Saturday 31 October 2020

NTT Docomo outlines their 5G Journey and 5G Network Deployment details

We have often written about NTT Docomo in this and other blogs. Even though Docomo doesn't shout a lot about their achievements, they are one of the pioneers of many new technologies and innovations, not just in Japan but in the world.  

Now that the main architecture of 5G is ready and the industry focus is on 6G, NTT Docomo has detailed their 5G journey and achievements in the latest NTT Docomo Technical Journal here. In addition to highlighting their approach, innovations and journey, these articles also show how the current 5G ties to NTT Docomo's vision that was set in 2014/15. 

In addition to the vision and innovation, they have done numerous trials with many different partners (see the videos and related posts below) to make sure that the visions do translate into reality. The tables above lists all the technology and field trials. Some of these are in the videos below.

You can read the latest issue of the NTT Docomo Technical Journal here.

For more details, please check the posts below. If there is anything interesting we have missed, please add it in the comments below.

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Tuesday 27 October 2020

Slovakia is Getting Ready for 5G Launches in 2021

Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia which was formed in 1918, after World War 1. After the country was officially dissolved on 31 December 1992, The Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic went their separate ways after 1 January 1993, an event sometimes called the Velvet Divorce. Slovakia has, nevertheless, remained a close partner with the Czech Republic. Both countries co-operate with Hungary and Poland in the Visegrád Group.

Slovakia’s mobile market is served by four mobile network operators. Orange Slovakia (formerly Globtel, Globtel GSM),Telekom (a.k.a. Slovak Telekom, formerly T-Mobile, Eurotel Bratislava), O2 (O2 Czech Republic [PPF] owned) and 4ka SWAN (2G, 4G/LTE only own network and 3G national roaming through Orange).

Two of these are the local units of European operators European (Deutsche Telekom and Orange Group) while O2 Slovakia was once the local unit of Telefónica Group before being sold to an investment group. Mobile penetration is relatively high, at about 142% by late 2019. The introduction of mobile number portability in 2006 intensified competition between players. However, the MVNO sector remains underdeveloped, with the few operators in place having failed to gain traction and thus holding only a marginal share of the overall market.

Despite market liberalisation Slovak Telekom maintains a near monopoly of the fixed-line market and also dominates the DSL broadband sector. However, there is effective competition in the broadband and mobile markets, where most investment is being channelled. The main operators including O2 Slovakia and Orange Slovakia have expanded into offering bundled fixed and mobile services.

Mobile broadband access and content services are developing rapidly in line with operators having upgraded their networks. The regulator has prepared the groundwork for 5G services, with concessions in the 3.5GHz range allowing for the launch of 5G services. Operators are keen to secure spectrum in the 700MHz band which the regulator aims to auction before June 2020.

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz, LTE has started in 2014 on all three major providers. 4G/LTE licences on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz (bands 3, 7, 20) have been granted. A forth provider called SWAN (4KA) started in 2015 with 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (B3) only.

In 2019 these 4G coverages of population were reported; O2 Slovakia covered 96.7%, Orange Slovakia covered 94.4% of the population, Slovak Telekom 93.7% and 4ka around 75%.

Orange is the market leader in Slovakia with the most customers. 3G covers more than 94% of the population. The 3G network operates on 2100 MHz and in some rural areas also on 900 Mhz. Orange has started 4G/LTE in 2014 on 800 and 2600 MHz (B7 and 20) and covers 90% in 2017.

Orange is now well placed to launch a national 5G network in Slovakia. They have acquired four blocks of frequencies in the 3490-3510 MHz band from its competitor Swan in July 2020. Licences for the blocks, which have a width of 5MHz, are valid until August 2025. Local reports indicate that Orange and Slovak Telekom have been in talks to enter into a FTTH network sharing agreement.

Telekom a.k.a. Slovak Telekom, formerly T-Mobile and Eurotel Bratislava is the 2nd mobile provider and still the biggest telecommunications company in the country. It has a pretty good coverage and started 2013 with 4G/LTE on band 3 (1800 Mhz), later on band 7 (2600 MHz) deployed usually in few cities like Bratislava, Kosice and near Ukraine boarder and band 20 (800 MHz) which is deployed everywhere in Slovakia as primary LTE band. 4G/LTE is open for prepaid and covers 93% of population in 2017. 4G+/LTE+ started in late 2015 with speeds up to 300 Mbps and is available only in larger towns. Please note that 3G/UMTS network operates only on 2100 MHz and not on 900 MHz. 

O2 in Slovakia, run by the Czech division of O2, owned by PPF Group, has the 3rd network in the country with 1.86 million subscribers in 2016. The company itself doesn't belong to Telefónica anymore and is only allowed to use the O2 brand in franchise until 2022. Telefonica owns only 5% share in O2 Czech Republic anymore.

3G network offers speeds up to 14.4 Mbit/s on primary band 2100 Mhz and in rural areas and cities also on 900 Mhz. The 3G network reaches up to 70% of population in Slovakia.

4G/LTE has started on 800 MHz (band 20) as primary band. 1800 Mhz (band 3) was added. The 4G network is available for prepaid: coverage map. In 2018 their LTE network covers 93% of the population with speeds up to 25 Mbit/s. In 2016 they acquired new spectrum on 3500 MHz (band 42) for TD-LTE which they use for fixed LTE internet in postpaid product Internet na Doma. Max. speed depends on the limits of the data package.

O2 Slovakia has launched pilot 5G networks covering four districts of Bratislava. O2 is using spectrum in the 1800MHz and 3.7GHz bands and trialling equipment from Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE.

Swan Multimedia is a triple-play operator who has won the 4th LTE license in the country. It started in 2015 with 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (band 3) only and is covering about 70% of population in 2017. Due to 1800 MHz limitation its LTE can not fully penetrate buildings/cars. Therefore, some people report problems with the network even on places with some coverage. It has the lowest prices in Slovakia, but has also a significantly lower coverage at around 75% for 4G/LTE in 2019.

Swan markets their prepaid products under the brand name 4ka (Štvorka). As the operator doesn't have its own network all over the country yet, it provides national roaming services through Orange's network. Up to 2018 this was in 2G and up to 300 kbps only. From February 2018 roaming is now on Orange's 3G network too. In 2019 it accounts for around 9% of the Slovak market.

According to a recent article in The Slovak Spectator, Orange has nearly finished the modernisation of its radio network, to have it ready for 5G, while O2 launched a pilot commercial trial operation of a 5G network in selected parts of Bratislava on October 6. 

The company is testing technologies from Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, and ZTE on the already allocated frequencies in the city boroughs of Bratislava, namely in Dubravka, Karlova Ves, Ruzinov, and Petržalka, the SITA newswire reported.

Clients of the operator who do have a compatible device can try using the 5G network in these locations. O2 said they are testing the technologies of all suppliers and will announce their choice for provider of nationwide 5G in the coming months, the TASR newswire wrote.

Commsupdate had recently reported that the government of Slovakia says it intends to launch its 5G spectrum auction process by the end of the year. A report from cites Ivan Martak, the chairman of the country’s telecoms regulator, as saying: ‘The priority is to complete the 5G auction. We have suspended it since 18 June, which was three months ago. We have millions of euros deposited [by interested bidders] as a financial security. We definitely want to have it ready by the end of the year.’ There was no official reason given for the suspension of the sale in June, though it is thought to have centred on ‘unspecified security risks’, according to the report.

The Office for Regulation of Electronic Communications & Postal Services (Regulacny urad, RU) intends to sell 5G-capable 700MHz frequencies, alongside 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum. The 60MHz of sought-after 700MHz frequencies will be sold in six 2×5MHz blocks, with each carrying a reserve price of EUR16 million (USD18.7 million) with a validity of 20 years. A limit of 2×15MHz per operator will apply to ensure that there are at least two winners.

Thursday 22 October 2020

Bosnia and Herzegovina - the last European Country with 4G is Not Ready for 5G

The Bosnian telecom market has been liberalised and a regulatory framework created based on the EU’s regulatory framework for communications. Although Bosnia-Herzegovina remains an EU candidate country, in July 2017 it applied amended mobile roaming charges to fit in with changes introduced across the Union. Further roaming agreements were made in 2019 with other western Balkan countries

The market is characterised by three zones, each with an incumbent operator. The largest operator BH Telecom is the dominant provider, while Telekom Srpske (m:tel) operates in Republika Srpska and HT Eronet (HT Mostar) is active in Herzegovina. Together, these three incumbent operators control 99% of the market. All three are subject to specific obligations designed to improve competition.

The fixed-line broadband network is comparatively underdeveloped, with the result that investments made in mobile upgrades by BH Mobile and Telekom Srpske are facilitating broadband connectivity in the country to a greater extent than is common elsewhere in Europe. Internet services are available through the incumbents and a number of alternative operators. DSL and cable are the main platforms for fixed-line connectivity, while fibre broadband as yet has only a small market presence.

The three mobile network operators, each affiliated with one of the incumbent fixed-line operators, provide national coverage. Their upgraded networks are helping to support broadband in rural areas where fixed-line infrastructure is insufficient. In addition, mobile data and mobile broadband offers will provide future revenue growth given the limited potential of mobile voice services.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s telecom’s regulator Regulatorna agencija za komunikacije (RAK) has issued 4G licences to the nation’s trio of mobile network operators in April 2019. The concessions are valid for 15 years and oblige the licence holders to begin offering commercial 4G services within one month of the award. The operators are also required to ensure the networks covers 90% of the country’s territory within five years of the award.

The RAK did not stipulate which spectrum band the allocated frequencies were in. Previously, RAK had identified the 1800 MHz band (B3) for LTE use, alongside the 900 MHz (B8) and 2100 MHz (B1) ranges, which are currently used for 2G and 3G networks, respectively. In 2019/20 4G/LTE started as one of the last countries in Europe on all three networks.

In April 2019 Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia agreed to reduce roaming charges between their Balkan countries. The agreement will come into effect from July 2019 when roaming costs will be lowered and mobile calls will cost 0.19 € per minute, an SMS will cost 6 cents and internet will be 2.5 cents per MB roaming between these countries. It's intended to end all roaming surcharges by summer 2021 which is a prerequisite to eventually join the EU/EEA common roaming zone.

BH Telecom is the leading provider in the country with a 45% share in 2015. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 and 900 MHz. First trials with 4G/LTE started in 2014 and the commercial launch was in April 2019. The operator is planning to expand 4G coverage to 60% of the territory by the end of 2019.

BH Telecom has successfully tested 5G technology, achieving downlink speeds of 1.4Gbps. The operator announced the development in a press release, noting that the test had taken place in a multi-vendor environment. BH Telecom stopped short of setting out a timetable for a commercial deployment of 5G, however, saying only that such a development would arrive when demand for the speeds offered by the next generation of mobile broadband warranted it, and the appropriate regulations were in place. Meanwhile, the operator did state its intention to utilise 5G to provide a fixed wireless access (FWA) service in rural areas, when it does eventually commercialise the technology.

m:tel owned by Serbian Telekom Srpske is BH Telecom's biggest rival in the country and the number 2 provider with a 41% share. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 and 900 MHz. First trials with 4G/LTE started in 2013, and the commercial launch was in April 2019.

HT Eronet by HT Mostar is the smallest provider with only 14% market share. In 2016 national roaming has ended, leaving HT Eronet clients to rely on their own limited infrastructure; 2G is on 900 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz, 4G/LTE started in May 2019. 

Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) had reported back in 2019 that LTE Networks were deployed in every European country after the last major not-spot, Bosnia and Herzegovina, gained an LTE network in April 2019, less than a month after Telekom Srpske (m:tel) was awarded its licence. As you can see above, we do not know when will 5G arrive in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is an uphill task for the operators to educate the end users in the country.

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Libya has Deployed 5G in spite of all the Issues surrounding them

Libya is struggling to rebuild its economy and infrastructure following disruption caused by foreign interventions, civil war and the subsequent political unrest. Much of the telecom infrastructure was destroyed or stolen, including about a quarter of the country’s mobile tower sites. Reconstruction efforts are delayed due to a lack of cooperation between the two opposing administrations, in Tripoli and Tobruk, there is no consensus as to how to rebuild infrastructure on a national scale. Nevertheless, progress is being made in rebuilding infrastructure, and this has resulted in a resurgence in the number of connected fixed-lines as large numbers of the population are again able to access services.

Despite the destruction to telecom infrastructure what is left remains superior to what exists in other African countries. Considerable investment had been made by the former government in a next-generation national fibre optic backbone network. There was considerable expansion of DSL and WiMAX broadband services, and new international fibre connections and upgrades made to existing ones. Libya also had one of Africa’s first Fibre-to-the-Premises (FttP) deployments. 

With one of the highest market penetration rates in Africa, the mobile voice market is supported by some of the lowest tariffs on the continent and one of the highest per capita GDP levels. Opportunities remain in the broadband sector where market penetration is still relatively low. So far, 4G services have only a limited reach and thus the development of mobile broadband has been slow. Fixed-line penetration has fallen significantly because of the war but is also expected to see a renaissance, including fibre, as the demand for very high-speed broadband increases.

The Libyan Post and Telecommunications Information Technology Company (LPTIC), is the state's telecoms holding company that owns Libya’s two main mobile operators Al-Madar and Libyana.

Al-Madar established in 1995, was the first  operator in North Africa they currently have over 3 million subscribers ranging from government establishments, to businesses and individuals. 

Al-Madar has launched its 5G service to improve telecommunications in the country with speed reaching 1.5 Gbps a second in Tripoli. The operator says 5G service is part of its five-point strategy of 2016-2020. They added that they successfully installed the trial network and thus became the first operator to launch this service in the region. They aim to install this service in main cities by 2020 and they will allow businesses to have access to LOT service.

Libyana the other major operator was the first to launch 4G LTE network in the country. Coverage was initially limited to the cities of Tripoli, Zawiya, Sabha and Misrata, although the company expects to add further locations to its footprint in the near future.

Open Signal recently analysed mobile network experience across the two main mobile network operators in Libya — Al-Madar and Libyana — over a period of 90 days beginning June 1, 2020 to see how they compare.

Al-Madar has achieved that rare feat of winning all of the national awards outright — and in some measures of the mobile experience by an impressive margin. For example, it commanded a 12.8 point (22.8%) lead over Libyana on Voice App Experience, led on Upload Speed Experience by a margin of 27.8% and was seven percentage points ahead of its rival on 4G Availability.

While many of the scores observed by Libyan users are modest by international standards, it should be noted that both Al-Madar and Libyana have been making rapid progress — progress that is all the more remarkable for taking place against the backdrop of a civil war. This was recently illustrated by the news back in August that Al-Madar had succeeded in restoring mobile services to the city of Sirte, which had been without them for three months in the wake of its capture by the rebel Libyan National Army (LNA) and its subsequent clashes with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.

Here is a video that summarises the state of mobile networks in Libya

Thursday 15 October 2020

Digital First with Virgin Mobile UAE

Back in 2017, the Virgin Mobile brand was officially launched by Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC) in the UAE, making history as the first fully digital mobile service in the country. Karim Benkirane, the then Managing Director of Virgin Mobile UAE, said the brand has ditched tradition by operating exclusively through a mobile app.

The Virgin Mobile UAE app signifies a paradigm shift in the mobile industry, digitally designed to simplify life for residents and citizens. The unique Virgin Mobile distribution model allows customers to simply download an app and have a SIM card delivered to them within an hour. The digital experience gives Virgin Mobile UAE customers new levels of flexibility and convenience.

Ever since the launch of Virgin Mobile in the UAE many people have questioned the relationship between du and Virgin Mobile, and whether the two brands will compete head-to-head or work together. Karim insists that Virgin Mobile as a brand will complement du because the two brands will work together to target different segments of the market in the UAE.

The important thing to remember about Virgin Mobile UAE, however, is that it’s not a telecom operator and it also isn’t an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). Virgin Mobile in Saudi Arabia, which Karim previously led as CEO, is an MVNO, whereas Virgin Mobile UAE is simply a brand as part of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, the parent company of "du".

"It’s only EITC that has a license and they are the operator - we don’t have one," Karim confirmed to Telecom Review. "We are simply a brand of EITC alongside the du brand. We are the third mobile brand in the UAE market. The Virgin Mobile brand is known as an MVNO in other markets but that’s not the case here. We are controlled, managed and owned by EITC."

Back in June this year, Virgin Mobile UAE announced the appointment of Rob Beswick as the new managing director. Karim Benkirane, moved to head up a new project at du as the Executive Vice President of Business Transformation, tasked with driving the digital transformation of the UAE telco. 

Rob’s vision for Virgin Mobile UAE is to build on Virgin Mobile UAE’s position as the customer champion by creating a benchmark digital model for the mobile industry. By embracing next generation technology, such as 5G, he is committed to leading the brand forward ensuring that it offers the most innovative, simplest and best digital lifestyle experience for customers in the market.

In a keynote delivered yesterday at Telecoms World Middle East, Rob talked about "Go digital or go home". His talk was full of some very important details on their approach and how they are simplifying the approach to get SIM and connectivity. 

For MNOs and MVNOs to transform into a Digital Service Provider (DSP), a complete shift in mindset is required, not just selling through apps. The journey starts by simplifying the journey from customer acquisition all the way to selling them services and informing them of the best plan available for them.

One of the innovations revolved around a plan where users can pay upfront for 6 or 12 months and get more out of it rather than paying monthly. This was a surprise hit and is the second most popular plan with the network. 

There was plenty to talk and discuss, hopefully we will hear from Rob again about this Virgin Mobile UAE's digital journey.

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Tuesday 13 October 2020

Czechia Sharpens Focus on 5G and Industry 4.0

The Czech mobile market is dominated by three operators, T-Mobile (owned by Deutsche Telekom, O2 (owned by PPF) and Vodafone (UK-owned).All of these have focused on growing revenue by marketing mobile broadband and other value-added services such as mobile content and applications. To this end they have invested in LTE infrastructure and technologies, technologies including LTE-A and tri-band carrier aggregation are being widely deployed. T-Mobile and O2 are both active in developing services and applications based on 5G.

Since a few years already more than 50 MVNOs have started up: COOP mobile, TESCO mobile,, OpenCall, Kaktus, and SAZKA mobile are given as examples for good data rates, but there are still some more on the market.

2G/GSM covers all of the country on 900 and 1800 MHz like in the rest of Europe. 3G/UMTS is usually on 2100 MHz but it is available only in bigger cities. 4G/LTE is on 800 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2600 MHz (Bands 1, 3, 7, 20) available to all users and the coverage is much better than 3G. For 5G auctions will be held in 2020 and some operators have already started on n38 (3500 MHz) in city centers.

GSMA Intelligence brief on Czech Republic pointed out that with three established players, in Q2, the Czech Republic had around 14.8 million mobile connections, mobile penetration of 138 per cent, mobile broadband penetration of 80 per cent and 4G network coverage of 99.6 per cent.

All three operators have 4G/LTE coverage 99% of population in 2018. O2 and T-Mobile also have network sharing agreements for 2G and 3G practically everywhere outside of Prague and Brno. That's why their footprint is almost the same outside these two towns.

Czech T-Mobile has good 2G and 3G coverage throughout the Czech Republic rivalling with O2 and Vodafone. It's the market leader in the country with 40% share. 4G/LTE is also open for prepaid on 800, 1800, 2100 and 2600 MHz (Bands 1, 3, 7, 20) with almost the same coverage as O2 at 98% in 2020.

O2 has a good coverage in the country giving you good speed. 4G/LTE is on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz (Bands 3, 7, 20) and available for prepaid: coverage map. Its 4G/LTE network provides coverage to 90% of the Czech population of the population and combined 3G/4G coverage at 99% and 93% for LTE in 2017. Speed is up to 300 Mbit/s on 4G with prepaid.

Vodafone is the smallest of the 3 nationwide network providers by customers numbers in the Czech Republic, but with the best coverage of 4G/LTE right now. 4G/LTE runs on 4 different frequencies on 800, 1800, 2100 and 2600 MHz (Bands 1, 3, 7, 20). For coverage map check here. Vodafone's 4G/LTE is called "Turbo Internet" and they claim a 99% coverage in 2017.

Mobile network operator Vodafone Czech Republic has launched its non-standalone (NSA) 5G network in a number of major cities throughout the country. They have launched 5G services in the Prague Metro, reports A total of 15 stations are covered, and this is planned to expand by February 2021 to 36 stations.

Vodafone uses the 1,800 MHz band, on which the 4G network runs simultaneously thanks to Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology.

A consortium formed by several operators covered the metro together in order to build the passive network. The active part of the network is already handled by each operator individually,  and Vodafone was the first to install the 5G technology.

Needless to say, the country exhibits impressive statistics, serving as a solid foundation for 5G. To that end, a steady shift towards 5G is predicted, with connections penetration forecast to reach 22 per cent by the end of 2025, which is quite impressive relative to other European Union (EU) countries.

Beyond any 5G foundations, the latest developments from the country’s operators and regulator show how momentum is accelerating to help bring 5G into the mainstream.

O2 Czech Republic became the first operator in the market to launch commercial 5G services in July, during the pandemic, by refarming existing LTE frequencies in the 800MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2600MHz spectrum bands.

Vodafone, in turn, announced it would disconnect its 3G network by Q1 2021: it expects to use the frequencies more efficiently allowing additional available bandwidth for 5G as it stands ready to launch a network in October.

Along with these on-going developments, the Czech Republic is joining only a select few EU countries in reserving spectrum for enterprise use.

The regulator is promoting Industry 4.0 by reserving a spectrum block in the 3400MHz to 3600MHz band specifically for its deployment by enterprises. The holders of these blocks will be obliged to allow the industry an independent use of the radio frequencies.
Picture source: Spectrum Monitoring

Now, the key questions are why does Industry 4.0 matter so much for the Czech Republic and what role will 5G play?

The answers lie in the importance of the manufacturing sector, which contributed 32 per cent to the nation’s GDP in 2019. The booming industrial sector now leads all other sectors in terms of employment and gross value added. However, two key challenges threaten this success: an increasingly acute labour shortage; and low productivity, which is pushing the nation into a middle-income trap.

Technology and automation can possibly address the above challenges, delivering digitised production lines and robotic systems in support of smart factories. The development of such applications and platforms, of course, will largely depend on the existence of fast, reliable and high capacity networks. Offering low latency, high speed and throughput 5G, then, promises to be the technology which will enable Industry 4.0.

GSMAi blog post points out that the Czech Republic’s telecom landscape is robust and appears ripe for 5G launches. Moreover, the existing requirements of Industry 4.0 and the ability of 5G networks to deliver on those promises clear synergies. The manufacturing sector gains by automation and reduced labour dependency. Operators, meanwhile, benefit from a new customer segment (manufacturing) and can better support consumer demands at the same time.

The nation presents an opportunity to offer some of the interesting developments in Industry 4.0. What is required, at this juncture, is for operators to act quickly and work towards partnerships, and expedite 5G launches as the technology can serve as a much-needed boost to the sector coupled with lift to the economy.

Friday 9 October 2020

Taiwan Banks on 5G Services for Next Five Years of Growth

Taiwan has a very  dynamic and competitive mobile market comprising of five mobile network operators: Chunghwa Telecom 中華電信 , Taiwan Mobile 台灣大哥大 , FET 遠傳電信 , T Star 台灣之星 and GT 亞太電信.

High mobile penetration has resulted in intense competition to gain new subscribers. As a result, the market was quick to embrace 4G services as operators developed networks and service to provide them with a competitive edge. Operators are also gearing up to deploy 5G in a range of bands later in 2020.

The mobile segment is relatively well developed compared to other Asian markets. It has experienced negative growth over the last five years due to an increasingly saturated market. Flat to very slow growth is predicted through to 2024. The market will be constrained from higher growth due to the high penetration rate and strong local competition.

As with any shift in the market landscape, Taiwan’s three smaller players saw the introduction of LTE as an opportunity to expand their market share, principally by offering more value to end users through higher speeds and/or lower prices.

Taiwan has seen a rapid increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past five years, driven by strong growth in the number of users on LTE. Further growth during the next five years will be stimulated by the introduction of services based on 5G, which will offer faster speeds and greater flexibility. This in turn should see the addition of subscribers who choose to abandon fixed-broadband for mobile-only solutions.

The Taiwan government intends to shut down 3G networks. All five operators intended to shut down their 3G networks by the end of 2018 when their 3G licenses expired. As of 2020, 3G may still be in operation for some period/for roaming but the operators say that they will shut it down when the government orders them to do so. 2G ended in summer of 2017. 

Taiwan is still one of the few countries that offers "real" unlimited internet. Rates are amongst the lowest in the world and networks are fast and efficient, although slower speeds may be noticed at peak times. No restrictions on website access such as the firewall in mainland China are imposed. Tethering is also allowed on plans as well. Furthermore, free public WiFi networks included in the purchase of airport SIMs also provide additional online access, but users should be advised that the networks can be laggy and quite slow at times.

According to the recent report by Open Signal Taiwanese users benefit from having very strong 4G Availability, with three operators — FET, Taiwan Mobile and GT — all offering 4G Availability of 95% or higher. According to our recent State of Mobile Experience 2020 report, only six countries currently have 4G Availability that exceeds 95%: Taiwan, the U.S., the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and Norway. It’s also important to note that GT users benefit from that operator’s roaming relationship with Taiwan Mobile, which means that GT users roam on Taiwan Mobile’s network when necessary.

Not surprisingly, operators in Taiwan are very focused on delivering a strong gaming experience to their subscribers. In February 2020 Opensignal report on the State of the Mobile Games Experience in the 5G Era, Taiwan ranked No. 24 out of 100 countries. In fact, the country had a slight edge over Canada, which has some of the best download speeds in the world.

In their analysis of data from February 1 until April 30, 2020, Taiwan Mobile won their first-ever Games Experience Award in Taiwan. 

But the island isn’t only strong in gaming. The results also show that Taiwanese consumers enjoy a pretty good experience with voice apps. In Opensignal’s Voice App Experience category, which assesses the perceived quality of voice calls using apps like WhatsApp, Skype or Facebook Messenger, four out of the five Taiwanese operators achieved scores of 80 and above on a scale of 1-100 with GT only falling slightly below 80 with a score of 79.2.

In January 2020, Taiwan wrapped up its auction of 5G spectrum with all five operators participating and spending about US$4.6 billion on spectrum, making it the third-priciest spectrum auction in the world, according to Taipei Times CHT plans to be the first to launch a commercial 5G service on July 1. The move to 5G will set off a new round of competition in Taiwan as operators look to use 5G to differentiate their offerings.

Chunghwa Telecom is the largest telecommunications provider in the country dominating the market. Their mobile products are marketed under the brand name Emome.

Chunghwa Telecom aims to deploy 3,000 5G base stations by the end of 2022. The operator has been deploying 5G base stations in the municipalities of Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung.

They have spent NT$45.67 billion ($1.52 billion) for 90 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band and NT$618 million for 600 megahertz in the 28 GHz band. The operator selected Ericsson and Nokia as 5G RAN vendors. Ericsson said that will use the vendor’s Radio System base stations and Ericsson’s 5G core, including its 5G Evolved Packet Core. 

Taiwan Mobile is the second provider in the country. It has also performed well in coverage and speeds. They market their products under the brand “myfone”.

Taiwan Mobile was the third major operator in the market to secure a 5G operating licence, they  acquired 60 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band and 200 megahertz of the 28 GHz frequency and they plan to have 4,000 base stations deployed and running by the end of 2020.

FarEasTone (FET) is the third largest operator  in Taiwan at end-March 2020, with 7.1 million subscribers, according to GSMA Intelligence data. It started in 1998, launched 4G/LTE in 2014 on 700 (B28), 1800 (B3) and 2600 MHz (B7). It has good coverage and speeds.

The operator selected Ericsson and Nokia as 5G RAN vendors. Ericsson said that will use the vendor’s Radio System base stations and Ericsson’s 5G core, including its 5G Evolved Packet Core. The operator stated that using Ericsson for 5G services will reduce the complexity of the migration for 4G to 5G, because the operator was already working with Ericsson as the sole vendor for its 4G LTE network

As part of the rollout, Ericsson Spectrum Sharing and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered radio access network solutions will be deployed. The Ericsson Spectrum Sharing will help FET to allocate spectrum assets efficiently based on traffic demand using existing infrastructure, while the AI-driven software capabilities will increase 5G coverage and 4G performance. Other offerings include Massive MIMO AIR 3239, Ericsson Spectrum Sharing, Uplink Booster and AI-powered 5G management. The communications service provider has also deployed Ericsson Radio Dots on the 3.5GHz band to boost indoor coverage.

FET had previously secured 80 megahertz in the 3.5 GHz band and 400 megahertz in the 28 GHz band.

By the close of 2020, FET aims to deploy more than 4,000 base stations and deliver “a coverage rate of up to 50 per cent of the population”. Taipei Times reported the operator planned to invest between TWD20 billion ($679.1 million) and TWD30 billion into its 5G network over the next three years: TWD10 billion of this is due in 2020. It quoted company president Chee Ching as stating signing up 1 million subscribers in the first year was “achievable”.

The operator has detailed several strategies to encourage subscribers to upgrade. A key element is its monthly tariffs, with seven-tiers available priced from TWD599 to TWD2,699 offering data rates of 500Mb/s to 1.5Gb/s. They also plan to use big data analysis to provide tailored services including “e-commerce, mobile financial services, audio-visual and e-sports entertainment, and other value-added” content.

 T Star a.k.a. Taiwan Star is Taiwan’s smallest network. It was called Vibo before and has good coverage and reasonable speeds. 4G/LTE is on 900 and 2600 MHz with a 98% coverage in 2015. T Star is however not available yet on some smaller islands.

Taiwan Star had previously selected Nokia for its NSA 5G network deployment. The operator launched its 5G network in August 2020. The coverage of its 5G networks in Taiwan’s major metropolitan areas has reached 50% and will top 80% by the end of this year. Taiwan Star also said it expects to expand its 5G network coverage to other cities, counties and the suburbs of these major metropolitan areas by 2023 and to have a total of 1,000 base stations by the end of the year, mostly in Taiwan’s six special municipalities.

The operator also said it aims to  focus on cross-industry collaborative efforts to tap emerging business opportunities including video and gaming streaming and AR/VR applications, optimizing big data analysis, cloud computing, IoT and digital marketing.

Taiwan Star currently has 2.42 million subscribers and expects to reach over four million in five years with the launch of 5G services. Taiwan Star had secured 40 megahertz in the 3.5 GHz band in a previous spectrum auction.

GT Mobile is the brand of Asia Pacific Telecom (APTC) and has been the CDMA network in Taiwan, that was closed down at end of 2017. 

The network has been switched over to 4G/LTE now. Its 4G/LTE is on 700 MHz (B28), 900 MHz (B8) and 2600 MHz in TD-LTE (as B38).

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Tuesday 6 October 2020

Rakuten Launches Cut-price 5G with Promise to Save Money

5G made an official debut in Japan back in April but as Rakuten is a new operator, it was not ready with its 5G network back then. Now they have just launched their 5G network and plan to shake the market with their innovative plans and approach.

Their official press release said:

Tokyo, September 30, 2020 – Rakuten Mobile, Inc. today announced the launch of its 5th generation mobile communications system (5G) service and a new and enhanced “Rakuten UN-LIMIT V” service plan which offers customers access to 5G services for the same 2,980 yen monthly fee as the previous “Rakuten UN-LIMIT 2.0” plan. From today, existing subscribers of the Rakuten UN-LIMIT 2.0 service plan will be able to use 5G services for no additional cost, in 5G service areas with a 5G-compatible device.

Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO of Rakuten, Inc., and Representative Director, Chairman and CEO of Rakuten Mobile, Inc. commented, “Less than six months since full-scale commercial launch of the world's first fully virtualized mobile network, today Rakuten Mobile takes another step forward to transform the mobile industry: We're offering customers 4G and 5G combined in one simple plan – Rakuten UN-LIMIT V – at the same low price as 4G.

Our network technology is built to meet the ever-evolving needs of our customers – and with transformational innovation, we are passing on significant savings to our customers. As we move forward to expand 4G and 5G coverage, we aim to reduce the household cost of mobile services. This is also about encouraging consumer spending across other services and goods, contributing to the sustainable health of Japan's national economy.

Today, we're one step closer to transforming telecommunications and building a brighter future for everyone.”

Rakuten Mobile built the world’s first end-to-end fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network and launched full-scale commercial carrier services on the network in April 2020. The network architecture allows for substantial reductions in capital investment and operating costs, enabling the operator to offer the Rakuten UN-LIMIT V service plan, which includes both 4th generation mobile communications system (4G) and 5G services, for the same monthly fee of 2,980 yen. By leveraging the synergies between 5G and various offerings from the broad portfolio of Rakuten Group businesses to develop engaging new content and services, Rakuten Mobile aims to provide customers with a next-generation mobile experience.

Along with the launch of the new Rakuten UN-LIMIT V plan, the company also unveiled the “Rakuten BIG,” a new original 5G smartphone from Rakuten Mobile. In addition to this new product, users of the AQUOS R5G smartphone that went on sale in June 2020 will be able to use Rakuten Mobile’s 5G service after installing a software update to be released by Sharp Corporation from 3:30 p.m. on September 30.

Now offering 5G: Rakuten UN-LIMIT V

With Rakuten UN-LIMIT, Rakuten Mobile’s aim is to offer a service plan without complex terms and conditions ­– a plan that is simple, intuitive and easy-to-use for all customers, whether they are in Japan or traveling internationally. For 5G, Rakuten Mobile will continue its one service plan strategy by updating its Rakuten UN-LIMIT 2.0 service plan, which launched in April 2020 and offers subscribers unlimited data and calls for a monthly fee of 2,980 yen, to Rakuten UN-LIMIT V, which offers 5G services in addition to 4G. Starting today, the one plan offered to customers will be Rakuten UN-LIMIT V.

Current Rakuten UN-LIMIT 2.0 service plan customers who wish to use 5G services can now upgrade their service plan to Rakuten UN-LIMIT V on the “My Rakuten Mobile” app or through the Rakuten Mobile website. For other customers, service plans will be automatically upgraded to Rakuten UN-LIMIT V starting October 12, 2020*8. New applicants for the Rakuten UN-LIMIT V plan are also eligible for the campaign offering 3 million subscribers the first full year of service free of monthly fees launched in March 2020.

Overview of the service plan

- Plan name: Rakuten UN-LIMIT V

- Monthly fee: 2,980 yen

- Launch date: 3:30 p.m. on September 30, 2020

- Rakuten Points: Users will earn 1 Rakuten Point for every 100 yen spent on their Rakuten Mobile bill. Rakuten Mobile subscribers will also earn an additional +1% point-back incentive through the Super Point Up (SPU) program for purchases on Rakuten Ichiba.

Rakuten Mobile’s fully virtualized 5G mobile network

Rakuten Mobile’s 4G network is the world’s first fully virtualized cloud native mobile network. In its 5G network, excluding the core network, all 5G network functions, such as the virtualized OpenRAN, cloud and OSS, are run on the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP), a telco platform that is based on containers for more flexible and stable development. Rakuten Mobile’s telecommunications platform utilizes equipment and software from trusted partners.

Rakuten Mobile’s network offers Non-Stand Alone (NSA) 5G service from September 30, 2020. Stand Alone (SA)*9 5G service is planned for launch in the second quarter of 2021. 

About the 5G service area

- Service area: Parts of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Hokkaido, Osaka and Hyogo (as of September 30, 2020) *For more details, please see the official site*2. Rakuten Mobile will continue to expand the service area.

- 5G transmission speed:

 As of September 30, 2020: Maximum download speed: Approx. 870Mbps / Maximum upload speed: Approx. 110Mbps

 As of November 2020 (planned): Maximum download speed: Approx. 2.8Gbps / Maximum upload speed: Approx. 275Mbps

- 5G-compatible devices: Rakuten BIG, AQUOS R5G *Please see the device specifications for more details on the maximum transmission speeds for each device.

You can also read Rakuten blog on this topic here and details of their new 5G device, Rakuten BIG here. You can find the detailed specifications of the smartphone here.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions as the tweet above shows with details in this Light Reading article here.

The Mobile Network on the other hand has a technically detailed article here that provides information on different vendors, ecosystem partners and the different chipsets by Qualcomm and Intel in use.

Some other interesting articles around this launch include this on Linked from Dean Bubley, article from Telecom TV and finally this Light Reading article that is questioning Rakuten's investment in Altiostar and if it is worth $250 million.

Here is the complete video from the 5G launch that Rakuten kindly shared on their YouTube channel

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Saturday 3 October 2020

Austria Gets New 5G Spectrum

The Austrian Regulatory Authority for Broadcasting and Telecommunications (RTR) announced the latest round of spectrum auction results last month.  

5G Observatory provides more details here:

In September 2020, the Austrian regulator RTR finally completed the delayed multi-band 5G auction. RTR had to postpone the auction due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The second 5G auction in Austria awarded frequencies in the 700 MHz, 1,500 MHz and 2,100 MHz bands, raising 202 million EUR. In March 2019, 3.4- 3.8GHz spectrum was auctioned to seven successful bidders generating 188 million EUR.

27 blocks were up for sale, including six blocks in the 700MHz band, twelve in the 2100MHz range and nine in the 1500MHz band.

T-Mobile Austria paid 87 million EUR for 2×20MHz of 700MHz spectrum, 20MHz in the 1500MHz band and 2×15MHz of 2100MHz spectrum. A1 Telekom will pay 66 million EUR for 30MHz of frequencies in the 1500MHz band and 2×25MHz in the 2100MHz range. The incumbent player did not get 700 MHz spectrum. Hutchison Drei won 2×10MHz of 700MHz spectrum, 30MHz in the 1500MHz band and 2×20MHz of 2100MHz frequencies for a total of 50 million EUR.

The government aims to deploy 5G on main traffic routes by the end of 2023 and to reach “virtually nationwide” 5G coverage by the end of 2025. 700 MHz licences will include coverage of 80% of 2,100 underserved communities with download speeds of 30 Mbps and 3 Mbps for upload by 2027, and 90% of federal and state roads should get at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads.

Back in March 2019, Austria awarded 20-year 3.4-3.8 GHz licences to the three national mobile incumbents and to four regional players for a total of 188 million EUR. Amounts raised are significantly lower than those reached in Italy.

For 100 to 140 MHz in all regions, A1 paid 64.3 million EUR. T-Mobile won 100 MHz in all regions for 56.9 million EUR. Hutchison Drei got 100 MHz in all regions and paid 51.9 million EUR.

Four regional players (Mass Response, Liwest, Salzburg AG, Holding Graz) secured between 30 and 80 MHz of spectrum in one or two regions.

Liwest bought 80 MHz for both Linz and Upper Austria for 5.3 million EUR. Salzburg AG paid 4.4 million EUR for 80 MHz of spectrum in the regions of Salzburg city and Salzburg state (80 MHz) and 40 MHz in Styria. Holding Graz paid almost 3 million EUR for a 50 MHz licence in Graz and a 40 MHz one in Styria. The MVNO Mass Response acquired 30 MHz of spectrum for the Lower Austria and Burgenland region for 1.8 million EUR.

The three national operators must build at least 300 base stations nationwide before the end of 2020.

Frankly, some of the new bands could also be used for 4G if the operator so wishes but it may not be worth deploying 4G when 5G deployments have started in earnest. 

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