Tuesday 22 December 2020

5G to get Better in Spain Next Year

Spain’s telecom market is one of the largest in Europe, supported by a population of more than 46 million. Mobile penetration is on a par with the European average and there remains room for further growth, particularly in the mobile broadband segment which has been supported by continuing investment in infrastructure among operators. With LTE almost universally available, the focus among operators has shifted to services based on 5G. Vodafone Spain was the first operator to launch a 5G network, in June 2019. The other players planned to wait until after the auction of spectrum in the 700MHz band, though the COVID-19 crisis has delayed this to June 2020.

The fixed-line broadband sector has also been backed by investment in fibre infrastructure, enabling providers to develop improved bundled services and to compete more effectively. The regulator has fostered competition by providing access to Telefónica’s DSL and FttP networks, while network sharing agreements have meant that Orange Spain, Vodafone Spain and Másmóvil have become significant operators. By the beginning of 2020 fibre accounted for about 67% of all fixed broadband connections. Telefónica alone expected to provide complete FttP coverage by 2024.

Spain has 4 network operators: Movistar (owned by Telefónica), Vodafone, Orange and Yoigo (with free roaming on Orange and Movistar).The country is all covered by 2G and mostly by 3G up to HSPA+ and DC-HSPA and 4G/LTE in towns. Nationwide the big three providers Movistar, Vodafone and Orange are neck on neck with a similar coverage and market shares. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz. Yoigo is a 3G/4G-only network with limited own resources, but free roaming on Orange and Movistar, giving it a very good coverage too.

4G/LTE was launched by all operators in 2013 using 800 (B20), 1800 (B3) and 2600 (B7) MHz frequencies. In 2017 Vodafone had the best 4G/LTE coverage at 96.5% followed by Orange with 91.7%, Movistar and Yoigo at 89% of the population.

5G was started in 2019 by Vodafone and Telefónica on 3500 (n78) in some city areas. So far only Vodafone has made 5G accessible for prepaid users on some plans.

According to Open Signal network tests in 2020 all 4 providers remain very much on par at 89-91% 4G/LTE coverage. Movistar has proven to be the fastest network with 34 Mbit/s on average.

Orange in Spain has expanded its 5G coverage to three new cities after launching the new network technology in September. The new cities covered by Orange’s 5G network are Zaragoza, Logroño and Pamplona, which adds to Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Malaga. Orange also said it expects to launch 5G in 93 towns and cities across Spain before the end of 2020.

Orange has launched commercial 5G services in Spain in September using equipment provided by Ericsson. The European carrier is currently offering this technology through spectrum in the 3.6-3.8MHz band using NSA architecture. 

Operating on 3.6GHz spectrum, the 5G network in Madrid and Barcelona is powered by the Ericsson Radio System (Baseband 6648 and AIR 6488 antenna), delivering massive multiple-input multiple-output, which increases network capacity and spectral efficiency.Ericsson also supplied Orange Spain with a 5G Evolved Packet Core to support 5G New Radio non-standalone (NSA), including control plane, user plane and policy network functions.

The Vodafone network has 2G up to EDGE, 3G, 4G/LTE and now on 5G NR up to 1 Gbit/s open for all prepaid tariffs and plans. Meanwhile, it has expanded its 4G/LTE coverage to most areas. In 2019 5G NR started in 15 city centers on 3500 MHz (n78) and has been made accessible on some tariffs.

This was Spain’s first commercial 5G network in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Malaga, Zaragoza, Bilbao, Vitoria, San Sebastian, La Coruna, Vigo, Gijon, Pamplona, Logrono and Santander in June 2019. The carrier had previously said that it was working with Huawei and Ericsson in the deployment of the 5G network.

Movistar by Telefónica is on 2G up to EDGE, 3G up to HSPA+ and 4G/LTE. 5G NR has started but is not available for prepaid so far.

Telefónica is still the incumbent and main landline provider and used to be market leader in Spain, but its prepaid offer was not competitive enough. This changed in 2019 when Movistar finally released affordable prepaid options in promotions.

Telefonica has already activated its 5G network in 640 towns and cities across the country, according to recent press reports. They already provides its 5G service to approximately 42% of the Spanish population. The telco previously said it aims to cover 75% of the population with the new technology by the end of 2020.

In September, the Spanish telco announced the launch of non-standalone (NSA) 5G commercial services in the country. Telefonica’s initial 5G deployment phase included 150 cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, almost all the cities with 30,000, more than 50% of those with 20,000 inhabitants and some with more than 10,000 inhabitants.

The operator is offering its 5G service through spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 1.8-2.1 GHz bands. Telefónica previously said that it had initially launched 5G services thanks to a technology that combines the deployment of NSA (non-standalone) 5G and DSS (Dynamic Spectrum Sharing). Telefonica said it will launch a standalone (SA) 5G network across Spain once the technology becomes “fully available” after standardization.

Yoigo network operates up to HSPA+, 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz with free roaming on Orange network, giving a good coverage. They claim 85% 4G/LTE coverage on their own, but even more with their free roaming partner.

In 2016 they were sold from Telia to Másmóvil. From 2018 Yoigo customers can roam on Orange networks on 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE for free as well as Yoigo's own antennas giving it a very good coverage in the country.

In September 2020, Masmovil launched its 5G service in 15 cities across Spain for the customers of its Yoigo brand. The carrier said that the 5G service is being offered via a combination of own infrastructure and an agreement with rival operator Orange.

A possible integration between Vodafone Spain and MásMóvil has been reported.

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Wednesday 16 December 2020

East Timor is focusing on improving LTE coverage


The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, commonly known as East Timor occupies the eastern half of Timor island located in the Indonesian archipelago. It became independent in 1999 and recognized as a sovereign state in 2002.

Due to a limited number of fixed lines as well as the dominance of the mobile platform, fixed broadband penetration in Timor Leste remains very low. However, the market has grown strongly over the past five years from a very small base, driven by a rising level of mobile subscribers with smartphones. However, the mobile broadband market is still at an early stage of development. Over the next five years to 2023 the market is expected to grow very strongly but overall market penetration will remain extremely low compared to other nations.

All three major mobile operators: Timor Telecom (TT), Telkomcel  (Telin Timor-Leste) and Telemor (Viettel Timor-Leste) have recently launched 4G LTE services. A local consortium has submitted an application to become the country’s fourth telecoms operator. Ceslink intends to offer high-quality, high-speed and affordable telecoms services in all areas of the country.

2G and 3G is on all three operators in the country, 4G/LTE started in 2017 on all three operators too. Mobile phone coverage is fairly good in most of the country (some rugged rural areas can be hard to get a signal). 3G has decent coverage in the major towns (again, the best provider can vary by location), but it's hard to get coverage in smaller towns.

Telemor is operated by Vietnamese army backed Viettel and has beaten TT and became the most popular provider with 47% market share in 2017. It started as late as 2013 and has built up a good coverage ever since. 2G and 3G is on 900 and 1800 MHz covering more than 95%.

In 2017 they have started 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz. The new high speed service is available in all 13 of Timor-Leste’s districts, providing territorial coverage of 70%.

Timor Telecom was the market leader for a long time, but lost to Telemor recently. It used to be the only player from 2003, until in 2012 two new competitors have been licensed. It is co-owned by the E.Timor state and Brazilian Oi. It still has a good coverage, but the highest rates. About 94% of the population is covered at 188 2G and 122 3G sites.

2G/GSM is on 900 MHz and for 3G TT uses 2100 MHz network frequency in Dili and 850 MHz band elsewhere. 4G/LTE has started in 2017 on 1800 MHz (B3)

Telkomcel owned by Indonesian Telin (Telekomunikasi Indonesia) is the 3rd operator with a low 13% share in 2015. It covers 95% of the population already. 2G and 3G is both on 850 MHz only, which is rare in Asia for 3G. So check before, if your device can handle it.

It was the last operator that started 4G/LTE in 2017 for their 5th anniversary starting from Dili area, and continuing to expand to other districts.

Timor-Leste’s National Communications Authority (Autoridade Nacional de Comunicacoes, ANC) has invited mobile operators to submit applications for the allocation of spectrum in the 1800MHz, 2300MHz and 2600MHz bands. The move follows a consultation meeting held last month between the regulator and operators in response to new policy guidelines issued by the Ministry of Transport and Communications on maximising the use of radio frequency spectrum in Timor-Leste (No. 04/2020 of 23 September 2020).

In releasing spectrum in the 1800MHz, 2300MHz and 2600MHz bands, the ANC said it is aiming to: support the implementation of government policies; meet the need of mobile service providers, especially to provide better data services for customers in urban areas; promote the efficient use of radio frequency spectrum; and promote competition in the sector.

Wednesday 9 December 2020

Lots of Expectations from 5G in Georgia


The telecoms sector is one of the fastest growing areas of the Georgian economy, accounting for between 5% and 7% of GDP. There is still room for further growth, with penetration rates in the mobile and broadband segments relatively low by the standards of European benchmark countries. Growth in mobile broadband has been steady, supported by the auction of spectrum in the 800MHz and 2100MHz bands which has enabled the network operators to expand the reach and capabilities of LTE services. LTE services now cover the vast majority of the population. The regulator has also developed a strategy to introduce 5G, incorporating elements such as coverage obligations, network access, and the possibility of a joint venture to build the network. Spectrum considered for 5G is in line with European guidelines.

Georgia continues to face economic challenges which also impact the telecom sector. Revenue from fixed-line voice services has fallen sharply, while revenue from the mobile sector has been under stress from intense competition, compounded by the fall in messaging traffic as subscribers migrate to alternative OTT services. The overall market is largely propped up by the broadband sector, where the number of subscribers continues to increase steadily. The sharp growth in the number of fibre broadband connections has impacted on the DSL segment as customers are migrated from copper to fibre networks. DSL now accounts for only a small proportion of fixed broadband connections. This development reflects the significant investment in infrastructure in recent years, spurred by the government’s national broadband plan. Much of the investment in fixed-line infrastructure is earmarked for fibre networks, which will provide backhaul for future 5G services.

Currently in Georgia three GSM networks are in operation: MagtiCom, Geocell and Beeline. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G up to DC-HSPA+ on 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE started on all 3 networks on 800 and 1800 MHz (Bands 3 and 20) in Georgia.

MagtiCom is the market leader in the country. 4G/LTE started in 2015 in major cities on 1800 MHz (B3) and is now extended to 800 MHz (B20). They have the best coverage in the country. LTE covers 90% of population in 2016 already. They are the only ones to have good (LTE) coverage underground in Tbilisi Metro.

MagtiCom has announced it has started testing 5G technology. Without providing further details, the company says it is cooperating with ‘three leading telecommunication equipment manufacturers around the world’ to conduct the trials, and will also partner with a fourth in the near future. MagtiCom did emphasise, however, that it does not at this stage plan to launch 5G commercially, stating that as long as the average mobile data consumption in the retail segment does not exceed 15GB-20GB, then the launch of the technology cannot be justified.

Russian-owned Beeline operated by Mobitel is the smallest operator in the country. But it still has good coverage in 2G and 4G and its new 3G has started in March 2017.

Local fixed operator Silknet acquired Geocell from y Swedish Telia and Turkish Turkcell in 2018. It's the 2nd network in the country and started with 4G/LTE available in Tbilisi, Gudauri, Bakuriani and Kazbegi on 1800 MHz.

Coverage in Tbilisi Metro was poor: it is mostly GPRS or sometimes EDGE, so you will be able to make phone calls, but data is practically unusable underground.

SilkNet have now announced the deployment of a ‘gigabit LTE’ network in the capital Tbilisi. The rollout of the new mobile data network is aimed at ensuring the delivery of high speed and quality internet services. SilkNet states that its ‘gigabit LTE’ network is also available in the city of Batumi and will be expanded to the east and west of the country over the next year.

In 2014, Georgia agreed to gradually ensure the harmonization of the existing legislation in the field of electronic communications with the existing regulatory norms within the EU. With the assistance of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) analysed the non-compliance of Georgian legislation and regulatory norms with European directives. As a result, a two-stage package of legislative changes for radio communication was developed: The first stage involves the introduction of general liberal fundamental approaches while the second involves individual licensing. 

Due to the high importance given to 5G in the country, GNCC plans to hold an auction in 2020 to allocate the necessary spectrum. GNCC states that when determining the basic requirements for the 700 MHz and 3400-3800 MHz frequency spectrum, it is recommended for providers to make a specific coverage plan, which will include a specific list of cities and major roads to be covered under the 5G license. Besides, the regulator notes that the license should impose certain obligations regarding the coverage of specific settlements, as well as in terms of investments and network development.

Within the scope of auction, the regulator plans to make available following amount of spectrum in 700MHz, 800MHz, 3400-3800MHz frequency bands at the following auction prices in lari and approximate EUR conversions:
  • 20MHz in the 800MHz band (741,000 GEL/1MHz – 201,432 EUR /1MHz);
  • 60MHz in the 700MHz band (363,000 GEL/1MHZ – 98,677 EUR/1MHz);
  • 20MHz in the 700 (SDL) MHz band (391,000 GEL/1MHz – 106,289 EUR/1MHz);
  • 320MHz in the 3400-3800 MHz band (52,000 GEL/1MHz – 14,135 EUR/1MHz).
In April 2020, GNCC informed the local press that it has already carried out large-scale work to install 5G internet infrastructure and soon will announce a tender for operators. The Georgian Association of Small and Medium Operators indicated to local press that Internet tariffs will decline after 5G is introduced in the country, maintained that the GNCC sets optimal prices for operators leading up to the frequency spectrum auction in the country. As of August 2020, however, there has been no 5G-related testing or commercial launches in the country, although Beeline Georgia already indicated its interests in 5G networks.

Friday 4 December 2020

Vi Sakhi: Helping Women Keep Safe in India

In October 2018, Vodafone Idea Ltd (now called Vi) launched Sakhi, a service to address key barriers women face to accessing and using mobile in India, as well as women’s concerns about personal safety – both the safety issues and threats that may arise from owning a mobile and general safety concerns that women experience that mobile could help address.

GSMA documents a detailed case study on early evidence of Sakhi’s social impact and Vodafone’s key success factors in meeting the needs of female customers. It also provides practical recommendations for mobile operators and other stakeholders interested in reaching female customers with a similar service.

The PDF of the case study is available here.

The video above provides story from Sakhi's customers on how the service has dramatically improved their lives.

Wednesday 2 December 2020

Lithuania is Relaxed about 5G Rollout


Lithuania was once a powerful empire that dominated much of eastern Europe in the 14th–16th centuries before becoming part of the Polish-Lithuanian confederation for the next two centuries. It is one of the few countries that celebrates two independence days. Statehood Restoration Day on February 16 1918 from Russian Empire and German Empire and Independence Restoration Day on March 11 1990 from Soviet Union (a.k.a. USSR). It was admitted in EU and NATO in 2004.

Lithuania has three mobile network operators, each of which operates prepaid services under a different brand name: Telia - prepaid brands: Ežys and Extra, Tele2 - prepaid brand: Pildyk and Bitė - prepaid brand: Labas

SIM card penetration is relatively high for the region, and while the prepaid sector accounts for most subscribers, the proportion of higher-ARPU postpaid subscribers is increasing. Network operators continue to market mobile broadband services, made possible from investment in LTE technology. LTE services are available nationally, and although there have been some initial trials of 5G commercial services are not expected to be launched until late 2021. The regulator has consulted on the release of spectrum for 5G in a range of bands, though 700MHz spectrum will not be available until the second half of 2022.

A spectrum refarming exercise has enabled MNOs to have greater continuous spectrum bands to improve data service offerings. Since mid-2018 Telia Lithuania has repurposed some of its 3G spectrum holdings for LTE use.

All three major networks cover the country in 2G on 900 and 1800 MHz. 3G is covered by Tele2 (~98±1% on -95 dBm RSSI), by Telia (~96±1% on -95 dBm RSSI) and by Bitė (~96±1% on -95 dBm RSSI) on 2100 MHz and 900 MHz (in rural areas), -95 dBm RSSI is moderate strength connection for 3G. 4G LTE has started on Tele2 and Telia on 800 (B20), 1800 (B3) and 2600 (B7) MHz and covers around 99% of population in 2018. Bitė covers 97%  of population on the same frequencies in 2018. 4G is covered by Tele2 (~77.5±2.5% on -105 dBm RSRP), by Telia (~72.5±2.5% on -105 dBm RSRP) and by Bitė (~67.5±2.5% on -105 dBm RSRP). 4G coverage data is up to Febuary 1, 2018. -105 dBm RSRP is moderate strength connection for 4G.

According to OpenSignal report of 2018, 4G LTE availability (proportion of time OpenSignal app users have access to 4G network) in Lithuania is 88.40%. Average download speed on 4G LTE network is 30.78 Mbps (February, 2018). According to speedtest.net, average mobile internet download speed in Lithuania is 40.02 Mbps and 13.75 Mbps upload.

Generally, there is a very good 3G/4G coverage across the country. 

Telia Lithuania, formerly Omnitel, owned by the Swedish-Finnish Telia Group. It has the one of the best overall coverage together with Tele2. 4G/LTE already covers 99% of the population in 2018 and it is available to prepaid users without any surcharge. They offer two very similar prepaid brands called Extra and Ežys (hedgehog in English) that only work in Lithuania for data, not abroad.

Telia plans to refarm most of its 2100 MHz frequencies from its 3G network to increase the speed and capacity of its LTE mobile services by the end of 2020. This move will pave the way for the shutdown of its 3G network by the end of 2022. Telia states that 3G-only devices will still be able to connect to the 2G network, adding that around 97% of all mobile data traffic is currently carried over LTE network.

Telia have launched a trial 5G mobile network, after securing temporary frequency authorisation from the Communications Regulatory Authority (Rysiu Reguliavimo Tarnyba, RRT). The trial network could achieve real down/upload speeds of 1.9Gbps/200Mbps, with latency of ten milliseconds. Telia is planning to commence the provision of commercial 5G services in Lithuania after the RRT’s 5G frequency auction, which is expected to take place in 2021.

Telia have also partnered up with Ericsson in a five-year network deal to modernize their 4G network and introduce ultra-fast high-capacity 5G which will enhance digital experiences for Telia’s subscriber and business customers in Lithuania. About 2,000 mobile sites will be modernized over the coming three years. Telia Lithuania’s 4G network modernization and deployment of Ericsson’s 5G radio access network (RAN) technology will comprise Ericsson Radio System products and solutions. This includes Ericsson Spectrum Sharing, which will enable Telia to dynamically share 4G and 5G traffic and enable a smooth, fast, and cost-effective migration to 5G. Ericsson is also supplying its 5G Carrier Aggregation solutions for better coverage, increased capacity and higher data speeds. Roll-out and support services are also part of the deal.

Tele2 by the Swedish Tele2 group has one of the best coverage in the country together with Telia. 4G/LTE covers 99% of the population in 2018 and is also available for prepaid customers. It is the most popular mobile network in Lithuania. Their prepaid brand is called Pildyk (top up/fill up in English).

Tele2 has entered into a partnership with the operator Bite to create a network sharing joint venture in Latvia and Lithuania.

According to Tele2, it includes sharing of infrastructure in current networks, spectrum sharing as well as future build-out of 5G.The two operators’ current radio and transmission networks will be merged, forming a joint shared network in each country. The aim will be to improve network capacity and coverage for Latvian and Lithuanian customers, while reducing each party’s operational costs and energy consumption. The partnership also aims to roll out joint 5G networks faster and at a significantly lower cost than Tele2 and Bite would have been able to do on a stand-alone basis.

Bitė (The bee in English) has the lowest coverage on 3G/4G in Lithuania, but it is still comparable to other two major mobile network operators.They started 4G/LTE in 2015 on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz. 4G is available for 97% of the population in 2018. The prepaid line is called Labas (Hello/Hi in English).

Bite Lithuania has published a timeframe for phasing out 3G and 2G mobile network technology. Bite estimates it will switch off the 3G network in 2024-2025, while 2G will shut down in 2026-2028. According to Bite 3G technology is mainly used to provide high quality voice services, currently carrying about 78% of voice traffic compared to 2G (lower quality) with the remaining 22%. Once 3G voice traffic can be moved to the 4G LTE network (via VoLTE technology), the 3G network will be largely redundant, as approximately 96% of all Bite’s mobile data traffic is already carried via LTE. Importantly though, Bite adds that a ‘large part’ of the Lithuanian population still uses non-4G devices, and if the 3G connection was switched off these devices would connect solely to the 2G network, reducing the quality of voice calls, hence the cautious shutdown target date range. An additional reason for the delay in 2G closure is the technology’s enduring popularity in connecting M2M/telemetry devices requiring only basic low data-rate connectivity.

There is a fourth operator: state-owned Lithuanian Radio and Television Centre (LRTC), also known as Telecentras provides telecoms services under the Mezon brand. It commercially launched of 4G/LTE services in the towns and cities of Klaipėda, Tauragė, Telšiai, Utena, Alytus and Anykščiai in 2015 and Vilnius and another 200 cites (list) in 2017 on 2300 MHz (TDD LTE band 40) covering around 70% of population. However in April of 2020 Bitė has agreed to purchase Mezon from LRTC.