is now called Smart.

So far it only has coverage in a few provinces and can't be recommended for travelling. They only had 4.4% of Nepal's mobile market in 2017.

They are on 2G/GSM on 1800 MHz. In 2017 a license to use 4G/LTE was granted to Smart and in October 2017 Smart has finally launched its long-awaited 4G/LTE service, with the company stating that it is now live in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Pokhara. The new 4G service offers customers speeds of up to 70 Mbps. Smart Telecom has been granted 10 MHz of frequencies in the 1800 MHz (B3), while its two competitors Nepal Telecom (NT) and Ncell have only been allocated 5 MHz each in this spectrum band.

Back in December, The Kathmandu Post reported that the quality of mobile video experience in Nepal is still somewhere at the bottom, according to the latest report by Opensignal which gave a rank of 86 among 100 countries. Mobile service providers have been expanding 4G services across Nepal, but the quality of video received on cell phones has not improved much in the past year, said Opensignal. Nepal's quality of mobile video experience received a score of 43.3 percent this year, remaining unchanged compared to last year. Experts said lack of infrastructure was the major reason for the country's not being able to provide better quality mobile video.

The report also highlighted that Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) said in its latest management information system report (July 17-August 17) that 52 percent of Nepalis had access to mobile broadband. The number of 3G and 4G users has also increased within a year. There were 11 million 3G users in Nepal, up from 9 million. The number of 4G users has also increased to 4 million from 1 million.

A recent report from Nepali Telecom stated that the Minister for Communication and Information technology (MOCIT) has expressed his plan to promote the expansion of 4G and introduce 5G in Nepal. He claimed his preference to enhance and expand the services of the government-owned telco rather than the private telcos. The main concern is for the expansion of 4G with Nepal Telecom (NTC) in all places of Nepal.

Speaking in Parliament’s development and technology committee, Minister Baskota opined to expand Nepal Telecom 4G gradually to all parts of the country while working on to bring 5G in Nepal in next 5 years. The committee also directed him to submit the details of work to increase the coverage of 4G.

Although 5G seems too far as 4G is still not available everywhere, Nepal needs to work to plan now to launch 5G in some years. The regulator NTA also needs to put policies in place, including the frequency spectrum band for 5G.

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Zambia is working on making 3G and 4G, reliable and affordable

There are currently three national mobile operators in Zambia: MTN, Airtel and Zamtel.

The 3 major networks operate on following frequencies: 2G/GSM up to EDGE on 900 MHz, 3G/UMTS up to DC-HSPA on 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (B3) and 2600 MHz (B7). Due to the low quality of landlines, prepaid SIMs are for most Zambians the only way to get internet access.

 The operators continue to invest in 3G and LTE-based services, while the government also contracted Huawei to upgrade the state-owned mobile infrastructure for 5G services. The government’s Universal Access Fund has made measurable progress in delivering telecom services to underserved areas, particularly in its funding the GRZ Communication Tower project which will see 1,010 towers installed by the end of 2020.

BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

MTN is the largest network in Zambia with 42% of the market. For data they claim download speeds of up to 42 Mbps. MTN started with rolling out its 4G/LTE network on 1800 MHz (B3) in 2014 and is available in Lusaka and some other larger population areas in Zambia.

The Indian-based company Bharti-Airtel took over activities from Celtel and Zain and is now #2 with 40% market share in the country close behind MTN. Airtel is present in all the 72 districts of Zambia with 200 towers all carrying what they call a 3.75G network: coverage map.

Having initially introduced 4G/LTE services in the Copperbelt in 2017, Airtel Zambia official launched of its LTE network in the nation’s capital Lusaka.

Zamtel launched its GSM services in 2003 and is government-owned. It's the smallest operator with 16% of the market in Zambia and is reported to also be the least customer oriented.

They launched 4G/LTE in 2014 in Kitwe only on 2600 MHz (B7) and current coverage of 4G/LTE beyond Kitwe is not known as coverage maps are not available. The operator said it has deployed LTE sites in Kitwe, Chingola, Mufulira, Chambishi, Lufwanyama, Chililabombwe and Kalulushi, including the border town of Kasumbalesa.

Back in 2017, Zamtel launched 4.5G LTE-2300 network in the Copperbelt in its quest to improve communication services, pushing forward its technology vision by deploying state of the art, cutting edge 4.5G long term evolution communication. Their press release said:

"Zamtel, Government owned total telecommunications provider has officially launched its 4.5G LTE-2300 network coverage on the Copperbelt Province.

The network will enable Zamtel to offer its fixed network subscribers significantly higher data speeds, thereby enhancing customer experience on the Zamtel network.

The 4.5G LTE-2300 technology has been rolled out in Kitwe, Kalulushi, Chambishi, Chingola, Chililabombwe, Mufulira and Solwezi. The network solution will not only be advantageous to the company but to Zamtel customers as well, as customers will connect with a far more superior data experience from their homes or offices."

Right now, Zambia's priority is to improve the 3G & 4G coverage, and make mobile broadband reliable and affordable for everyone. It still has some way to go before jumping on the 5G ship.

Monday 15 June 2020

Finland now has Ideal 5G Spectrum Allocation

Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom reported that the 26 GHz spectrum auction ended on 8 June 2020 and three frequency bands of 800 megahertz were auctioned. This now means that all three layers (coverage, capacity and high-throughput), ideally required for 5G rollouts has been allocated in Finland as can be seen in the picture below.

The government grants licences on the basis of the outcome of the auction. The frequency range can be used for the construction of 5G networks from 1 July 2020. The licences are valid until 31 December 2033.

Finland's position as a top 5G country will be further strengthened by allocating more frequencies for 5G use. Additional frequencies for new technology communications networks provide more capacity and very high speeds for communication links.

Each operator paid 7 million Euros for the spectrum. More details are available here.

5G Observatory reported that, the lowest 850 MHz part of the pioneer band (24.25-25.1 GHz) will be reserved for local and/or regional vertical players and research & development or educational usage.

Big shots from Nokia we quick to announce how operators can provide multi-Gigabit throughput using this newly acquired spectrum.

Back in October 2018, the operators had received spectrum in C-band as reported here.

Back in November 2016, Finnish operators spent €66m to acquire paired 10MHz bandwidth of the 700 MHz spectrum auction. Capacity media reported:

Finnish operators have paid more than €66 million to acquire new 700MHz spectrum in the country’s latest auction.

Telia Company, DNA and Elisa each splashed out €22 million to secure 2x10 MHz of frequencies, with licenses running from February 2017 until the end of 2033.
The auction ran until 24 November with licenses payable across five annual instalments. The fee agreed was the reserve price set by the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority, which offered six pairs of frequency blocks of 5MHz each.

To secure the licenses, the operators agreed to provide 4G coverage to at least 99% of Finland’s population by 2020, although both DNA and Elisa said they had already hit the target with their existing networks. Telia, which operates under the Sonera name, said its coverage is 97% at this time.

DNA said it will used the spectrum to build up its 4G capacity in sparsely populated areas, while Elisa promised to start construction of 700-MHz-enabled 4G networks next year.

Since then Telia has re branded all their networks to Telia.

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Saturday 13 June 2020

Kuwait Leading the way on 5G

Kuwait has a dynamic telecoms sector with a strong bias towards mobile infrastructure and services.

It has one of the world’s highest mobile penetration levels with 7 million mobile subscriptions in a country of just 4 million people, putting its mobile penetration levels at 168 per cent. With Kuwaiti’s being some of the heaviest consumers of data in the world, this shows the intense demand for capacity on the country’s mobile network infrastructure.

The telecoms sector has also become increasingly important to Kuwait’s economy as the country looks to diversify from its reliance on oil and this is particularly pertinent given the drop in oil prices as a consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak.In 2020 the operators have also demonstrated support during the COVID-19 pandemic through various service offerings and assistance.

There are three major operators of Zain Kuwait, STC (previously VIVA Kuwait) and Ooredoo offer LTE services as well as exploring 5G opportunities. On all operators 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz; 3G is on 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE is mainly on 1800 MHz (Band 3) and 800 MHz (Band 20).

Kuwait is connected to 7 key international submarine cables. With mobile penetration at high levels, focus has shifted to the mobile data market. All 3 operators have upgraded networks to support faster downlink speeds and are increasingly focused on mobile content and applications.

5G services have become a key focus of the operators which all launched initial 5G networks in 2019. Huawei has formed various partnerships with some of the key operators to further develop 5G in Kuwait.

Zain in Kuwait is the Group's flagship operation, which was established in 1983 called MTC and became the first telecom operator to launch commercial GSM services in the region and now offers 4G/LTE too. It can still maintain the leading position what coverage, speed and subscribers is concerned.

Zain Kuwait has also deployed Enea’s network management solution to ensure that its subscribers do not suffer a degradation of service experience during particularly busty periods, such as long wait times and degraded video quality.They are using Enea Openwave Encrypted Video Manager, which enables transparent classification of encrypted video flows to balance picture and playback video quality in real time according to radio network conditions.

Ooredoo, rebranded from Watanya, and based in Qatar is the 2nd provider in Kuwait. It rivals with Zain and has an equally good coverage and speed in the country. Their innovative product offering enabled them to grow their customer base by 12 percent to 2.6 million at the end of 2019.

Ooredoo has already launched 5G services and devices including a 5G MiFi router in Kuwait in collaboration with Huawei, and said it is accelerating the deployment of more "5G-ready" network stations in Kuwait and Oman.

Ooredoo will leverage Huawei’s world-leading 5G SingleRAN radio solution with advanced Massive MIMO technology, and 5G Cloud Core solution with a convergent platform to achieve a full digital transformation and modernization of its existing mobile networks. The network upgrade will provide customers with the latest 5G technologies and services.

VIVA Kuwait rebranded as STC (Kuwait) is the 3rd operator in the country. STC stands for Saudi Telecom Company and this rebrand was done at the end of 2019 after the Saudis purchased a majority stake in the company.

STC has made switching from 4G to 5G internet packages easier by offering customers 5G service in addition to a 5G router for KD 5 monthly. Customers can stream their favorite shows, play games, surf the web and work remotely at high internet speeds, low latency and instantaneous connectivity using Kuwait’s largest 5G network.

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Wednesday 10 June 2020

Indonesia consolidating 4G

Indonesia’s mobile market has displayed very strong growth for the five years up to 2016. However by  2019, growth had subsided. Growing use of mobile broadband has been a significant driver of this strong growth. Industry consolidation is possible towards 2020 as intense data competition may force smaller and unprofitable mobile operators to be pushed out of the market. Currently four main mobile operators compete for revenues in the Indonesian market. All of these operators are well advanced in the deployment of their 4G LTE networks.

Mobile subscriber growth is expected to be relatively low over the next five years to 2023 as the market further matures in a highly competitive market. The market will be driven by the uptake of both 4G and 5G services. Indonesia has seen a very rapid increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past five years driven by a rising level of mobile broadband users. However, the mobile broadband market is still at a relatively early stage of development. Strong growth is predicted over the next five years to 2023.

Indonesia 4 GSM network operators are Telkomsel,  IM3 Ooredoo (a.k.a. Indosat) 3 (= Tri) and XL Axiata. Additionally, Smartfren operates a 4G/LTE network only. For the 4 major national providers 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G is on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE has been started on Telkomsel, XL Axiata and IM3 on 900 MHz (band 8 in Jakarta, Bali and other cities and from summer 2015 on all networks on 1800 MHz (band 3) too.

Telkomsel, the mobile branch of Telkom Indonesia, has a market share of about 40% in Indonesia and is the only operator which is active in all provinces.It is 2/3 owned by the state through Telekom Indonesia and 1/3 by SingTel from Singapore.

Telkomsel presided over a mobile network totalling 146,571 base stations in 2017, of which 65.7% are capable of supporting 3G/4G services. For 4G 900 and 1800 MHz (bands 8 and 3) are used and from 2018 additionally 2300 MHz TD-LTE on band 40.

Telkomsel has the best coverage especially on the outer islands, but can be slow on the main places. 4G/LTE has started on 900 and 1800 MHz in Jakarta, Bali, Bandung, Medan, Surabaya, Makassar, Lombok and Manando: 4G Coverage Map. In 2016 they announced that their LTE network is now live in 100 cities in Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali and Nusa Tenggara, as well as Papua, thanks to the deployment of more than 4,500 eNode B base transceiver stations (BTS). 4G access is only possible with a 4G-enabled SIM card sold in stores where they have 4G coverage.

According to the most recent OpenSignal report on Indonesia Telkomsel has maintained its dominance by winning four out of five metrics in their national analysis, and more than 75% of the awards in Indonesia’s 16 largest cities. 

Telkomsel has also partnered with Ericsson and selected NFVI core network technology for a major core network upgrade as it moves towards 5G deployment. Ericsson’s core network solutions will enable Telkomsel to improve speed, efficiency and agility for its current business and for future opportunities. With increasing Radio Access Network (RAN) speeds and the growing need for low latency, service providers also face the need to evolve core networks to advanced and flexible architecture that includes distribution to the network edge. The deployment of Ericsson’s NFVI (Network Functions Virtualization Infrastructure) solution, together with Ericsson Cloud Packet Core, is a significant step towards making Telkomsel’s network 5G-ready. Telkomsel will benefit from scalable software architecture, reduced time to market for new services, lower total cost of ownership, and faster responses to changing consumer and enterprise demands.

M3 Ooredoo, a.k.a. Indosat, has become the 2nd operator in Indonesia with 22% share of the market. It's focusing on triple play and mostly owned by Ooredoo, which rebranded it in 2015. It has a good coverage on the main islands of Java, Bali, Kalimatan, Sulawesi and Sumatra: Indosat coverage map at low prices. 4G/LTE has started in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Bali and is available in about 94 cities at the end of 2016 on 900 (B8) and 1800 MHz (B3) with speeds up to 185 Mbps.  In 2017 it auctioned further spectrum on 2100 MHz (B1).
3 called Tri in Indonesia by Hutchison Whampoa from Hong Kong is now the 3rd provider with the lowest coverage and the cheapest rates. It has a limited coverage only in some main islands. If you want to travel through the archipelago or to remote places, look elsewhere. Before you buy their SIM, check coverage here for 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE. Up to now 3 has been focusing its efforts on its 3G network rollout, deploying access to the 2,820 sub-districts, 307 municipalities in 25 provinces in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Java, Bali and Lombok. As of 2015, the operator had extended its national footprint to 86% of the Indonesian population.

In 2015 Tri started 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (band 3). In 2017 4G/LTE is available in 227 cities in 25 provinces on the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Java and Bali and Tri auctioned further spectrum on 2100 MHz (band 1).

XL Axiata is the 4th provider in Indonesia. It is owned by Axiata Ltd. and has about a 90% coverage on these islands: Java, Bali and Lombok. Furthermore, it covers cities on Sumatra, Kalimatan, Sulawesi and a very limited coverage on Papua. Where it has 3G, speeds are often faster then Telkomsel. 4G/LTE has started in Jakarta, Medan, Yogyakarta and is spread to other regions like Bali, Lombok, Surabaya and East Kalimatan and Sulawesi on 900 and 1800 MHz: 4G Coverage Map . As at 31 October 2017, XL Axiata says it had more than 20 million 4G subscribers nationwide, using a network comprising 16,000 BTS. At the same date, its total number of ‘on-air’ base stations had reached nearly 100,000, of which more than 44,000 were 3G-equipped.

Smartfren by Indonesian PT Smartfren Telecom Tbk is a major player in the country.They previously  used CDMA and EVDO rev.2 instead of GSM, but have now migrated to LTE.

In 2016 Smartfren started the most widespread and fastest LTE in the country so far. It employs LTE Advanced that reaches higher speeds through carrier aggregation. But two rare frequencies are used: 850 MHz FDD (Band 5) and 2300 MHz TDD (Band 40).  Smartfren's coverage is on the islands of Java and Bali, parts of Sumatra, Sulawesi, Lombok and Kalimantan. It started 4G/LTE in 25 centers so far (coverage map) and reaches 188 cities in 2016. They launched 4G/LTE SIM cards in 2015. They do not have any coverage outside of their 4G/LTE.

Smartfren have selected ZTE of China to collaborate on the development of 5G technology in the country. Together they had a demonstration and deployed a 5G network in a logistics warehouse, and connected the 360-degree camera and the VR headset through the 5G network, transmitting images to the monitoring room in real time. This demonstration adopts spectrum of 28 GHz at 5G medium-high-frequency mmWave, and the maximum throughput using two carriers reaches 8.7 Gbps.

However despite some activity on the 5G front it is not expected to launch in Indonesia any time soon.

A great deal of development is still needed on their 4G networks which despite being nearly-ubiquitous, there are major contrasts between Indonesia’s national average and city speeds highlights and the connectivity gap that exists between sparsely populated rural areas and densely populated cities, and the challenges faced by mobile operators to provide uniform mobile network experience across the country's vast archipelagic geography. 

To cope with this digital divide, which is an obstruction towards Indonesia’s digital economy goals, the Indonesian Govt. recently completed the Palapa Ring — a massive fibre-optic infrastructure project to bring high-speed connectivity across Western to Eastern Indonesia, especially to some of its poorest regions in the country’s east, including the restive region of Papua.

But that doesn't immediately solve the problem for mobile internet users, as they still won't be able to find connectivity on the go for some time to come, especially in Eastern Indonesia where mobile operators have a weak presence. Also, some areas could not be reached by fibre cables, mainly the mountainous areas of Papua and West Papua. Therefore, the Ministry of Communication and Information now plans to install 4000 BTS by end of the year to offer a “truly 4G” signal, and on top of this, they will also deploy Multifunctional Satellite (SMF) to increase access in all regions.

Therefore some breathing space is needed before 5G deployment to achieve better connectivity between Indonesia’s islands to try and make the mobile experience a less variable one across its many cities.

Monday 8 June 2020

Too many hurdles for 5G in Belgium

Belgium’s mobile market is served by the three network operators Proximus, Orange Belgium and Telenet (BASE) and by a number of MVNOs. Mobile networks have been upgraded with LTE technology to support growing mobile data use among subscribers, while operators have also trialled 5G in preparation for launching services in 2020 and 2021. However, the auction of 5G-suitable spectrum has been delayed indefinitely, while the onerous restrictions on radiation have meant that some 5G trials have been suspended.

The market continues to be transformed, particularly with MVNOs shifting between networks. The government is keen to set the framework which could enable a new player to enter the market in 2020 following the award of spectrum in the 3.5GHz and other bands earmarked for 5G services. Existing operators are opposed to such a move, citing harsh competitive conditions and pressure on both revenue and investment in the sector. A characteristic of the market is customer preference for quad-play services, and to this end MNOs are strengthening their fixed-line offerings. In this landscape the mobile-only provides will struggle to gain customers in coming years.

Belgian telecom regulator BIPT has granted temporary 5G licences to Proximus, Cegeka, Entropia, Telenet and Orange Belgium. Each of them have received 40 MHz in the 3600-3800 MHz frequency band. The temporary 5G licences will remain valid until the 5G auction, delayed indefinitely in Belgium due to a disagreement between regional governments over proceedings.

The three providers use 800 Mhz, 1800 MHz and 2600 MHz bands and offer 4G/LTE to their prepaid customers and most MVNOs. Proximus and Orange cover 100% of the population and 99% of the territory, Base slightly less (98% of the population and 90% of the territory).

In the recent Open Signal report Proximus won four of the national awards and drew for the fifth, while the operator claimed two-thirds of our regional medals. Proximus passed 90% 4G Availability in their measurements — the first time they have seen a Belgian operator pass this milestone on a national level — while all three operators were over the 90% 4G Availability mark in the Brussels region.

Orange managed to draw with Proximus for their national 4G Availability award, while Telenet had to settle for just a few draws in the regional metrics. However Telenet has seen some of the best improvement in its scores over the past six months, particularly in the 4G Availability measurements.

Proximus, originally Belgacom, is the incumbent, State-owned operator and still the market leader in Belgium with the best overall coverage in the country on 2G, 3G and 4G. They were the first to introduce 4G/LTE in 2012, now included in all prepaid offers and cover 100% of the population in 2017 and 99% of the territory. Their services are usually a bit more expensive than Orange and Base.
Effective 2014 the capable iPhones of Apple are now supported on the 1800 MHz frequency of LTE as well. Accelerated LTE+ has been introduced to major cities, but is not available on prepaid yet. All allowances can be used in the EU without surcharges.

Proximus is the first operator to launch a 5G network in the country – but it will be available mainly in Dutch-speaking areas. That’s because the authorities in French-speaking Wallonia and multilingual Brussels, the capital, have imposed restrictions on transmission levels. Flanders, the Belgian province where most people speak Dutch – or Flemish – have more liberal rules. According to weekend reports, the only French-speaking towns and cities to be covered by the initial service will be Charleroi and areas between Liège and Namur.

The first places to be covered will include Antwerp, Bruges, Leuven, Mechelen and Ostend, all largely Dutch-speaking.

In an interview earlier this year Werner De Laet, chief enterprise officer for innovation and wholesale at Orange Belgium, told Capacity of the challenges of designing 5G networks in Brussels and Wallonia – because of restrictions imposed long before today’s misinformed 5G paranoia. Flanders allows a radiation level of 20.6V/m, though the limit on each antenna is 3V/m, he told Capacity. In comparison, in Brussels there is a total limit of just 6V/m.

Orange was previously known as Mobistar until May 2016, when it started to operate under the brand of its parent company, Orange France. Orange's/Mobistar's 4G/LTE has started in 2014 and now covers 100% of the population and 99% of the territory. It's considered by the Belgian telecommunications regulator to be on par with that of Proximus in terms of coverage.
4G is available to all prepaid costumers without surcharge: coverage map. Orange's 3G network is on par with that of Base and nearly as good as Proximus. In 2017, Orange scrapped all surcharges for roaming in the EU.

Base was taken over from KPN by Telenet in 2017. They have excellent coverage in the Flanders (Dutch speaking part) including Brussels. In Wallonia (French speaking part) there is less coverage in the more remote area's. This network hosts most of the MVNOs in Belgium. Their 2G covers 99.9%, 3G 99.5% and 4G/LTE 90% of the population at the end of 2015.

Thursday 4 June 2020

Philippines Dynamic Mobile Market has been Tipped for Improvement

There continues to be a great deal of investment in telecommunications infrastructure throughout the Philippines.  There is an emphasis on supporting high speed broadband access. The majority of fixed services are in urban areas but this market remains underdeveloped and fixed line penetration continues to show stagnant growth. The major reason for this is due to the dominance of the mobile segment and the rapid expansion of the mobile broadband market.

Over the past five to ten years and particularly more recently over the past two years there has been significant new data centre builds and more and more people are getting online and using cloud computing services, which is driving demand for data centre services.

During the last few years, the major operators have also been forced to cope with the pressures of slowing growth in traditional areas of the market and rising investment needs for new growth areas such as consumer broadband – both fixed line and mobile. In particular, there has been good progress in the rollout of optical fibre infrastructure.

The Philippines has seen a very rapid increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past five years driven by a rising level of wireless broadband users. Strong growth is predicted over the next five years to 2024, however at a slower and declining rate as the market further matures.

There are so far only two network operators, a duopoly of Smart and Globe in the Philippines with a third one: Dito Telecommunity to start in 2021.

Smart Communications by PLDT Inc, is the leading provider in the Philippines with more than 70 million customers on its three brands Smart, Sun Cellular and Talk 'n Text. It was the first to start 4G/LTE in 2012 in Manila and expanded it now to some other cities. For 4G/LTE Smart uses 700 MHz (28), 850 MHz (5), 1800 MHz (3) and 2100 MHz (1). MVNOs Talk 'n Text and Sun Cellular are under the Smart umbrella.

Smart Communications, was the first operator in the country to complete a video call on a 5G connection, showcasing interoperability in a multi-vendor environment. The call was made from the operator’s headquarters in Makati City to Clark Smart 5G City in the Clark Freeport Zone, using 5G radio and core equipment from Huawei (Makati) and Ericsson (Clark). Initial tests achieved downlink speeds of up to 700Mb/s using Huawei’s kit. The operator said it was the first 5G video call in the country.

Smart Communications plans to roll out additional 5G cell sites across the Makati central business district, paving the way for pilots in densely populated areas. To deliver these services, it is also upgrading its core and transport networks, which includes using fibre backhaul to connect the network’s cell sites nationwide.

Globe has been slowly gaining on the market leader Smart. It is 1/2 owned by SingTel from Singapore and has more than 40 million customers. But most Filipinos hold SIM cards of both operators. Globe sometimes has better data rates, because its cells are less congested. 4G/LTE is available mostly in city areas so far: 4G/LTE coverage list on 700 MHz (28), 1800 MHz (3), 2500 MHz (41/TDD-LTE) and 2600 MHz (7).

The Philippines has long been notorious for having very slow connectivity and patchy coverage.
2G covers all inhabited islands but is practically useless for data transmission (even for WhatsApp) because of congestion. On 3G you only get data speeds comparably to other southeast Asian countries in Manila and a few provincial capitals. Generally the 3G coverage is somewhat patchy and speeds are often quite poor.  4G/LTE coverage isn't nationwide and mostly exists in greater urban areas so far. In fact, Open Signal writes that 4G is only available to 72.4% of the country. Both Globe and Smart had pledged to cover 95% of population with 4G/LTE by the end of 2018.

So has the situation improved? Open Signal have analyzed the mobile network experience of the Philippines' two national operators in the 90 days starting November 1, 2019, both at a national level and across 25 provinces, to see how Globe and Smart measure up.

As you can see Smart dominated the awards. The PLDT-owned operator won six out of seven national awards outright and drew for Latency Experience. Globe also made some impressive improvements in other areas, particularly Video Experience, where it increased its score by 30.6% from a previous report.

Both operators also achieved some important milestones. Smart became the first Filipino operator to pass the 80% 4G Availability mark nationwide with Globe only a few percentage points behind it. Smart also dominated 4G Availability at a regional level winning 12 awards and drawing with Globe in 12 other provinces.

Therefore despite having just two mobile operators, the Philippines’ mobile market continues to be fairly dynamic and we have seen improvements to both operator networks. But this two-operator scenario is about to change. Dito Telecommunity, a third national player, plans a technical launch in July 2020. Dito must have 37% coverage of the population in its first year with an average speed of 27 Mbps. The company says it will have at least 1,600 cell sites deployed by the end of July. Dito’s full commercial launch is now slated for March 2021. Ultimately, the operator is required under its license terms to have a network that covers 84% of the population with speeds of at least 55 Mbps.

Regarding the current scenario the incumbent operators in the Philippines have taken several initiatives to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and provide support to their customers, both on new offers and services and also on network coverage.

For its fiber broadband subscribers, Smart offered free ‘speed boost’, providing a minimum Internet connection speed of 25 Mbps. They also offered free access to official websites.

Moreover, to equip COVID-19 medical front-liners with reliable data connectivity, Smart is providing free, fast, and 24/7 Smart Wi-Fi to newly-activated COVID-19 facilities.

Globe Telecom has partnered with the Philippine Red Cross to power the ‘RC143’ mobile app. RC143 is a contact tracing mobile app created by Red Cross to help medical frontliners identify possible patients, as well as help users track their levels of exposure to the virus.

The RC143 navigational tool uses Bluetooth and GPS to trace contact events between users. Through the app’s contact tracing feature, users can assess their risk level of contracting the virus as well as get in touch with Red Cross representatives to know more about COVID-19 and for medical assistance.

The app also has a feature that helps users navigate away from high-risk areas, guided by constant monitoring by Red Cross personnel and Artificial Intelligence (AI). This feature mainly targets Filipinos who need to leave their homes for work or for other necessities such as buying food.

Mobile users in the Philippines can download the RC143 app free of charge at the Google Play Store. The app is currently only available for Android users (version 6.0 and above) and will be made available for iOS soon.

Monday 1 June 2020

Nearly Perfect 4G in Australia is Preparing Users for 5G Era

The Australian mobile market is dominated by the three major mobile network operators Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. All three operators provide comprehensive population coverage with their LTE networks and have launched 5G services.All three Australian mobile operators are now investing billions of dollars in their networks annually, with a view to securing new customers and retaining existing ones. Increasingly, consumers are looking to mobile communications for their broadband needs.

In common with most mature markets, in Australia there are significantly more subscribers to mobile services than there are people. Growth is being driven by population increases as well as a rise in the number of people using two or mobile subscriptions – commonly one is for personal use and another for business use. Very slow growth is predicted over the next five years to 2024 with penetration rates predicted to rise only slightly above projected population increase.

Telstra Australia launched its 5G service on the 3.6 GHz band at the end of May 2019 as it had switched on over 200 5G sites since August 2018. The 5G service was available in over 10 cities, including parts of Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Launceston, Toowoomba, and the Gold Coast. Twenty-five additional cities should be covered before end-June 2020 including the major regional cities in Australia. However, the operator announced it is ahead of its target and 5G services are now available in 47 cities across the country.

Telstra added it has seen a massive expansion in the number of potential customers, growing from 4 to 8 million. Swedish vendor Ericsson has announced collaboration agreements with the operator to provide 5G equipment and upgrade Telstra’s network.

The Australian operator previously acquired spectrum in the 3.6 GHz auction for AUD 386 million (EUR 240 million), giving it 60 MHz of contiguous 5G spectrum in all major capital cities and between 50 MHz and 80 MHz in regional areas.


Telstra has also begun trialling faster millimetre-wave 5G mobile phone technology, which could be up to eight times faster than 4G, in sites at Parramatta and on the Gold Coast as the company announces its 5G network is now available in more than 700 towns across the country.

The trial marks the next step in the construction of 5G networks in Australia. 5G networks in Australia could only use lower-spectrum bands they already had licences for, meaning the much faster mm-wave 5G could not be used in Australia because it needs to use spectrum in higher bands (upwards of 26GHz).

The higher-end spectrum allows data to transfer at much higher rates, and with lower lag in communication to devices. Lower-spectrum (3.6GHz currently) 5G is around two times faster than 4G, but using the higher spectrum, 5G can be significantly faster, just over a shorter distance. Ericsson, the company behind the technology in Telstra’s 5G network, reported earlier this year speeds of up to 4.3 gigabits per second in its lab test.


Rival mobile network operator Optus announced the commercial launch of 5G mobile and 5G residential fixed broadband services covering selected areas in November 2019. 290 5G network sites went live and 1,200 sites were planned by March 2020. Recently, the company announced that by the end of May 2020 customers in parts of the western Sydney suburbs of Bonnyrigg and Minchinbury, Niagara Park on the NSW Central Coast, Cook in the ACT and the Brisbane suburb of Kenmore will be able to order 5G services. The telco is using equipment from both Ericsson and Nokia in its rollout of 5G.

Optus secured spectrum in the 3.6 GHz spectrum auction for AUD 185 million (EUR 110 million) in late 2018.

Optus have now launched a dual-band 5G network in Sydney using the 2300MHz and 3500MHz bands, with plans to extend coverage to Melbourne in the coming weeks.

The operator said it is testing Samsung Galaxy S20 5G devices on the dual-band network, which it claimed in a world first. The network uses Ericsson’s 5G Radio System equipment and Optus said initial findings indicate it has the potential to increase capacity and coverage. They have also worked with Nokia and Qualcomm last year.

Meanwhile Vodafone Australia switched on its 5G network at Parramatta in March 2020. They expect 650 sites in other parts of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra, will be live from mid-2020.

Vodafone Australia has teamed up with Nokia to conduct what the pair are calling the first field test of 700Mhz spectrum in Australia and APAC.  Nokia said the use of low-band spectrum and its AirScale equipment would improve indoor coverage and will be combined with the operators 3.5GHz holdings. 700Mhz spectrum in Australia has previously been used for 4G networks.

Open Signal notes that while 5G may be the focus for Australian operators, 4G continues to play a vital role because it is the network generation that handles the vast majority of users’ traffic and is the technology that most smartphones are using. Additionally, the early 5G networks continue to rely on 4G connections in order to operate because they use 5G non-standalone access. All three of Australia’s national operators have surpassed the 90% mark in 4G Availability and Optus is approaching the coveted 95% mark with a score of 94.9%.

In this report, Open Signal analyze the mobile network experience of Australia’s three national operators in the 90 days starting January 1, 2020. They monitored the network experience at a national level and across six cities, to see how Telstra, Optus and Vodafone performed.

In Opensignal’s regional analysis of six of the largest cities in Australia, Telstra is the operator to beat. The wireless carrier won awards in more cities in each of their metrics than any other operator. In Download Speed Experience, Telstra was the winner in five cities and tied with Optus in one city. They also saw the download speed Telstra users enjoy soar to 73.4 Mbps in Adelaide, which was 26.1% higher than its national score of 47.3 Mbps.

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