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.

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