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 América Móvil. 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 Altán Shared Network, an LTE network that aims to cover most areas of the country, but in particular its underserved areas.

Altán 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.

Altán’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 Altán 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. Altán 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, América Móvil’s Telcel 179MHz, Altán 90MHz, Telefónica’s Movistar 36MHz and other concessionaires 2.5GHz, according to consultancy Telconomia.

National mobile spectrum is expected to become more concentrated as Telefónica 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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Thursday 18 February 2021

People of Chile Are Looking Forward to Promised 5G Nirvana This Year!


Chile has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in South America. The number of subscribers has fluctuated seasonally in recent years though the overall growth trend has been stable. Much of the growth can be ascribed to the extensive availability of LTE networks which has encouraged take-up to take advantage of mobile data services.

There exist four main operators: Movistar and Entel remain the market leaders, with a similar market share, while Claro accounts for about a quarter of the market. Nextel Chile was sold in mid-2014 by NII Holdings and rebranded as WOM in 2015. The company has rapidly increased its subscriber base, partly helped by roaming agreements with all three other network operators.

Mobile number portability has helped to increase competition and reduce prices for consumers. Intermodal portability was introduced in September 2016, which allows subscribers to port numbers between fixed and mobile networks.

All four MNOs had launched LTE networks by 2015, and during 2018 operators trialled 5G. The regulator has also adopted its National Plan for 5G aimed at developing a consensus on services and spectrum use. The significant growth in the number of LTE subscribers in recent quarters highlights operator focus on mobile broadband and data services as a source of revenue in coming years. This is being supported by the growing adoption of smartphones, in turn driven by the popularity of social media and near comprehensive LTE population coverage, as well as by the reduction in the price of devices.

Chilean 4G networks are on an upward trajectory as we see all four of the country’s mobile operators making improvements to their networks. According to Open Signal users on three of the four operators now report having more than 80% 4G Availability in the country, which is a big improvement from over a year ago, when none of the operators had achieved higher than 78.2% in 4G Availability. Meaning 4G users on three out of four networks in Chile, on average, were able to connect to 4G services more than 80% of the time.

Entel was the winner of the 4G Availability award with a score of 85.8%. Movistar was a close second with a score of 82.3%, followed by WOM with 80.5% and Claro with 75%. In Video Experience, all operators have achieved a Good ranking, which means they scored 55-65 on our 100-point scale. This means users may have a less consistent experience with slower loading times and some stalling.

In the Latency Experience category, Entel was the winner with a latency of 40.8 milliseconds, which was nearly 1ms less than its score in our August 2019 report, when it had a latency of 41.7ms. Entel’s score was also 3ms less than its next competitor WOM, which had a Latency Experience of 43.8ms.

We also see that all operators are making improvements to download and upload speeds. Entel was the winner of our Upload Experience award with a score of 9.7 Mbps. That was 2 Mbps faster than its Upload Speed measurement in the August 2019 report.

Entel also won the Download Speed Experience award with a score of 18 Mbps – 8% faster than its next closest competitor Claro, whose users saw average download speeds of 16.7 Mbps.

Entel was the winner in Opensignal’s 4G Coverage Experience with a score of 7.9 on a scale of 1-10. Movistar came in second with a score of 7.8. This is the first time Opensignal measured its users’ 4G Coverage Experience in Chile. Opensignal’s Coverage Experience metric analyzes the locations where customers of a network operator received a 4G signal relative to the locations visited by Opensignal users of all network operators.

Entel, short for Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, is the old state-owned provider for landlines and cellular services which was privatized some years ago. They were the first to bring GSM, UMTS and LTE to the country. 

Entel Chile has partnered with Ericsson to implement a plan for a reliable, stable network capable of delivering a superior mobile data experience to their subscribers, at the same time as it is constantly monitored and improved. Proactive Services has been developed by Ericsson to alert network operation center (NOC) teams when unexpected faults occur on the network. Actions can be proactively taken before a minor deviation becomes a major incident in the network. The result of the cooperation between Entel and Ericsson is improved network performance and stability, with a 60 percent reduction of performance issues within six months leading to more satisfied subscribers.

Despite not being considered a commercial network, Entel and Ericsson have recently inaugurated a 5.5 km 5G service area for the use of their clients.

Movistar, formerly CTC (Compañía de Teléfonos de Chile), now owned by Telefónica is on par with Entel. Unlike Entel, its 3G is not only on 1900 but on 850 MHz too. In 2015 Movistar opened as first operator its 4G/LTE on 700 (Band 28) and 2600 MHz (B7).

Claro, owned by Mexican América Móvil, formerly known as Smartcom and Chilesat PCS is the 3rd operator in Chile with a still good coverage. It was the first to bring LTE to Chile in 2013 that was opened to all prepaid customers in January 2016.

Claro Chile and the UC Innovation Center have signed a long-term strategic alliance wherein solutions and applications of 5G technology will be designed and tested, with a focus on the industries of the medicine, transport, agro-forestry, mining, wireless communication and education, among others, and seeks to position itself as a hub of innovation, technology and the future in order to solve the challenges around 5G technology.

WOM was called Nextel until 2015 and is the smallest network operator in Chile. It has 3G and 4G AWS (1700 MHz, band 4) MHz for voice and data, but no 2G/GSM, check WOM coverage. It has the lowest prices and a market share of 8% gaining rapidly in 2017.

In 2017 they discontinued domestic roaming on Entel and moved to Claro and Movistar for roaming when you are outside an own WOM coverage area, or if your phone is not compatible with AWS bands. WOM has started 4G/LTE in Santiago and Viña del Mar in 2015 using its own AWS (1700/2100) MHz band (B4).

Chilean telecoms watchdog the Department of Telecommunications (Subsecretaria de Telecomunicaciones, Subtel) has published the results of the final tiebreaker auction of its 5G spectrum tender process, naming Movistar, Entel and WOM as the winners. Each of the trio was awarded a 50MHz tranche of 3500MHz spectrum. Of the other two bidders, Claro’s bid fell short whilst would-be newcomer Borealnet bowed out after losing the tiebreaker auctions for frequencies in the 700MHz and AWS bands to WOM. According to Subtel, the economic offers submitted by the companies amounted to around CLP117 billion (USD162.7 million) for Movistar, CLP100 billion from Entel and CLP32 billion from WOM. As part of their licence obligations, the operators will be required to provide high speed mobile data services to 366 unserved or underserved locations, and connect 199 hospitals to the new networks. Diario Financiero quotes a statement from Claro commenting on the auction results as saying that the company would forge ahead with its 5G development programme: ‘The results of this first phase of the 3500MHz spectrum tender do not stop Claro Chile’s 5G deployment plans. We will continue advancing in the development of 5G with our currently available spectrum, including the 26GHz millimetre band.’ The operator also encouraged the regulator to accelerate the process of auctioning additional 5G spectrum, referring to the ‘next stage of the public tender’. The local press outlet also noted that there is a potential route for Claro to purchase additional 3500MHz airwaves in the immediate future, as Entel’s award will push the company’s spectrum holdings in the band above the 30% cap.

With the conclusion of this round of 5G tenders, the winners of the spectrum are as follows:

  • WOM – 2×10MHz in the 700MHz band, 2×15MHz in the AWS band, 50MHz in the 3500MHz band and 400MHz in the 26GHz band
  • Entel – 50MHz in the 3500MHz band and 400MHz in the 26GHz band
  • Movistar – 50MHz in the 3500MHz band
  • Claro – 400MHz in the 26GHz band.

Sunday 14 February 2021

Top 20 Telcos Worldwide in Q3 2020, Based on Capex by MTN Consulting

Matt Walker, Chief Analyst at MTN Consulting shared this chart on LinkedIn

The following are some interesting points from the discussions:

  • This does not include spectrum.
  • China Unicom is 12th with $1,862M in 3Q20 capex spend. Vodafone Idea spent only $140M in capex in 3Q20, which would rank it #72 on our list of 138 telcos. 
  • Reliance Jio was just outside the top 20 (#23) for 3Q20, based on $730M in estimated capex spend. 

More details about the report here

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Thursday 11 February 2021

Togo demos 5G while Togolese are still using 2G & 3G


In Togo two operators are active: Togocel (by Togo Telecom) and Moov (by Maroc Telecom).

Both networks broadcast on 900 MHz for 2G and 2100 MHz for 3G. In summer 2017 4G/LTE licenses were issued to the two operators and Togocel and Moov both launched their 4G/LTE network in Lomé in June 2018.

Togocel is the mobile branch of state-owned Togo Telecom and the market leader ("Le Leader") in Togo with more than 2/3 of all subscribers.

It has the best coverage in the country, quite dense and includes 3G in most towns: coverage map. 4G/LTE has been launched in June 2018 in the capital of Lomé with the obligation to cover 40% of population by 2022.

In November 2020 Nokia announced that it has been selected by African mobile operator, Togo Telecom in a three-year deal to deploy 5G across the country. In the capital city Lomé, the 5G network was subsequently launched -- the first time a 5G network has been deployed in West Africa. The deal, which also sees legacy 2G, 3G and 4G networks enhanced, will strengthen the operators market-leading position in Togo and future-proof its infrastructure for the next-generation of digital services for Togolese citizens.

Moov is the brand of Atlantique Telecom group, that changed ownership from the Emirati Etisalat to Maroc Telecom in 2017.

Due to bureaucratic slow-down they have only been able to start to roll-out 3G from August 2016. Moov has less subscribers and a lower coverage than Togocell. 4G/LTE has been launched in June 2018 in the capital of Lomé. 

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Sunday 7 February 2021

China Mobile on The Next Phase of 5G: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities

China always makes the news when it comes to the number of base stations and the vastness of the mobile network deployment. According to Tefficient, China will soon have 10 million mobile base stations. Of these, 718K are 5G equipped.

According to a recently posted lecture from IEEE 5G World Forum back in September, Dr. Chih-Lin I of China Mobile showed that there were 480k+ 5G capable base and the number of users that have a 5G capable phone or subscription exceeded 130 million. 

Back in April 2020, we looked at China Mobile's 5G+ network in detail here. There has been a lot of progress as over 200 5G devices were available back in October and over 400 5G application trials were conducted.

Remote surgery is one of the applications I take an exception with and have detailed it here and here. It looks like China Mobile is using 5G for a lot of medical use cases. Some of these are detailed in the pictures above and more details is available in the video below.

Finally, it is good to see that China Mobile sees 6G as Open & Smart. They are one of the founding operators of O-RAN Alliance so they definitely have a vision for open. AI is expected to play a big role in 6G networks and hence Smart.

At the IEEE 5G World Forum 2020 Virtual event, Dr. Chih-Lin I delivered her presentation embedded below. Chih-Lin I is one of the authorities driving the transformation. As China Mobile’s chief scientist, she is one of the experts helping to create a faster, greener, and healthier 5G world. You can find her complete bio here.

Her talk is embedded below.

While slides from this talk were not shared, Dr. Chih-Lin I delivered a very similar presentation to the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). The slides from that are available here and the video from that is here.

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Monday 1 February 2021

Senegal Mobile Users Are Just Starting to Move from 2G/3G to 4G LTE


Senegal’s telecom market has witnessed consistent growth in recent years, with the number of mobile subscribers having increased 5.7% in the year to March 2020. Orange Group’s local subsidiary Orange Senegal (Sonatel) is the dominant player in both the fixed-line and mobile sectors. The company reported solid revenue in 2019, and in mid-2020 it issued a XOF100 billion bond to finance its ongoing network upgrades and service offerings. the vibrant mobile sector continues to attract international investment, with Tigo having been acquired by a consortium and rebranded as Free Senegal, mirroring the brand name of an associated company in France which had upset the local market through cheap pricing and comprehensive service offerings. The third major operator is expresso. 

2G/GSM is mostly on 900 MHz and some 1800 MHz, 3G/UMTS is on 2100 MHz. Licenses for 4G/LTE have been given out in 2016 on 800 and 1800 MHz to Orange, other providers are to follow. All providers are testing in Dakar, but not haven't launched comercially yet.

In 2015 Senegal’s network coverage leaves much to be desired. Even in Dakar a large part of the population are still without effective coverage: The population not covered by a 3G network in Dakar is 27% for Orange, 47% for Tigo, now Free and 52% for Expresso. In Senegal’s 45 administrative departments, in addition to poor 2G coverage, only Orange has a 3G network in each department, with Tigo covering just 12 and Expresso having no 3G coverage at all outside of Dakar, Saint Louis, Thies, Fatick, Kaolock, Tambacounda and Diourbe.

Orange in Senegal is owned by the mobile department of Sonatel. This is the old state telco which was privatized in 1997. France Télécom is their strategic partner and from 2006 on it has used their Orange brand.

They are the biggest operator with 60% of all mobile customers, best coverage and reasonable speeds. For travelling through the country, it should be your first choice. But they have higher prices than their competitors.

In 2016 Orange received licenses for 4G/LTE on 800 and 1800 MHz (Bands 3 and 20). The operator is obliged to begin marketing 4G within two months of the frequency assignment date and required to provide coverage of 70% in 5 years and 85-90% in 10 years.

In 2018 Orange announced, that it now covers all major cities of Senegal with its 4G/LTE network and that by October all regional capitals and most populated cities will have access to mobile broadband. During the first half of 2018 Orange strengthened its LTE coverage in Dakar and commissioned 4G sites in Porokhane, Medina, Gounass, Sokone, Darou, Mousty, Popenguine and Velingara. Additional 4G sites will be set up in Kedougou, Kidira, Mbour, Louga, Kolda, Bignona, Kaffrine, Fatick and Sedhiou in October, while Orange will also strengthen LTE coverage in Ziguinchor and Touba. The population coverage of 4G was about 50% at the end of 2018.

Orange Senegal staged the country’s first 5G test on 24 November 2020 in partnership with Chinese hardware vendor Huawei, reports Agence Ecofin. Company officials have stated 5G trials could take place in the next two years, subject to regulatory approval. 

Free Senegal was previously called Tigo run by Sentel GSM, a subsidiary of Millicom. It used to be the 3rd operator, but overtook Expresso in 2013/4. In 2018 it acquired a 4G/LTE license.

Tigo Senegal was sold by Millicom in 2018 to the Saga Africa Holdings Ltd., a consortium owned by Xavier Niel of the French Free Group. Tigo, Senegal’s second largest mobile network operator by subscribers, has been rebranded as Free Senegal in October 2019. They promote the operator’s new ‘4G+’ LTE-A network, which is said to cover Dakar and most regional capitals and offer the country’s fastest mobile data speeds.

Expresso is owned by UAE-based Expresso Telecom Group Limited, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Sudanese telecoms operator Sudatel Telecom Group (STG), started in 2007 and was passed over by Tigo, now called Free in 2013 as 2nd provider. They now care for 22% of all subscribers. Like Free, their network is not as good as Orange's. 3G can only be found in Dakar and a few other towns (3G coverage map, 2G coverage map). Its service has proven to be not so reliable and you should make a network check before purchase.

Expresso announced it activated a new 4G network on 3rd March prior to launching commercial services on 31 March 2020. However this launch was delayed to the Pandemic situation. Expresso is also planning to upgrade its 3G network to address the poor data transmission speeds and service availability experienced in some areas of the country. The planned infrastructure investment is expected to expand 3G network coverage from 45% to 70% of population, while the operator’s 2G network footprint will be increased from 87% to 90%.