Thursday 30 July 2020

Luxembourg Operators Getting Ready for 5G Rollouts

There are three physical mobile network operators serving Luxembourg:

Post Telecom (formerly LUXGSM, state-owned), Tango (owned by Belgacom), Orange (formerly VOXmobile, owned by Orange Belgium, part of the French Orange Group).

The largest operator is Post Telecom Luxembourg, it has the best coverage in the country and a market share of more than 50%. In recent years the Post has concentrated on cloud and managed services, as well as on offering bundled packages. The operator offers a 100Mb/s service nationally, while the footprint of its 1Gb/s service is making gains in line with the government’s program to provide a 1Gb/s service to all citizens by the end of 2020, and to make Luxembourg the first fully fibred country in Europe. The company also offers broadband based on technology, primarily aimed at apartment buildings.

Created in January 2019, Proximus Luxembourg SA brings together the Tango and Telindus brands under one umbrella. Both brands operate jointly to meet all the telecommunications needs of Luxembourg's residential and business customers. Tango offers fixed and mobile telephony, Internet and television services to residential customers and small businesses, while Telindus provides ICT and fixed and mobile telecommunication services to medium-sized and large companies as well as public administrations.

Tango is the leading alternative mobile operator in Luxembourg and appeals to customers that prefer clarity and simplicity. The company services almost 300,000 users and boasts reliable coverage across most of the country. If you are staying in the major cities of Luxembourg Tango is a good option although only have 2G and 3G coverage. Signal strength can also drop of in some areas.

Telindus Luxembourg and Tango Luxembourg have recently acquired frequencies in the 700MHz and 3600MHz bands in order to deploy their own 5G network.

Orange is the smallest operator in Luxembourg with a market share of only 15%, but according to network tests quite on par with the other providers what coverage and speed are concerned.

Orange also has excellent coverage, servicing 99% of the country on 2G and 3G, but also has a major percentage of the country covered on 4G as well – 94.7%. Only Post Luxembourg can top that.

In our earlier post, we looked at 5G Spectrum auction results. As a result of all the main operators obtaining 5G spectrum, we will see 5G rollouts soon.

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Sunday 26 July 2020

Luxembourg Gets 5G Spectrum

Luxembourg, the only grand duchy still in existence, started the 5G spectrum auction on 13 July and ended five days later after 38 rounds of bidding.

The Department of Media, Telecommunications and Digital Policy (Services des Medias et des Communications, SMC) announced that four bidders have secured 5G frequencies in the recent 700MHz and 3600MHz spectrum auction, paying a total of EUR 41.3 million.

Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe, and ranked 167th in size of all the 194 independent countries of the world; the country is about 2,586 square kilometres (998 sq mi) in size, and measures 82 km (51 mi) long and 57 km (35 mi) wide but it is the second richest country in the world and has the highest minimum wage in the EU.

The auction results were as follows:

700 MHz band:
  • Orange Communications Luxembourg SA: 2x10 MHz
  • Post Luxembourg: 2x10 MHz
  • Proximus Luxembourg SA: 2x10 MHz

3600 MHz band:
  • Luxembourg Online SA: 10 MHz
  • Orange Communications Luxembourg SA: 110 MHz
  • Post Luxembourg: 110 MHz
  • Proximus Luxembourg SA: 100 MHz

Comms Update reports that the 15-year licences, which are renewable at least once for a period of five years, are subject to a number of coverage obligations which aim to ensure 5G services are available in the Luxembourg municipality by the end of 2020 and nationwide no later than 2025.

We will now have to wait and see how quickly does 5G roll out in Luxembourg!

Thursday 23 July 2020

France is Eagerly Waiting for 5G to Arrive

France has the third largest telecoms market in Europe, worth approximately €31 billion annually. The incumbent telco Orange Group is one of the world’s major players operating in markets across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The company is embarked on a multi-year investment program with an emphasis on fibre-based broadband and mobile infrastructure based on 5G.

The mobile phone market, worth about €13 billion annually, is dominated by Orange, SFR Group (owned by Altice Group), Bouygues Telecom and Free Mobile. Services(by Iliad) based on LTE have near universal coverage, while operators have undertaken extensive 5G trials and are looking to launch commercial services in the second half of 2020. This timing is being supported by the auction of spectrum in a range of bands.

Regarding spectrum 2G (= GSM, GPRS, EDGE) is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G (= UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+ and DC-HSPA+) is on 900 and 2100 MHz. The 4 MNOs have rolled out their 4G/LTE nationwide. 800 MHz (B20) mostly in the countryside, 1800 MHz (B3) and 2600 MHz (B7) in the cities are used. 700 MHz (B28) is progressively being added after digital TV has left. From 2017 the 2100 MHz band (B1) is also used for LTE.

Competition among the MNOs and a large number of MVNOs caused mobile services revenue to fall steadily until 2017, since when growth has been low but steady. Pressure on revenue has encouraged operators to look to convergence and bundled services, and so expand their offerings beyond mobile voice and data.

France also has one of the largest broadband subscriber bases in Europe. Growth in recent years has been bolstered by demand for high bandwidth services, which has prompted considerable investment in fibre infrastructure among telcos and regional governments. DSL still dominates the broadband market in terms of access lines, though the number of DSL lines is falling as customers are migrated to fibre infrastructure. Fibre deployments have grown substantially in recent years, with all of the major ISPs concentrating their investments in the platform with a view to promoting 1Gb/s services. There efforts have been encouraged by the regulator which is keen to see effective competition in fibre access.

Orange S.A., formerly France Télécom S.A., is a French multinational telecommunications corporation. Previously France Télécom was the French public operator. Nowadays it is still the market leader with the best coverage (94% of population in 4G/LTE as of October 2017) and the most subscribers, including extensive coverage of tourist areas (beaches / ski resorts) and transport corridors (high speed train lines, motorways). 4G/LTE is accessible for all prepaid plans. (See also Open Signal report findings below).

Orange has recently pushed its multi-service operator strategy after striking a deal with insurance player Groupama to create Protectline, a new home surveillance company for the French market. It  has also launched a mobile banking offer, through Orange Bank, and developed its own smart speaker as it looks at ways to diversify beyond traditional telecoms services

Orange have selected vendors Nokia and Ericsson to deploy its 5G network in home market France, as Huawei continued to face scrutiny about the security of its equipment in Europe. Orange explained it had chosen the vendors after months of testing, with both contracted to provide a package of products and services to enable deployment of 5G across France. However this has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

SFR is historically the second network in France and one of the biggest rivals of Orange. It used to belong to Vivendi, but has been sold to the company Altice. It has good coverage nationwide in 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE coverage is slightly less than Orange (see Basics). SFR is the local partner of Vodafone in France, but there is still no international data roaming on any SFR prepaid products.

Bouygues Télécom is the 3rd largest network operator in France in term of subscribers. Unlike the other players, its 4G/LTE is mainly on 1800 MHz (and to a lesser extent 2600 MHz and 800 MHz) open for all prepaid users (coverage map). In October 2017 they cover 94% of population by LTE.

Free Mobile shook the French market when it arrived on the scene in 2012 with very low prices and new marketing methods. Over the years Free Mobile kept adding more content to their main package "Forfait Free", such as large allowances of data, or included roaming agreements. With more than 65 destinations included worldwide, they may offer good options for travellers. But be aware of the SIM card can only be bought and activated in France and can't be paused.

Regarding performance and coverage Orange managed to scoop all there Open signal awards in their recent report for these measures of the mobile experience — Video Experience, Games Experience, Voice App Experience — along with three other awards: Download Speed Experience, Upload Speed Experience and 4G Coverage Experience. The only one of the awards that it failed to win was 4G Availability, where SFR and Bouygues tied for first place.

French mobile subscribers seeking a big leap in the quality of their experience will need to be patient, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The French spectrum regulator, ARCEP, announced back in April that it has postponed the auction of 5G spectrum in the valuable 3.4-3.8 GHz band, due to the crisis. Given the after shock of Free Mobile’s disruptive market entry in early 2012 with extremely low pricing, it will be interesting to see how French operators embrace 5G. Will they seek to differentiate on network quality? Or will France’s operators use 5G’s arrival to herald a new price war that hinders network investment and damages users’ mobile experience as a result? Once the 5G spectrum auction happens, we will see early signs of how this will develop.

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Tuesday 21 July 2020

Central African Republic (CAR) to get more 3G, Open RAN and possibly some 4G

Persistent conflict has hampered telecommunication and media development in the Central African Republic. Potential  for growth is significant as the penetration rate remains low, (lowest penetration rate in Central Africa with 22%), and still affected by the country’s challenges such strong inflation and infrastructure deficiency due to the conflict.

Due to the fact that it is a landlocked country there is no scope investment in broadband networks and access to cross-border submarine cables. Mobile, however, is more optimistic with a reasonable level of competition, given the challenges.

There are four mobile operators in the country; MOOV, which launched in 2005 and is a subsidiary of Morocco Telecom; TELECEL, the oldest operator in the market, having launched in 1996, a subsidiary of South Africa-headquartered Econet:Wireless, AZUR, which launched in 2004 and is owned by a private Congolese group;and Orange, the latest market entrant, launched in 2007, a subsidiary of Orange France.

According to data collected directly from mobile operators and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, as of April 2019, the total number of active mobile telephone subscribers in the Central African Republic is 1,228,554 for an estimated population of 4.5 million. This represents a penetration rate of about 27 percent. According to this data, Telecel, which covers about 60 cities (the 50 percent of the market share), is the largest mobile network provider with 618,391 active subscribers, followed by Orange with 501,181 (in about 50 cities), Moov with 65,588 and Azur with 43,394.

Moov operates 2G GSM services over the 900 MHz band. Currently no 3G UMTS or 4G LTE services are available. The company began operations in 2005 then owned by Atlantic Telecom, only to be acquired by Etisalat shortly after. In 2014 Maroc Telecom took over Etisalat's West African operations comprising of its subsidiaries in Benin, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Niger, the Central African Republic and Togo.

Telecel Centrafrique is operating since 1996 and operates 2G GSM services over the 900 MHz band and 3G UMTS over B1 (2100 MHz). The company is the first and oldest mobile carrier in the country. Then owner Orascom (controlled by GTH/Vimpelcom), initiated a sale of Telecel to Niel Telecom in 2013 only for the deal to fall through due to inadequate financing. Orascom finalised the sale in October 2014 to Econet Wireless.

Azur RCA is a mobile carrier owned by Congolese businessman Jean Bruno Obambi (previously Bintel), operating in the Central African Republic (Centrafrique). Azur also present in Gabon, Congo, and Somaliland (under the NationLink brand). The company began operations in June 2004 operating under the NationLink Telecom name, and today has about 85,000 subscribers across 18 cities of the CAR. The company's Centrafrique headquarters is located in Bangui. The company operates 2G GSM services over the 900 MHz band, and 3G UMTS (HSPA+) over the B1 (2100 MHz) band. Due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the CAR, groups such as Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) have been assisting local carriers with maintenance and repair.

Orange Centrafrique is the second largest mobile carrier and the most recent company to join the market. The company operates 2G GSM services over the 900 and 1800 MHz bands, and launched 3G UMTS over the B1 (2100 MHz) band in 2013, with coverage mainly limited to urban areas. It has provided the four main cities of the country with mobile data services through its positioning in offers to companies, organizations and international military forces. In addition, Orange is the only operator to provide mobile payment services since it launched its Orange Money offer in 2016. Orange also provides WiMAX services in some regions.

According to Mobile World Live, Orange Centrafrique became the latest operator to throw weight behind Open RAN technology, inking a deal with vendor Parallel Wireless and infrastructure company i engineering group to deploy software-based networking equipment for its unit in the Central African Republic.

The agreement is part of Orange’s Include Digital in Every African Life (IDEAL) scheme, which aims to provide access to digital services to unconnected users across its African footprint.

A statement from Parallel Wireless suggested the small country of Central African Republic (its population is less than 5 million) will be the first of a number of open RAN deployments for Orange in Africa.

Orange MEA CTIO Herve Suquet said the use of virtualisation, open RAN and automation would help the company in its ambition to lead the Central African Republic market.

It plans to provide voice, data and mobile money services already available in urban parts of the country to rural areas.

A software-based approach to the network is partly intended to ease expansion and introduction of new services.

“Being able to run 2G and 3G on the same system today and, as our customers upgrade their devices to 4G in the future, seamlessly upgrade to 4G will help us not only extend our initial investment, but also bring new services much faster,” Suquet said.

Saturday 18 July 2020

BT UK's Journey to Automation

ETSI's Centre for Testing and Interoperability and the OSM community organized a OSM Hackfest on 1-4 June 2020. The event was run remotely, allowing participants to join the hands-on sessions from home. All videos and slides from the event are available here.

Peter Willis, Senior Manager Software Based Networks Applied Research, BT spoke about BT's Journey to Automation.

BT has deployed an NFV Infrastructure in the UK, using Canonical OpenStack and Juniper Contrail, which will run BT's 5G services intially but grow to support a multitude of BT's network services. This platform will be the foundation for BT's strategic automation initiatives meanwhile BT has many tactical network automation initiatives, many using open source components, plus several Orchestration initiatives, that need to be brought together in concert.

Video is embedded below and slides are available here.

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Thursday 16 July 2020

High Data Prices in South Africa means Great 4G coverage but Poor Subscription Rates

South Africa may well have one of the most advanced telecom infrastructures on the African continent. There is has been considerable investment from  municipal providers as well as from mobile network operators all aimed at improving network capabilities. The focus in recent years has been on backhaul capacity and on fibre and LTE networks to extend and improve internet service connectivity.

South Africa has 4 network operators: Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom (formely 8ta).The 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequencies deliver 2G for all operators with 3G offered on 900 MHz and 2100 MHz except for Telkom using 850 MHz. 4G/LTE was launched in 2012 on 1800 (B3) MHz in major centres by Vodacom and MTN and more recently on 2300 MHz (TD-LTE, B40) and 1800 MHz (B3) on Telkom and 2100 MHz (B1) and 1800 MHz (B3) on Cell C.

So basically the telecom landscape is characterised by a duopoly where Vodacom and MTN command more than 70 per cent of the market share by connections. Market penetration of mobile connections stands at more than 165 per cent, smartphone penetration at 60 per cent of total connections and 4G population coverage at 95 per cent in 2020. However, 4G only accounts for 30 per cent of total mobile connections. The high data tariffs, which  result in consumers purchasing either short term or limited data bundles, have resulted in low 4G uptake. Also a large part of the South African population is digitally illiterate, having limited or no understanding of basic aspects of digital such as connectivity, devices and skills. Some industry sources estimate the number at 80 per cent. Lower digital literacy rates further discourages the uptake of LTE services.


Lack of adequate spectrum in the market is argued to be the contributor to high data tariffs. In the absence of adequate spectrum, operators have to invest more in existing bands to densify and increase the coverage.

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic (accompanied by lockdowns and remote working) resulted in surging in data traffic globally. For its part, South African operators like Vodacom experienced 40 per cent growth in data traffic, while MTN experienced 56 per cent growth from February to April.

To ease congestion and create capacity for new data traffic requirements, the South African telecoms regulator ICASA announced a temporary allocation of spectrum in various bands (700MHz, 800MHz, 2300MHz, 2.6GHz, and 3.5GHz) until November. Vodacom leveraged the opportunity to launch its 5G services on the 3.5GHz spectrum in several cities. MTN followed the move and launched on the last day of the quarter adopting a dynamic spectrum sharing model in various frequencies (700MHz, 2100MHz, 3.5GHz and 28GHz).

Due to the 4G experience in the market and the challenges of data costs and digital literacy it is expected that consumer 5G uptake will be slow and only account for only 8 per cent of the total mobile connections by 2025.

Vodacom is the biggest mobile provider in South Africa and is 50% owned by UK-based Vodafone. It’s the market leader with the most customers, a good coverage at the highest prices.

Vodacom launched Africa’s first standards-based, commercial 5G service in Lesotho in August 2018 using 3.5 GHz spectrum. They have also demonstrated the same network capabilities at an event in South Africa, using a temporary test spectrum license in the 3.5 GHz band. Apparently their network is 5G-ready and it will launch 5G services in South Africa as soon it gains access to the required spectrum.

MTN is the main rival of Vodacom. MTN launched 4G/LTE in 2014 and covers 90% of population in 2018. MTN is the only provider that roams in Swaziland, if you should travel there.

MTN has recently won the Open Signal Video Experience and Download Speed Experience awards  which the operator tied with Vodacom in August 2019  and has now tied Upload Speed Experience and Latency Experience — which MTN was losing to Vodacom six months ago. MTN has also retained the lead in 4G Availability. On the other hand, Vodacom won the two new metrics — Voice App Experience and 4G Coverage Experience.

MTN has also made significant improvements across the board, taking the lead in three of the seven award metrics. Vodacom also showed improvements, but the operator has conceded ground to MTN across all of the metrics that are present in both this report and our previous one, with the distance between the two operators changing in the favor of MTN. Telkom and Cell C are still lagging behind, but showed improvements across all of these metrics, save for Cell C in 4G Availability, which saw the operator’s score decreasing by 1.5 percentage points.

MTN South Africa has also trialled various cases of 5G in cooperation with Ericsson and Huawei, which the company said showed great promise for mobile and fixed solutions. During these trials, MTN demonstrated downlink speeds of up to 1.6 Gbps and uplink speeds of up to 520 Mbps. MTN South Africa has also successfully launched a live 5G indoor solution at Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit and International Convention Centre.The mobile operator has already rolled out 5G sites on existing spectrum where they don’t interfere with other deployed systems.

Cell C is the 3rd operator in South Africa. It claims to cover 98% of population, but still has gaps in certain areas. Cell C started a price war in 2011 by undercutting its rivals, but most operators now offer comparable price plans. Cell C is only cheaper when you use their confusing portfolio of bonuses.

Cell C used to roam on the Vodacom network outside areas of their own coverage for free, but this applied to 2G and 3G only, not to 4G/LTE. In 2018 Cell C announced it has entered into a far-reaching roaming agreement with MTN in order to complement Cell C's own mobile network. The agreement will see MTN providing both 3G and 4G services to Cell C in areas where Cell C has chosen to purchase coverage rather than self-build, mainly outside of the main metro areas.

4G/LTE was rolled out in Gauteng and Durban on 2100 MHz (B1) to be spread to 1800 MHz (B3) in other centers of the country. After the new roaming deal with MTN Cell C says its network service offering is at 99% 2G coverage, 96% 3G coverage and 80% 4G/LTE coverage of the population.

Finally Telkom is a South African-based telecommunication company and the fourth network in the country. It entered the market in 2010 and was called '8ta' before, but has been rebranded into Telkom. It offers the lowest rates for data in the country of any network operator while it coverage is less too.

While it has limited coverage, mainly in the cities, it currently roams on the 2G and 3G networks of MTN, but not on MTN's 4G/LTE. Telkom's 4G/LTE is on the rare TD-LTE 2300 MHz (B40).

In November 2018 Telkom signed a new roaming agreement with Vodacom. Telkom customers will be able to roam on Vodacom's 2G, 3G and 4G networks from 2019. Telkom has had a roaming agreement in place with MTN for 2G and 3G services and will conduct a phased transition from the current roaming agreement. This process will concluded in June 2019 when its contract with MTN expired. Telkom South Africa has announced that it plans to switch off its 2G network nationwide at the end of 2019.

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Monday 13 July 2020

High costs of Data, Devices and Services is holding Uganda back

Mobile technologies remain unaffordable and inaccessible to many Ugandans. In 2019, less than 70 percent of the population had access to mobile phones compared to an average of 84 percent of the population in other similar countries in the East Africa region.

This is partly due to the high cost of devices and services. Government infrastructure investment with support from the World Bank is addressing this issue. Nevertheless, high taxes on imported handsets, mobile money withdrawals and social media access inhibit making digital products and services affordable for all Ugandans.

Government has to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of taxation policies with regard to mobile money withdrawals and social media access. The recently adopted National Payments Bill will improve regulation and expand digital financial services in Uganda. The next step should be to improve the environment for venture capital and private equity to allow increased investment in the digital sector.


The development of a regional Single Digital Market would give Ugandan enterprises access to an additional 200 million consumers, and increase choices for consumers. Estimates show Ugandan mobile broadband subscribers would gain more than US$0.5billion through lower prices and increased network effects.

Greater internet bandwidth through international cables has also reduced the cost of mobile backhaul, and consequently the end-user cost of such services has fallen steadily. The market remains overcrowded, with several networks in contention, and there is room for further consolidation among operators. In recent years Bharti Airtel took over Warid Telecom and Smart Telecom entered the market, while Orange Uganda decided to exit the market, selling to Lebanon-based Africell Holding. Orange Uganda completed its rebranding as Africell in February 2015. Uganda Telecom fell into receivership and in late 2018 a majority stake was sold to Teleology Holdings. Two of the smaller mobile players, K2 Telecom and Vodafone Uganda, have not weathered competitive pressure. The management of K2 Telecom’s services and network has been taken over by Airtel Uganda, while Vodafone Uganda entered bankruptcy protection in February 2018.

Uganda has a pretty crowded mobile market and the following mobile network operators:

MTN Uganda
Airtel Uganda
UT Mobile (by Uganda Telecom)
Africell (formely: Orange Uganda)
Smart Telecom (3G-only)

And two players on 4G/LTE only:

Smile (on 4G only)
Tangerine (on 4G only), so far only for home use.

Lycamobile Uganda plans to start here.

In 2014 Airtel took over no.3 network Warid and Africell bought out Orange in Uganda. In 2015 Vodafone entered the market and Smart Telecom took over the licence of Sure Telecom. In 2018 Vodafone Uganda filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations in the country.

2G/GSM is on 900 and sometimes 1800 MHz, 3G up to DC-HSPA on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE started on MTN, Africell andSmile so far in major cities and spread to the countryside, Tangerine moved from CDMA to LTE, while on UT Mobile and Smart only 3G is available.

For good coverage, better stick to MTN or Airtel that share 90% of all costumers in the Ugandan market. All mobile operators have their own money transaction system. Like in most of Africa you can use your SIM card as a payment system too.

MTN is the market leader in Uganda with more than 10 million customers, roughly half of the national user base. It has the best coverage, uses DC-HSPA+ in some regions as only provider and started 4G/LTE in Kampala on 2600 MHz with only 86 BTS stations so far. They started with TD-LTE (B36), but relaunched soon with FD-LTE (B7) on this frequency. MTN also manages a popular payment system called MTN MoMo.

Early this year, MTN launched a 5G public demonstration in Uganda becoming the first operator in East Africa to carry out a 5G trial. Mr. Wim revealed that 5G will not be about more customers using the network but rather IoT devices connected together. Emphasizing that their customers will have faster and better experience with services; from telemedicine, education, finance, among others.

Airtel Uganda, owned by India-based Bharti Airtel, is the biggest rival of MTN with 38% of customers, since it acquired the no.3 network in 2013. It gives good coverage on the newly merged network in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE.

Up to 2019 Airtel upgraded its entire network of 1,632 base station sites to 4G/LTE technology, twelve months after achieving the same milestone with its 3G rollout. Airtel launched 4G/LTE-based services in 2017 and covers 96% of the population with its 4G networks in 2019.

Airtel also runs a popular payment system called Airtel Money.

UT Mobile is the cellular section of the now privatized former state provider Uganda Telecom. But it has a rather limited coverage on 3G in the country. So better make a network check before. 4G/LTE is expected to be launched anytime. So far it cant't be recommended for travellers for data.

Africell, formely known as Orange Uganda, is the 4th provider and a secret recommendation, if you have coverage, which is still somewhat limited. Where you have coverage, it's quite fast and reliable. 3G has DC-HSPA+ with up to 42 Mbps. In 2014 they started 4G/LTE in Kampala, Jinja, Entebbe and Gulu on the 800 MHz frequency (band 20).

Smart Telecom owned by Industrial Promotion Services (IPS), a Kenyan-based infrastructure developer, launched mobile networks in Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi. In Uganda they started a 3G network on 2100 MHz in 2014 with a quite limited coverage so far. While they offer the lowest prices right now, it's only up to 3G/HSPA.

Lastly Smile actually launched the first 4G/LTE network in Uganda in 2013 on the 800 MHz frequency. In 2016 they cover Kampala, Entebbe, Wakiso, Mukono, Mbarara, Masaka, Masindi, Fort Portal, Kabale, Gulu, Lira, Soroti, Mbale, Jinja and Tororo 4G coverage map. Be aware that this is only in cites and not very suitable for travellers. You don't have a fallback to 2G or 3G, but stay on 4G/LTE only. Where you have coverage. you will get fast speeds.

Saturday 11 July 2020

NTT Docomo Provides an Overview of 5G Commercial Service

There is no shortage on posts about NTT Docomo on this blog and other sister blogs. Not only are they innovators and trend setters, they have pioneered quite a few technologies that have gone mainstream after many years of them trying it out.

While Docomo launched their 5G network only recently, they have been working on it for a very long time, since 2010. They have published an article on this in the latest instalment of their Technical Journal here. The following is just some selective extract:

Prior to launching its 5G commercial service, NTT DOCOMO began basic 5G studies in 2010 and commenced high-frequency-band trials in 2014. Then, after contributing to early formulation of 3GPP standards for 5G in collaboration with major global mobile enterprises, NTT DOCOMO launched its 5G pre-commercial service in September 2019 creating many solutions together with co-creation partners.

Going forward, NTT DOCOMO plans to construct and roll out 5G service areas successively starting with major train stations/airports and stadiums in urban and regional areas as well as various types of facilities with partner collaboration in mind.

High Speed and Large Capacity: The 5G system will provide much higher broad- band data transmission compared with the existing system. It will realize high-definition video including Virtual  Reality  (VR) and  Augmented Reality (AR) experiences while enabling users to enjoy high-presence video and services as a familiar part of life. 

The maximum receive speed will be 3.4 Gbps achieved through the use of various technical advances such as high-order Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology and the combining of many frequency bands. This value corresponds to the maximum receive speed at the time of the 5G commercial service launch as shown in Table 1, but NTT DOCOMO will continuously improve transmission speed through a variety of technical approaches including higher spectral efficiency.

Low Latency:  In 5G, low latency will enable high-real-time control. For example, it can contribute to even higher levels of automation by determining current running conditions of plant facilities and machines and controlling and operating them in real time.

Also in 5G, the radio transmission unit has been shortened to one-half to one-eighth that of 4G depending on the frequency band,  and  the  timing  for confirming delivery has been positioned immediately after data transmission. These technologies combined are expected to achieve low latency in the radio interval compared with 4G. In addition, the adoption of Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) is expected to achieve low latency on an end-to-end basis.

NTT DOCOMO has achieved its 5G service through a non-standalone format in which terminals  connect to  the  mobile network through both the NR and eLTE radio access systems. Specifically, it has leveraged the know-how obtained in deploying an Advanced Centralized Radio Access Network (Advanced C-RAN) in LTE to provide high-speed communications through Dual Connectivity (DC), which uses two radio access systems in an area in which both NR and eLTE (eLTE is defined as an LTE communication specification conforming to 3GPP Rel. 15 or later.) can be used.

A system configuration diagram of the 5G service is shown in Figure 2.

Up to now, specifications for interconnecting base station equipment (signal send/receive rules) differed from vendor to vendor without sufficient consideration given to international standards. This situation made it difficult to interconnect base sta- tion equipment of different vendors so the usual approach was to interconnect base stations from the same vendor. However, in the 5G launch period, in which expansion of the 5G area would take place while using the existing 4G network, this approach would limit the vendors of 5G base station equipment that can be selected to vendors of 4G base station equipment. To solve this problem, the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance that NTT DOCOMO has been participating in promoted the international standardization of interoperability specifications between base stations thereby unifying interoperability specifications across 4G and 5G base station equipment and enabling multi-vendor connections.

These interoperability specifications have made  it possible to deploy newly developed 5G base stations without having to rely on 4G base-station vendors and to achieve a speedy 5G rollout while using existing 4G assets.

You can read the complete article here.

Finally, if you were wondering what NTT Docomo's real world speedtest results are, here is one of them from twitter.

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Wednesday 8 July 2020

Madagascar gets 5G but 2G, 3G & 4G coverage still very patchy

Madagascar’s economy has grown steadily in recent years and the revived tourist sector has helped immensely. Plans to extract and export crude oil, gas and other natural resources may also deliver a boost to the economy in future.

This period of economic growth is helping to increase consumer spend on telecom services. These services are becoming cheaper as a result of intensifying competition between the main operators, including Orange Madagascar, Bharti Airtel (formerly Zain) and the incumbent telco Telma. A fourth mobile operator, Blueline, now operates its own network having been an MVNO since 2010.

Positive developments in the internet and broadband sector are also the result of the first international submarine fibre optic cables, LION and EASSy on the island in 2009 and 2010. This ended the country’s dependency on satellites for international connections, bringing down the cost of international bandwidth and making internet access more affordable to a large part of the population. The IOX cable  the METISS submarine cable and the Africa-1 cable are expected to provide additional links to the African mainland and other international cable systems.

Penetration rates in all market sectors are still below African averages, and so there remains excellent potential for growth.

These network operators are on the air covering the country in 2G on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz and 3G on 2100 MHz: Airtel,  Telma (Telecom Malagasy), Orange and bip by Blueline (only 3G, 4G/TD-LTE). Network coverage is still somewhat patchy in the country. There are areas without any signal. 3G with reasonable speeds can only be expected in towns. 4G/LTE started with Telma in 2015 in 50 cities and Orange and Airtel started in 2017 in a few towns so far.

The first three operators share about 1/3 of the market each. Blueline started in 2014 with 3G and 4G/LTE in the capital of Antananarivo only. In 2016 their mobile brand called bip launched all over the country as 4th operator.

Telma short for Telecom Malagasy, is run by the now privatized incumbent operator of the country. They started 4G/LTE as first provider in 2015 in about 50 cities on 2600 MHz (Band 7): Coverage Map. Coverage can be patchy outside of major towns.

national fibre backbone is being implemented connecting the major cities, and Telma expects to invest an additional $250 million to expand the backbone network from 5,000km to 11,000km by 2019. Wireless broadband access networks are being rolled out, enabling converged voice, data and entertainment services. The launch of 3G and LTE mobile broadband services has enabled the mobile operators to reverse their rapidly declining average revenue per user (ARPU).The fixed-line sector has been undergoing a revolution following the privatisation of Telma. Upgraded DSL services have been introduced and the decline in fixed-line revenue has been reversed. Despite these positive developments, the national telco is considering various divestiture options.

Last month, Telma Madagascar switched on the country’s first 5G commercial network in multiple cities with the help of Ericsson. Specifically, the Swedish vendor was selected by the operator last October to upgrade its core and radio network. For Madagascar, there have been two critical use cases that have emerged for 5G: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). Activated on Telma’s 3.6-3.7 GHz mid-band, the network, according to Ericsson, uses the latest radio access and transport products from the Ericsson Radio System portfolio.

Airtel, run by Indian Bharti Airtel, was called Madacom, Celtel and Zain before and has still the most customers on its net. It's coverage is very variable, see coverage map.

Orange covers 85% of population on 2G and about 150 towns on 3G in 2015. Some call it the best coverage in the country, but this is very variable. A new licence allows the operator to offer 4G services on 1800 MHz, testing for which began taking place in 2016. It was finally launched 2017 in Anatananarivo and 8 other towns.

In 2016 the 4th operator in Madagascar started called bip. It only offers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE. The coverage is said to be "in all 22 regions" of the country. This is probably archieved through a national roaming agreement between Blueline and Telma. ISP Gulfsat Madagascar, which operates under the Blueline banner offers 3G and 4G/LTE internet in the capital of Anatanarivo only. This is not so suitable for traveller, but more like a substitute for home ADSL. 3G is probably through their roaming agreement with Telma, 4G/LTE is on their own TD-LTE in 2500 MHz (band 41) which is rather unusual.

Sunday 5 July 2020

Data Usage Growing in Namibia but No 5G Please

Although Namibia was slow to introduce competition in the mobile market, with a second operator not licensed until 2006, since then penetration rates have risen to well above the regional average.
The country’s growth in broadband services has been helped by developments with 3G and LTE network rollouts, as well as by investments in national fibre backbone infrastructure. Several WiMAX and other wireless broadband services offer additional access options and are standing by to bring additional competition to the voice market as well, once internet telephony is deregulated.

Namibia has very low population density. However mobile phone coverage is quite good in populated areas and along the main highways. Some level of coverage is nearly always available throughout the country with exception to some National Parks (like Etosha), where you get data and phone services only in the rest camps.

In 2017 mobile coverage stood at 95% of population, and 4G was only available in large towns and some villages.

Namibia has two major network operators: MTC and Telecom Namibia (TN mobile). 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz only. 4G/LTE has started on both operators on 1800 MHz (B3) in major towns. The third operator Paratus Telecom has a 4G/LTE network on 1800 MHz (B3) in Windhoek only and migrates its customers from WIMAX to TD-LTE 2600 MHz mostly for stationary use similar to Telecom Namibia's TD-LTE 2600 MHz home network in some towns.

MTC is the largest operator in Namibia by far: GSMA Intelligence figures for Q4 2019 showed it held an 88 per cent market share on 2.7 million connections.

In June 2018 MTC has made 4G/LTE service available to its 2 million plus prepaid subscribers. MTC prepaid customers can now get internet service at significantly higher speeds and quality by accessing its LTE network service, which was only available to postpaid customers before. All customers accessing MTC's network with a 4G SIM card and a 4G-enabled device will automatically be supplied with the service.

MTC  have completed the first phase of the 081Every1 network expansion that they began in July 2017. The operator plans to spend a total of NAD1.2 billion (US$79 million) on the initiative, expanding its footprint with 524 new sites to extend coverage to almost 100% of Namibia’s population. It aims to deliver 3G infrastructure in rural regions and upgrade urban areas to 4G.

Recently MTC denied rumours that the company has secretly been installing 5G towers while the Khomas and Erongo regions are locked down. Some conspiracy theories have been linking 5G networks, which is the fifth generation of wireless communications technologies supporting cellular data networks, to the coronavirus pandemic. In a press statement, MTC rubbished the conspiracy theory suggesting the lockdown was planned so that Namibians remain indoors and not oppose the erection of 5G towers and insisting MTC has and will always trial a new technology first like they have always done with the full permission of all relevant authorities.

Telecom Namibia Ltd. Mobile was previously called LEO Mobile and Cell One and is also called TN Mobile. It's the smaller network with a slightly lower coverage and lower prices.

Telecom Namibia also runs a TD-LTE network on 2600 MHz (band 38) in some towns. This replaces their old WIMAX network and is intended for stationary home use mostly.

Paratus Telecom holds licenses for 4G/LTE on band 3 (1800 MHz) in Windhoek and refarms its old WIMAX customers to 2600 TD-LTE (Band 38). It boast with the lowest prices for data in the country, but its network is limited to 4G/LTE and a very small area in the capital so far.

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Thursday 2 July 2020

Ethiopia Ready to Break Telecom Monopoly

Ethiopia was one of the last countries in Africa to allow its national operator a monopoly on all telecom services including fixed, mobile, internet and data communications.

The only operator present in Ethiopia is Ethio Telecom, or  Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) and owned by the government. It's the only telecommunications services provider in Ethiopia, providing internet and telephone services on landlines and mobiles. It was managed 2010-12 by France Telecom, but is now back under the full control of the government.

Until now Ethio Telecom’s monopolistic control has stifled innovation, restricted network expansion and limited the scope of services offered. However, in June 2019 the government approved legislation which will open the market to competition and provide much needed foreign investment. There has also been considerable investment in telecoms services, infrastructure and service expansion projects in recent years. Ethio Telecom has secured a network monitoring platform to help it improve services and has also revised plans to launch a telecom satellite, while the government initiated the construction of a $3 billion technology city.

Most of the technologies deployed thus far have been provided by ZTE and Huawei, which have often been preferred for offering vendor financing. In preparation for competition in the mobile market, Ethio Telecom has placed the expansion of LTE services as a cornerstone of its investment program to 2022.

Penetration of mobile phones is low in the country: only about 4.5% of Ethiopian population own one. The mobile service is unreliable and often interrupted. The system is frequently out of work or overloaded, callers using both the landlines and mobile network are unable to connect, the situation is made worse by inclement weather. Frequent power outages and damages to fibre optic cables add to the problems.

Coverage is very low outside the capital and provincial towns. 3G services started in 2008 only in major towns so far. In 2015: 95% of the population were in a 5 km radius to the next available phone line (being either a landline or within mobile coverage). Nevertheless, the maximum distance that people from rural communities have to travel for being able to use telecom services decreased from 30 km to 5 km within the last 10 years. This is in contrast to 725 base stations built in the capital Addis Abeba alone.

Ethio Telecom operates 3G up to HSPA+ is on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE this was launched in Addis Abeba only in 2015 on 1800 MHz (B3). 4G/LTE is available for prepaid in the capital. Ethio also operates a network in CDMA/EVDO technology, that is not compatible with GSM technology.

The monopoly of Ethio Telecom will however come to an end soon. In 2019 Ethiopia awarded two telecoms licenses to multinational mobile companies. The government also offered a minority stake in Ethio Telecom. The privatization drive amounts to 40% of the country's telecom sector.  The government expected the winning companies to start operations in 2020, initially using Ethio Telecom’s infrastructure to run their networks while building up own infrastructure.

However as of last month 12 foreign companies have submitted bids for a partial stake in Ethiopia's telecommunications monopoly. In a press release, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Authority (ECA) said it has received complete information and expression of interest from nine international telecom operators and two non-telecom companies.

According to the ECA, the bidders from the telecom sector are Etisalat, Axian, MTN, Orange, Saudi Telecom Company, Telkom SA, Liquid Telecom, Snail Mobile, and Global Partnership for Ethiopia, a consortium of telecom operators comprising Vodafone, Vodacom, and Safaricom. The two non-telecom companies are Kandu Global Telecommunications and Electromecha International Projects.
It is not yet clear when the winners will be announced.

GSMA Intelligence estimated Ethio Telecom had 43 million connections (excluding IoT) at end Q2 2019. Of these, 96 per cent were prepaid with less than 9 per cent on 4G.. GSMA Intelligence estimated the number of unique mobile subscribers was 35.4 million at the end of Q3 2019, with just 20.7 million of these data connections.