Thursday, 8 April 2021

Jamaica has good 4G coverage but no certainty on 5G

The Caribbean island of Jamaica currently has two mobile network operators: Digicel Jamaica and
Flow (by Cable & Wireless).

Jamaica is home to over 3 million mobile users, with Digicel claiming around 2.2 million and Flow having around one million.

In 2016 Jamaica's cabinet approved the award of a third licence to Symbiote Investments that has paid US$ 20.8 million to roll out a 4G LTE service under the Caricel brand. They started in 2017 but face a regulatory investigation into the circumstances of their licensing and in 2019 their licence was revoked and the provider shut down.

Jamaica’s Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has instructed Digicel and Flow to improve what it describes as ‘persistent quality of service (QoS) issues’ such as data and voice service interruption, dropped calls and calls not being initiated. Both companies admitted that the steep and rapid rise in the demand and use of data had hampered their service delivery. For its part, Digicel blamed the QoS lapses on its modernization program, while Flow claimed that the incidents were isolated and not related to a general failure of its telecoms infrastructure. Flow also cited vandalism and ongoing road works as mitigating factors.

Jamaica was the first market where Digicel started in 2001 in the Caribbean. It's considered as their home base and they soon became market leader on the island with a major share of the customers.

They run a dual CDMA and GSM network. CDMA is on BC1 and only for inbound roaming. Their GSM 2G is on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz and 3G is on 850 MHz up to DC-HSPA+. They started 4G/LTE on 700 MHz or Band 17 in 2016 in Kingston, St Andrew and around the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, with hopes of it reaching other parts of the island soon. Recently, they've expanded coverage to Montego Bay, Falmouth and a few other places on the North Coast and South Coast. On their 2G/3G networks they claim to cover 99% of Jamaicans, on 4G/LTE 65% are covered at the end of 2018..

Digicel has deployed LTE on Band 4 with a bandwidth of 20 MHz aggregated with Band 17. Digicel was the first carrier to offer HD Voice in Jamaica, available on its 3G network for AMR-WB or VoLTE capable devices like iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices.

FLOW, previously called LIME is the incumbent provider in Jamaica. It's operated by Cable & Wireless Communications which is owned by Liberty Global.

FLOW's 2G network is only on 850 MHz. FLOW's 3G network resides on 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. Both their 2G & 3G networks are available island wide. FLOW recently disabled DC-HSDPA and GSM on 1900 MHz, opting to use the spectrum for LTE and a small allocation for 3G, instead. The company is also intending to shutter its legacy technology (presumably 2G) "soon" but timelines were not provided.

FLOW started its 4G/LTE rollout in the Kingston Metropolitan Area in 2016 and expanded it to Montego Bay (and its environs) and the resort town of Ocho Rios as well as the towns of Spanish Town, Portmore in St. Catherine and Mandeville in Manchester in 2017 (see coverage map). FLOW's primary LTE Band, Band 4 (1700 MHz), has less in-building penetration. As a result, it doesn't propagate as far as lower frequencies like 700 MHz on Digicel. Band 4 offers more speed and network capacity than its competition because it sits on a 20 MHz bandwidth. FLOW also began deploying LTE Band 2 (1900 MHz) in places like Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Kingston and a good portion of rural areas with aggregation. They recently also began adding Band 12 (700 MHz) as the 3rd LTE band that will become the layer on which the carrier deploys VoLTE. The network has already begun deployment of its full spectrum in some rural areas like Portland, St. Mary, St. Elizabeth, St. Thomas and other like areas. FLOW, as of early 2020, claims its LTE network now covers 95% of the Jamaican population.

FLOW was awarded a Speedtest Award from Ookla for Q2-Q3 2018, with average download speeds of 22.66 Mbit/s and average upload speeds of 9.62 Mbit/s. They intended to cover all Jamaicans by 2020.

The Jamaican government is currently considering a proposal from US firm Rivada Networks, which would see the vendor deploy a 5G network free of charge, in exchange for a share of the eventual revenues. According to the Jamaica Observer, which quotes remarks by Donald Tapia, the US Ambassador to Jamaica, the proposal has been on the table for some time, but the authorities remain undecided.

Monday, 5 April 2021

8.05 Billion Mobile Subscribers with 5.22 Billion Unique by End of 2020

Telegeography reported that the number of mobile subscribers reached 8.05 billion at the end of 2020. The article reported

Figures from TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database show that the global wireless subscriber total has passed 8 billion. User numbers were up 1% in 2020, ending the year at 8.05 billion.

The cellular market showed year-on-year growth despite the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which contributed to downturns in user take-up in a number of countries.

Of the end-2020 wireless user total, 55% were located in Asia; China and India alone accounted for 34% of the global base.

Asia saw year-on-year growth of 1%, with Pakistan registering the biggest jump in percentage terms. Customer numbers increased 6% in 2020 to 177 million. And there’s still room for expansion in Pakistan. The country’s wireless population penetration was around 80% at the end of 2020, compared to a regional average of 104%.

As for other regions, the U.S. & Canada also saw a 1% increase in customers, while overall user numbers in the Middle East and Latin America remained virtually static during 2020.

In Latin America’s largest market by subscribers, Brazil, the year finally saw an end to a long-running decline in user numbers. The customer total had fallen from over 280 million in 2014 to below 200 million as of June 2020. But the second half of 2020 brought a turnaround as the country ended the year with 205 million cellular subscribers. However, Argentina, Peru, and Uruguay all experienced annual decreases of 5% or more in 2020.

The fastest-growing region was Africa, which saw a 6% increase in subscribers during 2020 to 1.16 billion. This annual growth is on a par with the previous year’s figure.

Of the top 40 fastest growing markets globally in 2020, Africa was home to 29. It was led by South Sudan, which recorded an annual subscriber increase of more than 23%, while larger markets such as Kenya and Nigeria also recorded double-digit growth (up 13% and 12% respectively).

At the other end of the scale, the number of wireless subscribers in Europe has been in decline for the last six years. Of the 41 countries in Europe with a population above 200,000, 27 witnessed a drop in their wireless subscriber bases between December 2019 and December 2020.

Eastern and southeastern Europe saw some of the region’s biggest customer losses, with countries such as Moldova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece all registering annual declines of more than 5%.

You can read the complete article here.

Hootsuite / We are social also publish annual numbers on Data Reportal. The embedded deck below provides numbers for 2020.

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Thursday, 1 April 2021

South Sudan is getting 3G Upgrades and 4G

Following the referendum in 2011, oil-rich South Sudan gained independence from Sudan. Having been deprived of investment for decades, it inherited one of the least developed telecommunications and internet markets in the world, while other infrastructure is also lacking. Although this potentially can create investment opportunities for infrastructure and service providers, such developments largely depend on a negotiated end to the protracted civil war which erupted in December 2013, and which has caused considerable mayhem and bloodshed, particularly in the oil-producing areas. With the civic struggle exacerbated by large-scale famine, investors in all economic sectors have been discouraged.

There was once investment activity among mobile network operators who sought to expand their networks in some areas of the country, but by late 2016 both Zain South Sudan and MTN South Sudan had cut back their workforces in a bid to save on operating costs, while their falling subscriber bases have strained revenue. Zain South Sudan in particular recorded considerable financial losses in 2015 and 2016. Operators in the telecom sector, as in other markets, have placed themselves in survival mode and are hoping for a political settlement and a return to some degree of social stability. Although MTN and Zain reported a significant fall in the number of mobile subscribers in 2017, with a consequent severe decline in revenue, both saw subscriber bases increase in 2018 as they absorbed customers which had migrated from VivaCell after that company was closed down for failing to pay back taxes.

South Sudan has one of the lowest mobile penetration rates in Africa. Growth in the sector in coming years is premised on a resolution to the political crisis and a recovery of the country’s economy. The virtually untapped internet and broadband market also depends to a large extent on the country gaining access to international fibre optic cables and on a national backbone network being in place. Sophisticated infrastructure solutions are needed to reach the 80% of the population that live outside of the main urban centres. With a negligible rate of bank account ownership, mobile payment and banking solutions also have a strong potential once a reliable mobile infrastructure is built.

Currently there are only two mobile operators in South Sudan. They are South African giant MTN and Kuwait-based Zain. The government will provide security to all mobile operators to ensure improved internet service in the country. 

MTN has the largest number of subscribers in South Sudan.  They have invested US$30-million (R430-million) in revitalising and expanding operations since the end of the five-year civil war, reviving transmission sites, upgrading to 3G and adding new coverage.

Zain has also made huge investments and developed  the telecommunications infrastructure of South Sudan.  

They have over 300 third generation (3G) voice and data enabled network sites. The technology being deployed nationwide can easily be upgraded to super-fast 4G LTE.  Zain’s local unit in South Sudan has launched a commercial 4G offering in the capital city Juba. 

According to TeleGeography, as of end-2020 Zain South Sudan had 1.05 million subscribers, putting it in second place behind its sole competitor MTN South Sudan, which has 1.70 million customers. 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

World's Largest Mobile Networks by Data Traffic - March 2021

The analysis firm Tefficient, posted this chart in one of their Tweets. As you can see that China Mobile is the leader, followed by Reliance Jio and then China Unicom, China Telecom, Airtel and Vi (Vodafone Idea). 

As you can see, Bharti Airtel, India and China Telecom are also enjoying huge traffic growth.

Last year, Tefficient had also reported the absolute number up to 1H 2020. Vodafone Group (excluding vi) is the next highest carrier of the data traffic followed by Telkomsel Indonesia, Telenor group, MTS Russia, AIS Thailand, 3 Group Europe, Zain Group, XL Indonesia, Indosat and 3 Indonesia.

Of course not everyone agrees with all the numbers

We will provide updated ranking when it is available. 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Good 3G/4G coverage has established a foundation for 5G in Jordan


Jordan is very much focused on high-speed, reliable, and comprehensive telecoms infrastructure to achieve its digital economy goals. The country already has a highly developed mobile sector, led by three major regional players, and has an extensive LTE network infrastructure.

The launch of LTE services quickly led to substantial growth in data revenue for the MNOs, which continue to expand their data offerings as a key focus area moving forward. The industry is also preparing itself for the next wave of developments relating to 5G and IoT/M2M.

The Kingdom of Jordan has three network providers: Zain, Umniah and Orange. 2G/GSM is on 900 MHz on Zain and Umniah and 1800 MHz on Orange, 3G/UMTS on 2100 MHz on all three operators. 4G/LTE has started on all providers in 2015 on 1800 MHz mainly in Amman, added by 2600 MHz. Many locals own more than only one SIM card.

Zain (a Kuwaiti company) is the market leader in Jordan and the best coverage and speeds in the country. 4G/LTE is has started in 2015 on 1800 Zain Jordan's number of subscribers reached 3.5 million by 31 December 2020  its parent company announced.

Umniah is owned by Bahrain-based Batelco. It's the second provider in the country giving a good coverage.

Umniah has announced that it will shut down its second-generation (2G) network in the near future in order to upgrade and invest in its existing 3G and 4G networks, following the example of a number of international telecommunications companies. This move, which is a first by a telecom in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, is directly in line with the company’s strategy to invest innovation in order to enrich and advance the experiences of its customers.

According to Umniah, its 3G and 4G networks are well equipped to provide all its subscribers, those with new smartphones as well as older versions, with the many advantages provided by these technologies, including better quality calls, faster data, smoother transmission between voice and data, better coverage and greater stability of the network in general.

Orange, affiliated to French T茅l茅com, has the smallest network in the Kingdom.

Orange has said their 3G coverage has now reached 98.6% of the population, whilst it 4g footprint stood at 97.4%. The operator did not disclose coverage details for its 4G+ network but claimed that the system was capable of providing download speeds of up to 250Mbps.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Wi-Fi and 5G Status in South Korea

Last year we reported on this blog that South Korean Ministry of Science and Technology Information and Communication is heavily promoting Wi-Fi 6, in 6GHz (a.k.a. Wi-Fi 6E). 

Back in February, South Korea's ICT ministry said that it has made over 15,000 new public Wi-Fi service zones available across the country and in buses last year, bringing the total locations with free public Wi-Fi to over 57,000. Yonhap News Agency revealed:

The Ministry of Science and ICT said the public can access free Wi-Fi in 28,132 public locations, such as bus stations, public facilities and parks, and also in 29,100 buses.

By region, there are 2,529 public Wi-Fi locations in Seoul, with 4,358 locations in the surrounding Gyeonggi Province, according to the ICT ministry.

South Korea has recently boosted efforts to expand public Wi-Fi zones that had previously been limited to indoor facilities, such as community centers and traditional markets.

The ICT ministry said it has focused on outdoor locations, installing free Wi-Fi at 7,949 bus stations, 1,286 parks and 320 major streets across the country from 2019 to 2020.

The ministry has also replaced 18,000 aging routers with the latest Wi-Fi 6 equipment, resulting in speeds that are three times faster on average.

The ministry said it plans to establish 15,000 additional public Wi-Fi zones this year.

You can see a video of one such Free WiFi on Bus event here.

Hackaday reported that the government has released the details of the 220,000 WiFi access points to the public. This includes the location, IP address, and RSSI data for use by people and companies wanting to develop location-based services.

Aju Business Daily said Geographical locations, internet protocol addresses and received signal strength indicators (RSSIs) have been collected for emergency response purposes and to pinpoint the location of an AP or to calculate the floating population. RSSI is an estimate of the strength of WiFi signal between an AP and recipient device.

In the mobile news,  Tefficient reported that 4G/LTE traffic has been going down as 5G traffic grows.  February 2019 was the last time monthly 4G traffic was so low (380 PB) in South Korea as it was in January 2021. 4G visibly in decline the past months while 5G traffic grew to 45% of total.

Also as you can see in the other tweet, South Korea's operators net added over 1 million 5G subscribers in January 2021 - the first month over 1 million since the 5G launch. 18% of total mobile subscriber base now 5G.

But not everyone is happy with 5G. The Korea Bizwire reported:

Hundreds of 5G smartphone users in South Korea are banding together to take legal action against the country’s three major telecom operators — SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. — for spotty connection and the poor quality of the latest generation network, industry sources said Thursday.

As of Thursday, around 1,000 5G smartphone users have expressed intent to take part in the collective lawsuit to seek at least 1 million won (US$890) in compensation per user from the three mobile carriers over their 5G network quality that fall short of expectations, despite their costlier pay plans, according to Kim Jin-wook, a lawyer at law firm Joowon, which is spearheading the legal action.

Kim argues that 5G network quality is not a discernible improvement from previous 4G LTE networks and has drawbacks, such as limited availability.

The three telecom operators had deployed 166,250 5G base stations as of November last year, which is just 19 percent of the number of 4G base stations, according to industry tracker Opensignal.

South Korea’s 5G coverage centers around major urban areas, such as Seoul, with carriers aiming for nationwide coverage by next year.

Carriers also initially advertised 5G download speeds as being 20 times faster than 4G LTE, but a government report last year found that average 5G download speeds were around four times faster than those of 4G.

“Considering that monthly 5G plans are around 50,000 won more expensive than 4G LTE plans, we expect around 1 million won in compensation for users subscribed to two-year plans,” said Kim.

He added that the lawsuit will be filed in May after gathering more participants.

This may be the catalyst the Korean operators need to massively improve the 5G user experience for the end users.

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Thursday, 18 March 2021

Suriname may be Small but it has all Gs, including 5G


Suriname is the smallest of the nations on the South American continent, with about 580,000 inhabitants. The only Dutch-speaking nation in South America, it has close affinities with the Caribbean, and is a member of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).

The state-owned incumbent telco, Telesur, is the only provider of fixed-line and fixed broadband services in Suriname. The country’s fixed-line infrastructure is reasonably reliable in the more populated coastal region, though poor in the interior. Telesur started building out a fibre network in Paramaribo in 2013, and in June 2018, the company started with the rollout of the National Broadband Project (TNBP), which was completed in 2019.

Fixed teledensity and broadband penetration are slightly lower than average for Latin America and the Caribbean, while mobile penetration is significantly above the regional average and much higher than would be expected given the country’s relatively low GDP per capita.

Many Surinamese have up to three mobile lines with different providers, which has pushed up penetration figures although the number of subscribers has fallen in recent years as consumers have responded to economic pressures. The mobile market supports only two players: Telesur (trading as TeleG), and Digicel (part of Digicel Group, a significant operator across the Caribbean and Pacific regions). In early 2015 Digicel acquired the only other operator, Uniqa, which only had about 5,000 subscribers. In January 2017 Digicel signed a deal to host the MVNO Transatel, which operates in a number of markets across the Caribbean and Latin America.

There are two mobile network operators in Suriname: Telesur (TeleG) and Digicel. 3G coverage is still labeled "4G" by Digicel and real 4G/LTE by Telesur available only in the population centers. There is almost no mobile reception in more remote and less densely populated parts of Suriname like the vast Sipaliwini District. One exception is Upper Suriname and Gran Rio where there is at least 2G coverage.

Telesur the state-owned operator in Suriname is currently running a 450 MHz CDMA (incompatible to GSM), 900 MHz and 1800 MHz GSM and a 2100 MHz 3G HSDPA network, the latter available only in Paramaribo and Commewijne. This Coverage Map is available. In 2016 real 4G/LTE started on 700 MHz and 1800 MHz (bands 3 and 28).

Telesur has launched a new range of ‘Big Data’ high-volume mobile data packages aimed at high-end 4G LTE and 5G device owners, as well as business customers using 5G modems. Telesur switched on its 5G network in downtown Paramaribo nearly a year ago, in December 2019, but has kept its 5G marketing low-key until this month, whilst it also implemented high speed LTE-A upgrades in selected areas in late-2019.

The operator’s commercial 5G network has been live in the nation’s capital of Paramaribo since December 2019, but Telesur has not heavily promoted this until recently as it was deploying LTE-A upgrades in strategic locations to complement the offering.


Digicel Suriname is part of the Digicel Group operating in 32 countries in Central-America and Asia-Pacific areas. They have been operating in Suriname since 2007. Besides being present in the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz 2G bands, they operate on a "4G" labeled 3G-based HSPA+ network on 850 MHz covering major populated areas in Suriname and allowing speeds of up to 2 Mbps. 

Sunday, 14 March 2021

China Telecom's 5G and IoT Progress

China Telecom's 2020 results were published this week. The PDF of that is available here. Capacity Media reported:

China Telecom has reported 2020 revenues up by 4.7% on the year with earnings up 1.4%.

The company said its revenues were 393.6 billion renminbi in 2020 — equivalent to US$60.7 billion. EBITDA was 118.9 billion renminbi, said the company, equivalent to $18.3 billion.

Meanwhile the company said that “5G achieved a promising start, with 86.5 million people now subscribing to 5G packages, 24.6% of the company’s mobile customers. “The number of mobile subscribers reached 351 million with net addition of 15.45 million, and the market share expanded to 22.0%.”

The small print of the company’s revenue breakdown show that 5G customers are spending on average 65.6 renminbi ($10.11) each, compared with 44.1 renminbi ($6.79) for mobile customers as a whole.

RCR Wireless said

China Telecom expects to increase investments in 5G infrastructure this year with the aim of almost doubling the number of base stations in the country, the company said in its annual report.

The Chinese carrier said it has earmarked a total of CNY39.7 billion ($6.1 billion) for 5G capex, slightly up from CNY39.2 billion in 2020.

Last year, China Telecom, together with rival operator China Unicom deployed 300,000 5G sites across China and ended 2020 with a combined 380,000.

For 2021, China Telecom said it expects to reach a total of 700,000, offering full 5G coverage in all counties and in certain developed towns, rural areas, railway lines and highways.

At the end of 2020, the telco had a total mobile base of 351 million mobile subscribers, up 4.6% year-on-year. The operator added an average of 6.83 million 5G subscribers a month to end 2020 with a total of 86.5 million. China Telecom had commercially launched 5G services in late October 2019 and closed that year with 4.6 million subscribers.

In 2020, 5G subscribers generated ARPU of CNY65.60 compared with CNY44.10 for its overall user base, which experienced a decline of 3.7% year-on-year.

But the most interesting bit was on IoT as can be seen from this Tweet

Ibraheem Kasujee, IoT Analyst at Analysys Mason noted that, IoT connections reached 237.6m (+50.9% on 2019), but IoT revenue was 'only' CNY2.2 billion (USD338 million), +16.9% on 2019. Implies a monthly ARPC of < USD0.15. Tom Rebbeck, Partner at Analysys Mason noted that China Telecom’s IoT division has (roughly) twice as many connections as Vodafone, and generates (less than) half the revenue.

The annual report points out that, "IoT includes mobile data traffic, SMS, value-added services & applications related to IoT, other IoT Projects, etc."

We will have to wait and see how many of these are 2G/3G IoT vs 4G NB-IoT/LTE-M.

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Thursday, 11 March 2021

5G will reach parity with 2G in 2025 but 4G will dominate Argentina


Argentina has one of the most dynamic mobile markets in Latin America, being the third largest in the region after Brazil and Mexico. Mobile penetration has fallen in recent years in line with a reduction in the number of subscribers following a long period of steady growth. This is partly due to pricing competition among operators which has reduced the incentive for multiple-SIM card ownership. The regulator has encouraged the market entry of additional MVNOs to increase competition, though collectively the MVNOs only have a very small share of the market. Market changes are anticipated into 2021 as Telef贸nica Group moves its Latin American businesses (with the exception of Brazil) into a single unit.

Operators have trialled 5G though given the continued capacity of LTE infrastructure it is unlikely that commercial 5G services will be available before 2021.

Argentina has 3 national operators: Claro (by Am茅rica M贸vil), Movistar (by Telef贸nica Spain) and Personal (by Telecom Argentina). They three all have about the same market share. For being former state-owned company, Personal tends to have a better coverage in rural area but has very llimited prepaid plans compared to Movistar and Claro. In Buenos Aires area, Movistar has best coverage in Subte (subway) networks even in between stations (as of Jan. 2021). Although reliable free WiFi is available inside of each subway station,

2G and 3G is on 850 and 1900 MHz, so users from Europe and Asia need a "US-band" device. 4G/LTE is on AWS (1700/2100) MHz and B28 (700 APT).

According the the most recent Open Signal report  Personal’s lead over second-placed Claro for 4G Availability has risen to 7.6 percentage points, up from the 5.1 percentage points seen in the previous report. However, both Claro and Movistar have edged closer to the 85% mark, with their scores rising by around 1.5 percentage points. However, Personal’s impressive lead over Claro for speed has moderated since the last report, declining from 6.1 Mbps to 5.3 Mbps for Download Speed Experience and from 0.9 Mbps to 0.6 Mbps for Upload Speed Experience. — Claro has consistently placed second for both metrics.

Not everything went Personal’s way, given that Claro won the remaining two awards — Games Experience and Voice App Experience — and the fact that its users enjoyed an experience that was one category higher than that seen by other operators’ users — Fair instead of Poor for Games Experience and Acceptable instead of Poor for Voice App Experience. Claro was also only one point away from a Good rating for Voice App Experience and placed in the same category for Video Experience — Very Good — as Personal. Placing in the Very Good category indicates that users experienced generally fast loading times and only occasional stalling but the experience might have been somewhat inconsistent across users and/or video providers/resolutions.

While Movistar came third in five of the seven measures of the mobile experience, it succeeded in beating Personal to second-place for Games Experience and Voice App Experience. It is not Personal that has to watch out for Movistar — the latter was only 0.8 percentage points behind Claro on 4G Availability and 1.1 Mbps behind it on Download Speed Experience.

Claro (formerly called CTI Movil) owned by Mexican Am茅rica M贸vil is still market leader by a small margin amd has good coverage. For 4G/LTE mainly band 4 on 1700 MHz is used.

Movistar is owned by Spanish Telef贸nica and still the No.2 in the country what customers are concerned. It has the widest 4G/LTE coverage in the country covering 68% of population in 2016 on bands 4 and 28. 4G service is available in more than 380 locations, including all 23 provincial capitals and the national capital.

Although being only no.3 in the country OpenSignal gives Personal the best nationwide performance. Note that their customer service is not available in English. About 90% of the Buenos Aires metro system (called Subte) is covered by Personal's 4G/LTE. At the end of 2017 it had 71% coverage of population in over 1000 towns and cities.

Telecom Argentina which owns Personal has announced that its mobile unit Personal has activated the first 5G network in Argentina, launching a total of ten mobile antennas in the cities of Buenos Aires and Rosario. The five mobile sites in Buenos Aires were deployed by Huawei, while the Rosario infrastructure utilises Nokia technology. The network re-farms existing 4G frequencies, via a Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) configuration. The 5G cell sites can be accessed by any Personal subscribers with compatible handsets.

Argentina’s National Communications Agency (Ente Nacional de Comunicaciones, ENACOM) has confirmed that it will stage a week-long 5G trial at its headquarters in Buenos Aires this month. The tests will run from 15 March to 19 March and explore how fifth-generation technology will benefit the country’s industrial, educational and entertainment sectors. While the spectrum intended for use has not been divulged, TeleGeography notes that the watchdog has previously sanctioned both Movistar and Personal to utilise 28GHz millimetre wave (mmWave) frequencies for 5G trials.

According to GSMA Intelligence Mobile Economy Latin America 2020 Report, smartphone adoption in Argentina will continue to increase along with the subscriber penetration but most of the growth will be in 4G subscriptions. 5G will reach a parity with 2G/GSM while 3G will continue to be used as well. 

Monday, 8 March 2021

India Auctions 4G (and 5G) Spectrum

The Indian Department of Telecommunications (DoT), part of Ministry of Communication just concluded a spectrum auction. The detailed results for anyone interested is available here. As the spectrum allocation happens on a regional level rather than national level, it may be a bit confusing to understand for the outsiders.

'India sells spectrum worth $10.6B in two-day auction', nicely put by Light Reading

While the telcos acquired spectrum in several bands, the 700MHz spectrum remained unsold because of the high reserve price. An Airtel statement mentioned that the "the reserve pricing of these bands [700MHz and 3.5GHz] must be addressed on priority in future. This will help the nation to benefit from the digital dividend that will inevitably arise out of this."

CommsUpdate reported

India’s mass spectrum auction, which saw the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) put up for sale a total of 2,308MHz of airwaves across seven bands, has ended after just two days, with the government netting INR778.15 billion (USD10.6 billion) – well below the reserve price of INR3.92 trillion for the total available spectrum – with around two-thirds of the available spectrum left unsold.

As anticipated, the trio of bidders – Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio), Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi) – steered clear of the 700MHz band, marking the second time that the government has failed to sell the sought-after airwaves by overpricing the spectrum. The operators also avoided the 2500MHz band, whilst just 15MHz of the 175MHz available in the 2100MHz band was sold.

The Economic Times writes that Jio purchased the most spectrum, paying INR571.23 billion for 488.35MHz, focusing primarily on renewing its 800MHz licences alongside frequencies in the 1800MHz and 2300MHz bands. Airtel paid the next largest amount, with INR186.99 billion for a total of 355.45MHz across the 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2300MHz bands. Vi, meanwhile, purchased just 11.8MHz of spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands for a total of INR19.93 billion.

In their press release, Jio said, "The acquired spectrum can be utilised for transition to 5G services at the appropriate time, where Jio has developed its own 5G stack."

Last year, The Economic Times of India had reported that Jio wants to do 5G Standalone (SA) while Airtel and Vi will do 5G Non-Standalone (NSA). The different 5G options are shown above and if you are not familiar, check out the tutorial here.

Matt Walker from MTN Consulting pointed out in the LinkedIn post that:

The $11B raised in this week's auctions is just a bit over the 2019 capex result for the whole industry (excluding spectrum).

Since the end of 2019, India's telco capex - again, excluding spectrum - has been trending downwards, with annualized capex through 3Q20 amounting to $7.7B.

It would be interesting to see how and how quickly do all the operators put their newly acquired spectrum to use. 

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Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Guatemalans don't care much about 5G


Guatemala is unfortunately among the poorer countries in Latin America. Its telecom infrastructure has suffered from years of underinvestment from state and provincial governments. The poor state of fixed-line infrastructure has led to Guatemala having one of the lowest teledensities in the region. In many rural regions of the country there is no fixed-line access available, and so mobile services are adopted by necessity. 

Network upgrades, in both the fixed-line and mobile sectors, have largely been undertaken by the private sector. Private investment has been supported by government and regulatory efforts, resulting in a steady growth in the number of fixed lines which in turn has supported growth in the fixed broadband segment. In the mobile sector operator investments in LTE infrastructure have stimulated the take-up of mobile data services. 

Steady GDP growth should provide greater disposable household revenue and so stimulate demand for telecom and ICT services. This could be more marked if the country managed to free itself from its legacy of violence, poverty, and corruption, factors which continue to inhibit prospective investors. 

Guatemala has three main mobile operators Tigo Guatemala, Claro Guatemala and Movistar Guatemala (however Claro and Movistar are set to merge.)

Mobile telephony is the most developed telecom market sector in Guatemala, accounting for most voice lines and internet access lines. The intense competition among the three operators has helped to improve services and lower prices for end-users. Mobile penetration is on a par with the regional average, though the slower growth in the mobile subscriber base suggests a level of market saturation, with the emphasis among operators being on generating revenue via mobile data services.

Tigo is market leader with the best coverage, followed by Claro and Movistar. In 2017 the first MVNO started with tuenti on the Movistar network. In January 2019 Telefonica sold Movistar to America Movil (Claro). It can be expected that both networks will be merged in the future under the Claro brand.

Mobile networks are on different frequency bands according to provider. Tigo is on 850 MHz only, Claro is on 900 and 1900 MHz for 2G/GSM and 1900 MHz for 3G, while Movistar is on 900 MHz for 2G and 3G only with a lower coverage, but higher speeds.

4G/LTE started in 2014/5 on all three networks and is so far limited to Guatemala City and a few other towns. Tigo’s LTE is on 850 MHz (band 5), Claro and Movistar on its 1900 MHz (band 2).


Tigo has launched LTE services in 2015 in the capital Guatemala City and the municipalities of Santa Catarina Pinula, Villa Nueva, San Miguel Petapa, Villa Canales, Amatitlan Fraijanes and San Jose Pinula.


Am茅rica M贸vil controls about 83% of the fixed lines in service through its subsidiary Claro. Claro is the 2nd operator caring for 30% of the mobile users. Its coverage is only slightly less than Tigo’s and their 900 and 1900 MHz frequency is more accessible for devices from overseas. It only has started recently with 4G/LTE on 1900 MHz in Guatemala City only. In the coming years, the Movistar network will be merged.

Movistar, by Spanish Telef贸nica, is the close 3rd provider with almost 30% of the national user's share. It has the lowest prices in the country, but also a slightly weaker coverage. It has the most aggressive pricing and offers the best roaming rates for Central America.

Telef贸nica decided to end its activities in Guatemala and sold the network in January 2019 to rival Claro (America Movil). It can be expected that both networks will be merged under the Claro brand in the future.

In 2014 it switched on its 1900 MHz 4G/LTE network in the capital city, provincial capitals and some tourist sites. By the end of 2015 Guatemala City is mostly covered by LTE.

In 2020, Guatemala was plagued with earthquakes, category 5 hurricanes, deadly volcano eruptions, Covid-19 and political issues. While some publications, vendors and operators may make some noise about 5G, right now Guatemalans are least concerned about the benefits and would greatly benefit from improved 4G/LTE coverage.

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Sunday, 28 February 2021

USA 5G C-Band Spectrum (3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz) Auction Results

The US regulator, FCC, announced the final results of the C-Band Auction 107 on the site here, with the details available here.

Mike Dano from Light Reading was one of the first people to tweet the details (see above) and Light Reading have a nice detailed analysis here

The Register has provided a nice simple summary here. Quoting from that:

Radio spectrum doesn’t come cheap. Just ask America's communications regulator, the FCC, which just announced the winning bidders in its long-awaited auction of C-band spectrum, which hauled in a cool $81bn.

The comms body auctioned off 280Mhz of C-band spectrum, originally used by communications satellites, split into fourteen 20Mhz blocks in the 3.7Ghz to 4.2Ghz range.

This territory is highly coveted by telecoms providers transitioning to 5G, as it provides a high level of coverage for each cell site, albeit at the expense of speed. This is crucial if you want to extend coverage to rural areas, or sprawling suburban towns where not-in-my-backyard types may grumble at the sight of a cell tower on every street corner. Compare that to mmWave, which operates in the high gigahertz spectrum, and offers faster speeds but minuscule coverage.

Satellite comms providers who previously used parts of the band were last year promised "incentives" to vacate the spectrum [PDF], with "reasonable relocation costs" amounting to up to $9.7bn to be paid by the licensees. According to the FCC's final C-band order, Intelsat will receive about $4.87bn; SES about $3.97bn; Eutelsat about $507m; Telesat $344m; and Star One $15m.

The FCC allowed 57 providers [PDF] to bid for the spectrum, including all of the large carriers, as well as the smaller rural telecoms providers (like the quaintly named Mark Twain Rural Telephone Company). As expected, it was the big providers that took home the bacon (or, in this case, spectrum).

Verizon Wireless (referred to as Cellco Partnership in the FCC documents [PDF]) easily spent the most, with a total bid of $45.4bn for 3,511 licences. AT&T and T-Mobile also spent generously, forking out $23.4bn and $9.3bn respectively, in return receiving 1,621 and 142 licences. US Cellular, a relatively small-fry player, paid "just" $1.2bn for 254 licences.

Why are the carriers prepared to spend such eye-watering amounts? Basically, if they want to be anywhere in the US 5G landscape, they had to cough up. "Carriers were apparently willing to spend whatever it took to acquire spectrum in this auction because the alternative was worse — becoming an also-ran in the race to 5G," Sasha Javid, a former chief data officer at the FCC, told the FT a few weeks back.

The previous record amount netted for the sale of US airwaves – $45bn – was set six years ago.

Per the terms of the auction, bidding parties must pay 20 per cent upfront, with the remainder sent before the end of March. Verizon, for example, will have to wire the FCC $36.3bn by March 24 of this year – a figure greater than its consolidated operating revenues (at $34.7bn) for the entirety of its final reported quarter for 2020.

Rupert Wood, lead analyst for Fibre Infrastructure and Wireless Infrastructure research programmes at Analysys Mason opens his analysis piece with a very poignant reminder, "The high prices of C-band spectrum have sucked Verizon and AT&T into a spiral of ever-greater dependence on 5G, even as their share of consumer telecoms looks set to decline." The article continues:

The real cost to the operators is even higher than USD80.92 billion: there are relocation costs, estimated to be a further USD3.3 billion, which licence holders will incur to relocate the satellite incumbents, and potentially USD9.7 billion more to accelerate the clearance of those incumbents on the blocks that are not due to be cleared until the end of 2023. Total mobile operator revenue and capex (excluding spectrum) in the USA in 2019 stood at USD179.3 billion and USD29.1 billion respectively, so the sum paid is collectively 2.8 times higher than annual capex.

The 3G auctions in Germany and the UK in 2000 are a point of comparison – operators spent USD82.1 billion on a population base about half of that of the USA. The licence to previous year’s capex ratio for Vodafone UK (which spent the most in the UK) was 7.4 times, but this was when strong revenue growth in mobile was guaranteed. Before the US C-band auction, no established operator had spent more than 1.7 times the previous year’s capex on C-band spectrum.

Sascha Segan from The PC Magazine says:

Comcast, Charter, and Dish each got nothing or almost nothing, which signals that they don't have real ambitions to compete, on a network level, with the three big providers. However, there's another auction coming up for 100MHz of spectrum between 3.45-3.55GHz, this October. They could play there.

The investor groups have played in spectrum before; their general game is to hold onto it for a while and then lease or sell it at a higher rate to wireless carriers who get desperate. With 5G, there's another possible play. 5G allows for "private" or corporate networks, so the investor groups could lease spectrum to companies providing network services to other companies for their own internal use.

The next big task for the operators is now to figure out how to make money.

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Thursday, 25 February 2021

Mexico Plans 5G Spectrum Auctions While Mexicans are Being Convinced to Move off 2G


Having a population approaching 125 million and with relatively low broadband and mobile penetration, Mexico’s telecom sector retains significant potential for growth. 

The mobile market also continues to undergo considerable changes in the wake of regulatory efforts to curb the market dominance of Telcel. Although the MVNO segment has only a very small market share, it continues to attract investment, and new players enter the market each year.  Developments in 5G have been slow given the existing capacity of LTE, though the auction of spectrum in the 600MHz band (among the first globally) later in 2021 will stimulate the sector as operators launch services.

Mexico is Carlos Slim country. The telco tycoon has made his fortune controlling the landline market with Telmex and the mobile market with Am茅rica M贸vil. His mobile provider is not called Claro like anywhere else, but Telcel in Mexico. It has a huge market share of more than 2/3 of the nation's subscribers.

2G and 3G are on 850 and 1900 MHz on all operators except AT&T that doesn't have 2G and Movistar is shutting down 2G, while 4G/LTE has started with Telcel and AT&T mainly on 1700 MHz (AWS Band 4), Movistar on 1900 MHz (Band 2) AT&T has 3G and 4G only, both on 1700 MHz.

The existing situation of the mobile market in Mexico is summarized in the following facts. According to the telecom regulator (Federal Institute of Telecommunications, IFT), by December 2019, 20.9 percent of the mobile data was transmitted through 3G technology, whereas 78.9 percent was transmitted under 4G technology. Based on the latest survey (2019) performed by the National Institute of Statistic and Geography (INEGI), around 29 percent of Mexican population lacks any kind of internet access and 90 percent of mobile users use a smartphone. Finally, a study from the Competitive Intelligence Unit shows that by Q2 2020, there were 94 mobile lines per 100 inhabitants, whereby the market share by operator was as follows: 63.3 per cent by Telcel (America Movil), 19.9 percent by Telefonica Movistar, 15.1 percent by AT&T and 1.7 percent by all MVNOs.

Regarding coverage and mobile experience Telcel triumphs in most of the Open Signal awards, having held onto those for Video Experience, Games Experience, Voice App Experience, Download Speed Experience, Upload Speed Experience and 4G Coverage Experience. The only award that it did not win outright was that for 4G Availability, which continues to be held by AT&T.

Telcel is still the top dog in the country with approx. 70 million subscribers or a solid 63% market share at the end of 2019. It's still seen a the dominant provider in the country, but is increasingly challenged by AT&T.

Telcel already has the necessary spectrum for 5G and its network has already been detected as seen on Speedtest tweet above.

Movistar was the only real competitor of Telcel in Mexico until AT&T arrived in 2015. 
Movistar has announced to shut down their 2G network on 1900 MHz within 2019 in order to free bandwidth for 4G and 5G. The 2G shutdown began in Feb. 2019 in Merida to be phased out totally by the end of 2020. For Movistar you need a 3G or 4G/LTE-abled device.

Movistar has expanded its 4G/LTE network to 23 new markets and 500 rural communities, via the deployment of 1700 new VTS stations including Aguascalientes, Cancun, Cuernavaca, Merida, Torreon, Veracruz and Villahermosa. 

AT&T, the telco giant from the US, bought both providers Iusacell and Nextel in 2015 and rebranded them. They have invested some billion pesos into improving their limited network.

AT&T Unidos has closed down its 2G/GSM network in 2017. So you need a 3G- or 4G-enabled device for AT&T like in the US. 3G is on 850 and 1900 MHz, 4G/LTE is on 700, 850, 1900, 1700, 2100 and 2300 MHz.

AT&T Mexico has returned a portion of its 800MHz spectrum to the country’s regulator in a bid to reduce its costs. As reported by El Universal, the operator concluded that per subscriber it pays 242% more than its rival Telcel for using these frequencies, which it considers untenable. Accordingly, it has handed back permits for cellular regions 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 to the IFT (Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones).

TeleGeography notes that AT&T’s decision marks the second time in 2020 that a Mexican mobile provider has returned spectrum. Movistar relinquished its full holding of 1900MHz and 2500MHz spectrum in Q1, raising €95 million (US$104 million) and freeing it from coverage requirements.

Telcel, AT&T and Movistar can now connect to the Alt谩n Shared Network, an LTE network that aims to cover most areas of the country, but in particular its underserved areas.

Alt谩n Redes, which describes itself as “the Mexican company responsible for designing, developing, operating and marketing the Red Compartida, the Network for Everyone” has signed an agreement with the national government so that Telcel, AT&T and Movistar can connect to its network.

Alt谩n’s sharing of its infrastructure with these three major players will, it suggests, allow it to bring communications to hard-to-reach areas with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.

The Red Compartida currently provides 4.5G LTE coverage to 61.66 percent of the total population of Mexico. This so-called ‘Social Roaming’ agreement helps it to fulfil its promise to connect the majority of Mexicans and close the digital divide.

Built via public private partnership, Red Compartida is a 20-year concession awarded by the Mexican government to Alt谩n Redes that aims for the development of a wholesale, universal, continuous, neutral and non-discriminatory 4G LTE network that will cover 92.2 percent of the Mexican population by 2024. This will include 15 percent coverage in towns of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.

La Red Compartida uses 700MHz spectrum. Alt谩n Redes is reportedly investing $7 billion in building out the network so that it can be used by “network and non-network operators in a non-biased wholesale business model”. Of course, whether Mexico’s operators are happy to work with that business model remains to be seen.

According to the GSMA Mobile Economy report for Latin America, there is still a big chunk of 2G users who are unwilling to move off it. Smart Featurephones with 3G are being launched to encourage users to start using some data services and experience the benefits of digital revolution

In a recent report, Bnamericas mentioned that Mexican regulator IFT just set in motion a massive tender to award 41 national and regional blocks of spectrum in the 800MHz, PCS (1.9GHz), 2.5GHz and AWS-3 bands, mostly for 4G. 

The IFT-10 tender, as it is known, is divided into different stages. From February 15-June 11 interested participants can send questions to the IFT and register for the tender. Qualified participants will be able to submit offers starting on September 27.

The process is expected to be concluded and have all spectrum licenses awarded by the end of 2021 or in early 2022, IFT spectrum head Alejandro Navarrete said this week during the 5G Americas event.

The official said Mexico has more than tripled the amount of spectrum for mobile broadband in the last six years.

In 5G, Mexico has reorganized spectrum in order to release frequency in the 3.5Ghz band for operators.

However, there is no specific timeframe to award spectrum in the 600MHz band and more in the 3.5GHz band. IFT has generally said it plans to award 5G frequencies this year. 

The decision is included in the 2021 program for the use and licensing of radio frequencies, published in the official gazette. Use would be mostly for fixed wireless access (FwA).

However, frustrating expectations from part of the mobile industry, Mexico does not intend to grant spectrum licenses in millimeter bands for 5G before 2023. 

According to Navarrete, there are more doubts than certainties about the feasibility and the business models for these bands. In the case of the 28GHz band, Mexico also has issues with the satellite services occupying the spectrum.

Among the challenges for the future implementation of 5G, Navarrete cites the varying municipal regulations for the installation of infrastructure, such as towers and fiber.

Mexico has so far identified 11,190MHz of radio spectrum available for mobile broadband, although this does not mean that this entire spectrum will necessarily be assigned.

The distribution of spectrum in Mexico is currently as follows: AT&T has 185MHz, Am茅rica M贸vil’s Telcel 179MHz, Alt谩n 90MHz, Telef贸nica’s Movistar 36MHz and other concessionaires 2.5GHz, according to consultancy Telconomia.

National mobile spectrum is expected to become more concentrated as Telef贸nica still has blocks to return in December 2021 and June 2022.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Millicom Celebrates 30 Years of Innovation with Tigo!

Luxembourg-based Millicom International, a leading provider of cable and mobile services dedicated to emerging markets in Latin America and Africa. operates under the Tigo brand. They commenced operations in 1990 as a pioneer in the global telecommunications industry, introducing mobile connectivity to several emerging markets across the world. Today, TIGO has solidified its place as an industry-leading convergent operator with a strong presence in 10 markets, primarily in Latin America, which represents approximately 95% of Millicom’s business, providing mobile services to approximately 52 million customers, with a cable footprint of more than 11 million homes passed.  The company employs 23,000 full-time people and generates thousands of indirect jobs.


As the company continues to build digital highways, it aims to do so responsibly and to foster an environment where employees, customers, and communities can prosper and reach their full potential. TIGO seeks to revolutionize and democratize access to technology that helps communities overcome challenges such as poverty and limited access to education and healthcare. By successfully addressing these challenges head-on, everyone benefits.

Millicom’s biggest operation in the region is in Guatemala, which in 2020 Q4 delivered 24% of its regional revenues.  Colombia came next with 23% of the total, followed by Bolivia (11%), Honduras and Panama (10% each), Paraguay (9%) and El Salvador (7%). All subsidiaries except those in Guatemala and El Salvador saw revenues drop in Q4. 

Millicom ended the year with 42mn mobile users, 4.5mn home broadband customers and 18mn 4G data users. Despite the decreases, the pace of recovery is very positive and they think they are very well prepared going into 2021 with subscriber growth, resilient cash flow and reduced net debt. However they are cautiously optimistic about 2021, although the pandemic and economics still add unpredictability to the business scenario.

Millicom has been developing mobile networks for close to 30 years. During this time the digital landscape in their markets has changed beyond recognition.

Customer penetration rates and 4G coverage have potential for further growth, fuelled by increased availability of affordable smartphones. 

Their mobile data strategy is based on three pillars: 4G/LTE continues expansion, more and easy smartphone adoption and stimulating data usage. 

In April 2015, Ramos joined Millicom as CEO from Liberty Global PLC, which brands include Virgin Media, UPC, Ziggo, Unitymedia, Kabel BW, Telente, VTR and Liberty Puerto Rico. With operations in 14 countries and 53 million homes passed, Liberty Global PLC is the largest international cable company. Ramos, as president of the company’s Latin American division from 2006 to 2015, is credited with developing its mobile and broadband businesses in the region, delivering operational improvement and positive financial results. Here he is, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the company.

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