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.

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