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.

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