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.”

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