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, mobil.cz, OpenCall, Kaktus, Odorik.cz 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 Mobilmania.cz. 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.

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