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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