Monday, 21 September 2020

Afghanistan has a Healthy Mobile Ecosystem but No Plans for 5G yet

Afghanistan continues to be confronted by challenges due to the instability following years of war and civil strife. Their efforts to establish a functional telecommunications sector virtually from nothing are encouraging. The telecommunications network now covers over 90% of the population.

Efforts are being made to roll out fixed-line services, but the country’s telecommunications services rely heavily on its mobile infrastructure. Fixed-line broadband market penetration has not grown significantly over the last five years. Over the next five years to 2024 growth is expected to continue but overall market penetration will remain extremely low.

Afghanistan is making good progress on the roll-out of the government project for a nationwide optical fibre backbone. The work on the ‘Wakhan Corridor Fibre Optic Survey Project’ officially started with the first phase of a plan to install a cross-border fibre link connecting Afghanistan with China.

Afghanistan’s mobile market experienced reasonably strong growth between 2012 and 2017 but faced a serious slowdown in 2018, with the number of subscribers falling 8% year-on-year. This was partly due to increasing violence in the country (creating population displacement as well as damage to infrastructure), and also to a downturn in the regional economy. However, there were positive signs of recovery in 2019, with slow growth despite the uncertainty created by the presidential election. Overall, the mobile market has experienced reasonable growth since 2014, with mobile penetration rising from 55% in 2014 to 60% in 2019 and the number of subscribers reaching 22.9 million.

Further moderate growth is predicted over the next five years (through to 2024), though this assumes stable governance and an improving economic environment. Subscriber penetration is expected to reach 69% by 2024, with the market estimated to grow at a CAGR of 5% between 2019 and 2024.

Afghanistan has seen a strong increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past five years, with penetration reaching to 22% in 2019 compared to only 1% in 2013. The sector is still at an early stage of development and penetration remains relatively low compared to other Asian nations, though stronger growth is anticipated over the next five years in line with operator investments in 4G and increased competition among operators encouraging lower pricing for end-users and improved service offerings. Mobile broadband penetration could reach 35% by 2024, with a subscriber base of 14.8 million. A CAGR of 12% is forecast between 2019 and 2024.

As of most recent figures from 2018, mobile phone service is available to 90% of the population (ATRA, 2018). Interestingly, there are 26,351,256 active mobile service subscribers out of a national population of 36,373,176, which suggests that mobile phones currently have 72% market penetration–five times that of ISP usage. For Afghans, smart phones are preferred to computers as they are cheaper and better value when equipped with Internet functionality. Smart phones have become the preferred way for Afghans to access the Internet.

Therefore despite all the challenges Afghanistan has a highly competitive mobile market that continues to flourish. The mobile sector has been boosted by the absence of effective fixed-line alternatives. There are now 5 mobile GSM operators competing in Afghanistan’s telecom sector: Afghan Wireless (AWCC), Etisalat, MTN Group, Roshan and Salaam Network (Aftel).

2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G started 2012/3 on 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE services have started 2017 on Afghan Wireless on 1800 MHz (band 3) with other providers announcing it too.

Meanwhile 3G/4G subscriptions doubled from 2.6 million in June 2016 to 5.7 million at the end of March 2017.

Afghan Wireless (AWCC) was Afghanistan's first mobile communications company today it has over 5 million subscribers.  They recently topped Afghanistan’s fastest mobile internet networks based on analysis by Ookla of tests taken with Speedtest® covering the first half of 2020.

Ookla reported that Afghan Wireless achieved a speed score of 6.81 Mbps with average speeds of 8.32 Mbps for download and 3.74 Mbps for upload on 4.75G+ LTE-capable devices to become the only Ookla certified network in Afghanistan. Speedtest is Ookla’s flagship product, and is the most accurate way to measure internet performance and network diagnostics.

Etisalat was the first mobile provider to launch 3G services and now has 3G coverage in 21 provinces of Afghanistan. They now provide voice and data services to approximately 3.5 million subscribers in 34 Afghan provinces and more than 200 districts supported by more than 12,000 retail outlets

Etisalat, which is in competition with Afghan Telecom (Salaam), but the two operators complement  each other by sharing infrastructure. Currently Etisalat share 60 to 70 mobile towers with Aftel.

MTN Group despite have a strong presence and 6.5 million subscribers is due to share its shares and exit the country.  The company is accused of bribing the Taliban militants in Afghanistan to ‘safeguard’ its telecom towers. MTN Group is due to sell its shares in Syria, Yamen and Afghanistan to other telecom providers in order to end its operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Roshan claim 6.5 million subscribers, covering 34 provinces with their network. They actively contribute to the country’s long-term development with more than $750 million invested in Afghanistan to date. They directly employ more than 900 people – 97% Afghan nationals and 19% female – and provide indirect employment to more than 35,000 people.

Finally Afghan Telecom’s wireless network, called Salam, is the latest player to enter the mobile communications market. With more than 2 million customers out of a total population of around 36 million in Afghanistan, Salam currently has a market share of nearly 11 per cent. The company is looking to grow this by a further 5 per cent. Afghan Telecom plans to roll out 4G services and expand its share of a crowded market dominated by foreign players such as Etisalat. They are working with a mix of vendors including Huawei, ZTE and Cisco to launch their 4G services.

 Afghan Telecom will not be the first operator to offer 4G services in Afghanistan. Its main competitor, Afghan Wireless — the first wireless communications company in the country — rolled out a 4G network in 2017.

Related Posts:

Monday, 14 September 2020

Niger is looking forward to a more reliable 3G, and 4G eventually

Niger is one of the largest countries in West Africa but also one of the poorest in the world. As with many other countries in Africa they suffer from a lack of fixed telecoms infrastructure and this has led to growth in mobile services.

However Niger still has a modest mobile penetration rate of less than 55% according to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, ranking 45th out of Africa’s 57 countries by this metric at the end of March 2020.

World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) has approved a loan and a grant – each worth US$50 million – to help Niger improve access to vital social services in the country’s poorest regions, as well as augmenting infrastructure nationwide.

CommsUpdate notes that part of the funding will be used for Niger’s Smart Villages project, which seeks to boost rural broadband and mobile connectivity. In turn, this will increase access to mobile financial services in the most remote areas of Niger.

Recent international investment to complete the Trans-Saharan Dorsal optical fibre (SDR) network has also extended the reach of fibre-optic infrastructure in the country and also increased international capacity. Despite this, investment among operators has fallen dramatically since 2015. This is partly the result of a poor economic climate since then, which saw a 7.5% fall in market revenue in 2019, year-on-year. The Pandemic will further contribute to this.

There are 4 mobile operators in Niger: Airtel Niger (by Indian Bharti Airtel), Orange Niger (by France Telecom), Moov Niger (by Maroc Telecom) and Sahelcom (by Niger Telecoms).

2G/GSM is mainly on 900 MHz and rarely on 1800 MHz in towns, 3G is on 2100 MHz in limited areas. 4G/LTE started in July 2019 in Niamey on Airtel using bands 3 (1800 MHz) and 20 (800 MHz).

GSMA Intelligence figures last year place Airtel (4.7 million) as the market leader with Moov (2.9 million) and Orange Niger as the third-largest player in the market by connections (including cellular IoT), with 2.6 million.

The poor quality of service remains a major obstacle in the country.

In 2018 the government of Niger is proposing to reintroduce the tax on international calls in 2019. The government is seeking to restore the tax, after accusing telecom companies of failing to honour commitments to improve services.

With a market share of 47% at the end of 2017, Airtel is Niger’s largest wireless operator by subscribers. It was formerly called Celtel and Zain. It's now owned by Indian Bharti Airtel. It's payment system is called Airtel Money.

Airtel Niger's 2G/3G network covers 18,000 villages in 264 communes out of the total 266 across the country in 2018. In 2018 Airtel Niger has secured the country’s first 4G/LTE mobile licence and in July 2019 Airtel announced the commercial launch of 4G/LTE services. Coverage of the 4G network is currently available in the capital Niamey, but will be expanded to the regional capitals and other main cities in the future.

The most recent company to join the mobile market Orange Niger has become the second-largest operator with a mobile market share of 29%. As the first operator to have launched a 3G network in 2011, Orange Niger is leading the broadband mobile internet market. Their payment system is called Orange Money.

Orange Niger is set to build out and modernise its network after being granted a loan of XOF31 billion (US$56.3 million) by Coris Bank Niger. The operator has also stated its intention of obtaining a 4G licence in order to launch an LTE and LTE-A offering before the end of 2020.

Orange has now sold its 95.5 per cent stake to Zamani Com S.A.S. The French operator was ordered to close offices by the Niger government in 2018, over a tax claim. However services will continue to be marketed under the Orange brand during a transition period.

The government of Niger has announced the award of a 4G licence to operator Zamani Com. The award of the 15-year licence for the establishment and operation of a 4G network to Zamani Com, the new owner of mobile operator Orange Niger, makes it the second operator in Niger, after Airtel, to plan to offer 4G in the country. The announcement also notes that Zamani Com’s existing 2G and 3G licences have been renewed for a further 15 years.

Moov is the 3rd player in Niger with only 10% of all subscribers on the market. In 2014 it was bought by Maroc Telecom from Etisalat. They claim to have 2G and 3G coverage in many towns and villages. Their payment system is called Flooz.

State-owned fixed and mobile provider Niger Telecoms has officially launched commercial operations, including 3G mobile voice and data services in 2017. The government of Niger approved plans to merge state-owned fixed line operator Sonitel and its mobile unit SahelCom into a single entity, and Niger Telecoms was formally established in December 2016.

Niger Telecoms says its 3G network is available in parts of all regions, but this is very questionable as it's network is mostly based on 2G. SahelCom only accounts for less than 5% of all mobile users and is not recommended for travellers so far.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Would Tunisia Succeed in 2021 5G Rollout?

Tunisia has one of the most advanced telecom infrastructures in North Africa. Penetration rates for mobile and internet services are also among the highest in the region. Stimulated by the Digital Tunisia 2020 program, a number of regulatory measures and infrastructure projects have been instituted aimed at improving internet connectivity to underserved areas. The MNOs have built extensive LTE infrastructure, while operators such as Ooredoo are working with vendors to develop 5G networks and services though the regulator does not expect to offer 5G licenses until 2021. Other investment has been earmarked for vectoring VDSL and fibre to deliver improved fixed-line broadband services. Ooredoo and Orange Tunisie are also licensed as fixed-line operators and have launched DSL and FTTP services. In addition, a dozen public and private ISPs compete in this sector, supported by a nationwide fibre optic backbone network and international access via submarine and terrestrial fibre.

The events of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolution in 2011 drove the country into a brief recession, but GDP growth soon returned to pre-crisis levels. While GDP growth has been modest yet sufficient to encourage confidence in economic recovery, the government’s measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to result in a significant decline in GDP for 2020.

There are three mobile network operators in Tunisia: Tunisie Télécom (TT), ooredoo (formerly: Tunisiana) and Orange.

All 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G in the populated areas on 2100 MHz up to HSDPA speed like in Europe, 4G/LTE has started in 2016 in major towns on all three providers in 800 and 1800 MHz (B3, B20) and gives theoretical speeds of up to 150 Mbps. Generally, Tunesian 4G coverages and speeds are pretty good for an African country at average 18 Mbps and 61% covered of the time according to OpenSignal in 2018, but can't match those of Europe or Asia.

Tunisie Télécom and Ooredoo are both on par and have the best network. Orange has a slightly smaller network, but still reaches 87% of the population with 3G and is heavily investing into 4G/LTE deployment.

According to market figures in 2019 TT is slightly ahead of Ooredoo with Orange in third place. But when it comes to 3G and 4G data Ooredoo leads the table with Orange in second and the incumbent TT in 3rd place.

TT the incumbent (and partly state-owned) operator in the country has re-gained its lead in the country, having a is a 48% share of subscribers in 2019. But it has the smallest number of data users.
4G/LTE is available at the same rates as 3G in the areas of Greater Tunis (Tunis, Ariana, Ben Arous, Mannouba), Bizerte, Sousse and Sfax in 2016 spreading to the rest of the country. TT is more or less on par with Ooredeoo.

Ooredoo has rebranded the Tunisiana label a few years ago. Their network is generally on par with Tunesie Télécom what coverage and speed is concerned.

They are no.2 with a 43% user share in 2019 and a 99% coverage on 3G. 4G/LTE started in 2016 and seems to be the fastest network in the country. Ooredoo is the data leader with the most 3G and 4G customers.

Orange Tunisie is the smallest network operator in the country, but it's strong on data. Though it has only a customer share of 5.6% in 2019, it produces about 1/3 of all mobile data traffic in the country. 4G/LTE has started in at least 20 cities in 2016. It's particularly popular among data users, as it normally gives good speeds as long as you have coverage.

Tunisia maybe one of Africa’s best places for effective 4G, there is no 5G as of  yet. The country’s mobile network operators are expecting licenses for the technology’s rollout in 2021.

According to GSMA, in Tunisia, the 700 MHz band is already available since analogue TV switch-off. The 3500 MHz licences have been modified to allow LTE and there is some use of the 26 GHz band for fixed links. There is the potential to award the 700 MHz band now and possibly rearrange the 3500 MHz and 26 GHz bands to release spectrum and ensure contiguous frequencies.

Ooredoo Tunisie, the Tunisian arm of Qatar-based telecoms giant Ooredoo, has selected Huawei to build the infrastructure. They will make use of  Huawei’s 5G Single RAN radio solution with advanced Massive MIMO technology, in addition to its 5G Cloud Core technologies.

Meanwhile, Tunisie Telecom, the country’s legacy operator—which is 65 percent state-owned and consistently dominates the market of fixed-line subscriptions by a wide margin—is also joining hands with Huawei to build one of the fastest LTE networks ahead of the 5G era.

Nevertheless, Orange Tunisie may be the odd one out, because its French headquarters has made it known it won’t be joining the bandwagon. “We don’t foresee calling on Huawei for 5G,” Orange CEO Stephane Richard told reporters in Paris. “We are working with our traditional partners – they are Ericsson and Nokia.”

Related Posts: