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 Zive.sk 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.

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