Saturday 23 January 2021

3G and 4G are Blooming in Ukraine


Ukraine has a competitive mobile market dominated by the three network operators Vodafone Ukraine (owned by MTS and using the Vodafone brand name), Kyivstar (owned by VEON) and Lifecell (owned by Turkcell). Another 4th operator is 3mob (3G only in Kyiv) roaming on Vodafone.

Mobile broadband services present a significant growth opportunity. Significant investment has been made in extending 3G infrastructure, while operators have more recently concentrated on LTE. Additional spectrum in the 2600MHz band was auctioned in January 2018, and of spectrum in the 1800MHz band in the following July, issued under 15-year licenses. All three MNOs promptly launched LTE services.

A continuing difficulty for MNOs remains the conflict with Russia, which has resulted in operators having to write-down the value of assets in disputed regions, and being forced out of Crimea as well as the Donetsk and other contested areas. Anti-Russian sentiment formed the backdrop for MTS Ukraine’s decision to rebrand as Vodafone.

However the Ukrainian mobile phone networks have improved within the last years. As one of the last countries to start 3G and 4G in Europe as late as 2015 and 2018, it now gives a reasonable coverage in populated areas at good prices. 3G was first limited to 3mob exclusively, as more bandwidth was unavailable before it was freed up for the major three operators in 2015. It now covers more than 80% of the population. The major three Kyivstar, Vodafone, lifecell provide good coverage in cities and some rural areas and would typically be your choice. 3G on 2100 MHz has been available from 2015 and covers more than 80% of the population in 2019.

Source: GSMA The Mobile Economy Russia & CIS 2020 report 

4G/LTE started as late as 2018 with the three major operators on 1800 MHz (B3) and 2600 MHz (B7). In 2020 finally spectrum on the 900 MHz band (B8) was added. At the end of 2019 each of the three networks covers 60-70 % of population by 4G. This is comparatively low for an European country, but a huge advancement within 5 years. In 2019 the three operators pledged to cover all of the country by LTE (within a not specified time period).

Kyivstar is Ukraine’s largest mobile operator by subscribers and owned by Russian VEON, formely called Vimpelcom. It has currently the best coverage in the country at the highest rates. To check coverage check here.

Kyivstar started its 4G/LTE as late as 2018 on 2600 MHz (B7), 1800 MHz (B3) to be added by 900 MHz (B8) in 2020. 

They had already provided access to 4G for almost 85% of the Ukrainian population. For the nine months of 2020, the operator has invested more than UAH 4 billion in the development of new mobile technologies. In 2021, it is planned to increase the coverage of the 4G network so that high-speed mobile Internet is available to 90% of the population.

Russian-owned MTS Ukraine took over the brand of Vodafone and started with an own 3G coverage in 2015. In 2020 already more than 71% of the population are covered by their own 3G/4G.

In 2015 MTS signed a strategic partnership with Vodafone to use their label for some products. This is mainly to conceal the Russian origin of the ownership, which is unpopular in Western parts of Ukraine. MTS was re-branded into Vodafone in major parts of Ukraine at the end of 2015. In 2017 the official company name was changed to Vodafone Ukraine. In 2019 Azerbaijani mobile operator Bakcell which is part of Azerbaijan-based oil-construction-telecom-tech conglomerate Neqsol, which also owns Azertelecom bought Vodafone Ukraine from Russia’s MTS

In 2018 all special tariffs still marketed under the MTS Ukraine brand in the Eastern Regions "not controlled by the Ukrainian army" were shifted to the Vodafone brand as well. They announced that services have been disrupted in the area controlled by pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions after a fibre-optic backbone line of the operator was damaged there. Parts of the equipment of Vodafone Ukraine is out of order in the area. Vodafone says that it won't be able to repair the network if the damage took place in the area controlled by separatists. They have completed the switch to the Vodafone brand in November 2018. The last plans under the MTS Ukraine brand have been ended and a switch to the Vodafone tariffs is free for subscribers using old MTS tariffs.

Lifecell was called life:) until 2016. It's the third largest Ukrainian mobile phone operator and fully owned by Turkish Turkcell.  

3G started in 2015 on 2100 MHz and 4G in 2018 on 1800 MHz (B3) and 2600 MHz (B7). In 2020 Band 8 on 900 will be added. It's network is generally on par with the other major providers with LTE coverage of about 60% at the end of 2019.

3Mob (spelled as "TriMob") used to be the only provider of 3G/UMTS internet in a limited area of the country until 2014. In 2015 3Mob and Vodafone signed a national roaming agreement giving 3Mob users free access to Vodafone's 2G network in domestic roaming without surcharges.

In 2020 3Mob has shut down all its network base stations except those in Kyiv and will now rely mainly on 2G/3G network coverage via its existing domestic roaming partner Vodafone Ukraine. 3Mob’s mobile network user base numbers are less than 260,000, and whilst the group had held 2×15MHz of 2100MHz national spectrum since 2005, the annual fees required to retain the frequencies represented an extra financial burden on the struggling operator.

In 2020 3Mob is on its way to becoming an MVNO as it has shut down all its network bases except Kyiv and now relies mainly on 2G/3G network coverage via its existing domestic roaming partner Vodafone.

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