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.

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