Friday 2 July 2021

Poland is still waiting for a faster 5G

The liberalisation of Poland telecom market has resulted in  considerable development in the broadband and mobile sectors. The incumbent operator, Orange Poland, dominates the broadband market and has invested in fibre infrastructure to support the growing adoption of bundled services among customers.

The Polish mobile market is vibrant and growing with a total of about 53.9 million mobile subscriptions. Orange is the largest operator by market share in the country followed closely by Play. The mobile market in recent years has been characterised by the rapid extension of LTE networks and the development of mobile data services based on newly released and re-farmed spectrum. The regulator’s attempts to auction spectrum in a range of bands has been delayed, with spectrum in the 5G-suitable 3.4-3.8GHz range having been suspended to later in 2021 as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak and legislative changes.

Mobile penetration in Poland is above the European average, though this partly reflects the continuing popularity among consumers to keep two or more SIM cards, which has distorted the real mobile penetration rate. Nevertheless, the distortion has been addressed on two fronts: by network operators being encouraged to disconnect dormant SIM cards, and by legislation which obliges subscribers of prepaid services to register their details. These forces have resulted in a significant readjustment in the number of subscribers in the market.

The market has effective competition from four MNOs, and has room for more than two dozen MVNOs though many of these are small operators with marginal market share. ARPU has been adversely affected by retail tariff competition and by regulatory mandated reductions in mobile termination rates and roaming tariffs. In addition, roaming revenue has been deeply affected by the decline in international travel since 2020. However, operators anticipate that ARPU will rise in line with consumer adoption of mobile data services, facilitated by improved network infrastructure.

Poland's 4 GSM-based network providers are: Play (by P4), Orange (formerly IDEA), Plus (by Polkomtel, merged with Aero2) and T-Mobile (formerly ERA).

More and more MVNOs and subsidiaries of the operators are arriving on the scene competing with four major operators and reselling their networks. The first 4 operators have pretty similar market shares around 25%. Their price battles have led to one of the lowest rates for data in the EU for the consumer, but to congestion and slow speeds at peak times too.

3G is phasing out and operators moves available resources to 4G/5G networks.

Situation with 5G is very tricky - 5G works with Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) mainly on 2100 MHz, which offers maximal speed of 300 Mbps but usually is even slower than LTE-A. In contrast to others, Plus/Aero2 works on TDD 2600 MHz, which now offers the fastest speeds (up to 600 Mb/s). Resources from 3400 - 3800 MHz and 700 MHz are expected to be auditioned in summer 2021.

T-Mobile Poland announced that will shutdown their 3G network by the end 2023 and will begin in 2021 and refarm these spectrums for 4G/5G. Play confirmed, that will shut off completely 2G and 3G for 7 years. Plus and Orange also will shut down their 3G network, but there is no information about time of disabling.

OpenSignal’s recent analysis of Poland found that Orange also dominated the OpenSignal awards winning five of the seven awards. The operator won in Video Experience, Download Speed Experience, Upload Speed Experience, 4G Availability and 4G Coverage Experience.

Interestingly, they also found that 4G Availability is fairly strong in the country with three of the four national operators achieving 4G Availability greater than 85%, while Orange slightly exceeded the coveted 90% Availability mark.

However, this may be an area to watch as late last year Play expanded its 4G LTE network to many more cities and we may see that continue in 2020.

When it comes to 5G, Poland recently postponed the auction of 5G spectrum licenses in the 3.4GHz-3.8GHz bands due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, some operators are moving forward with their 5G deployments.

Interestingly, T-Mobile stood out in Voice App Experience where it won the award with a score of 80.1 on a 0-100 scale, which puts it into the Good category. This means many users were satisfied with minor quality impairments such as occasional clicking sounds. The other three operators were close behind with scores of 79.3 and higher, which falls into the Acceptable category. This means that while users were satisfied, there were perceptible call quality impairments experienced by some users.


Play, owned by P4, used to be the smallest of the 4 network operators in Poland. But their aggressive marketing, has grown their subscribers. 

By mid-2020, it had covered 98.7% of the population with 3G/UMTS, which is called "4G". LTE, which is called "4G LTE" by Play, covers 99% of population. "4G LTE Ultra" is an area where LTE Advanced is available (maximal speed: 300 Mbit/s) covering 91%. Play has also started with "5G READY", which you can get over 600 Mbps on compatible devices, but coverage is limited - 48%. 5G is available on 2100 MHz (n1) frequency for prepaid plans, but you need a special package activated. 

Play has around 9000 of its own towers in the country, more than Plus. Play customers using most tariffs are allowed to roam for free on other Polish networks in places without Play's own coverage. Now, you can roam to 4G/LTE on Orange network and on 3G network of T-Mobile. Roaming speed stays always limited to 3 Mbit/s for download and 1 Mbit/s for upload. Be aware that the budget Internet na Kartę tariff is excluded from all domestic roaming and stays on Play's limited own network only. National data roaming is coming to end in 2021 upon the expiry of the agreements. At least that motivates Play to build way more own stations in last years.

Play is trialling 4G and 5G equipment with Korean vendor Samsung. The trial will be conducted this summer in Play’s labs and on its live network in Warsaw, testing interoperability with the operator’s existing network equipment. Samsung will provide its latest 4G and 5G solutions, including 4G radios, 5G Massive MIMO radios and baseband units, utilising low and mid-band spectrum. 

Orange has good coverage in Poland. LTE is open for prepaid and covers already 99.85% of population in 2018 with speeds up to 600 Mbps. 5G is also available on 2100 MHz (n1) frequency but you'll need a special package to access it.

Orange has biggest network sharing with T-Mobile called NetWorks! Both operators are building a common cellular network and subscribers can use both networks base stations (that is not equal to domestic roaming, but basically Orange and T-Mobile subscribers are sharing the same antennas, but don't share frequencies).

Last month Orange unveiled its new business strategy to June 2024. The new strategy, under the name of .Grow, is based on four pillars: creating value in the company’s core business, particularly in the context of optical fibre and convergence; creating new solutions for business, using the latest technologies, such as 5G; further transformation of the company thanks to digitisation; and responsible management.

Plus (formerly Plus GSM) is the brand name of Poland's mobile phone network operator Polkomtel. The company is entirely owned by Spartan Capital Holdings sp. z o.o.

Plus has a good coverage throughout the country on 2G and 3G while their 4G/LTE (called LTE PLUS) network already covers 99% right now and speeds up to 150 Mbps. LTE-Advanced (called LTE PLUS ADVANCED) is available for 73% of Polish population, is open for prepaid with speeds up to 600 Mbps. 5G in Plus is available for prepaid customers up to 31.05.2021 without special packages. Plus is the local Vodafone partner.

Before 2011 T-Mobile used to be a second operator in Poland, but after rebranding to "" (from "Era") and during period with disappointing offers compared to other operators, it started losing customers. Currently it has least market share.4G/LTE is open for prepaid and covers most of the population. On the majority of 4G base stations LTE Advanced is available to compatible devices at no extra cost. LTE-A in a T-Mobile can offer up to 700 Mbit/s of download speed. T-Mobile also offers 5G network on 2100 MHz (n1) frequency, but have to activate selected package. The operator is expanding its range of products in the GO! pre-paid range to include 5G connectivity in the ‘No Limit XL’ tariff. Users must pay PLN39 (USD10.11) per month for access to 5G services. The cellco says it now offers 31 handsets which support 5G.

It has the biggest network and most extensive coverage in Poland. T-Mobile has a union with Orange Polska to improve infrastructure called NetWorks! - T-Mobile and Orange are building cellular network together, but don't share frequencies. That subscribers can use both networks base stations (that is not equal to domestic roaming, but basically T-Mobile and Orange subscribers are using the same antennas). 

Regarding the upcoming 5G spectrum auctions, 5G observatory reports:

The updated version of the National Broadband Plan covering the 2020-2025 period adopted in November 2020 include plans for 5G in the country:

  • 700 MHz frequencies should be assigned by 30 July 2022
  • 3480-3800 MHz frequencies should be assigned by 31 August 2021 (initial goal of 30 July 2020 not met)
  • 26 GHz frequencies should be assigned by 31 December 2022

Hopefully the end users will finally be able to enjoy faster speeds after the C band spectrum auctions in August.

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