Wednesday 29 September 2021

Telenor Norway says 5G is the Key Enabler for Modernization going forward

In the recently concluded 5G World Summit 2021, Ingeborg Øfsthus, CTO of Telenor Norway provided a Holographic Service Provider Keynote on "Innovate, modernize and decommission, - moving Norway from legacy technology to high speed broadband with 5G, FWA and fiber"

Her talk was full of interesting facts about Norway and Norwegians. As a matter of comparison, UK for example is 3/4th the size of Norway while the population is roughly 12 times. This does not mean that the people out there expect anything less than the best from their operators. 

This is a reason that Telenor has embarked on a journey to modernize their network (fixed and mobile) and phase out the legacy. There is an ongoing program to get rid of the copper network that has served the country well for over 160 years.

Users in urban and sub-urban areas can get fiber to their premises, be it home or business. The mobile network is being upgraded to 5G with 3G being shut down end of 2021. A small chunk of 2G will remain for fallback, roaming and IoT purpose. This whole modernization should be completed by 2024.

While Fiber will be available for most of the users, some rural and hard to reach areas may have to rely on Fixed Wireless Access. To ensure that good speeds are available to FWA as well as mobile users, granular planning is done to decide what kind of internet service would be offered in each area. In case of some very remote locations, Satellite broadband is provided as well.

As can be see in the picture above, Telenor has managed to stretch the C-band FWA as far as 3.6 kilometers. This of course requires line of sight outdoor antennas that have to be planned and installed by professional RF engineers. 

Telenor considers all of these equipment to be part of the network so as to ensure a fantastic quality of experience to the end users. FWA is treated as fiber through the air by the end users. 

As the old copper network is decommissioned, it is allowing a lot of power to be saved and indoor space to be reclaimed. Some of these old infrastructure is also a threat to wildlife as it's old and can fall down. 

The main challenge is also to retain the customers while doing this transition from legacy to modern infrastructure. Telenor aims to retain at least 60% of the existing customers and 70% of the revenue. The approach using fiber and FWA is profitable and the best approach going forward. 

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Wednesday 22 September 2021

Malta gets a Taste of 5G!

Malta’s small telecom sector is among the most advanced in Europe. This has been helped by the topography, which has made it relatively easy for operators to expand the reach of their fibre infrastructure. With high mobile and broadband penetration rates, the government and regulator have effective strategies in place to capitalise on these infrastructure developments to ensure that the population has among the fastest data rates in Europe, and so is well positioned to take advantage of emerging e-commerce opportunities.

The sector has also been stimulated by regulatory measures designed to reduce consumer prices. Melita having been sold to EQT in late 2019 and Vodafone Malta having been sold to Monaco Telecom, and rebranded as Epic. The incumbent telco GO is investing in a subsea cable to connect the islands to France and Egypt. Expected to be ready for service in 2022, the cable will further enhance Malta’s internet bandwidth and lead to reduced prices for end-users.

As mentioned Malta and Gozo have three network operators: epic (former Vodafone), GO and Melita.

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE has started on Vodafone's and Go's 1800 (B3) and 2600 (B7) MHz frequencies and 800 (B20) MHz was added later and Melita started with LTE too in 2018.

epic is in the lead with 44% market share in 2015, followed by GO with 39% and Melita with 15% only. Redtouch Fone was the first MVNO in Malta. They stopped providing services in 2018 and moved all customers to Melita.

In 2017 Vodafone and Melita agreed to a merger, but they were not able to satisfy the competition authorities as this new company would control about 62% of Malta's mobile market. That's why the merger was called off later.

epic is market leader with the best coverage on Malta and Gozo.

It started 4G/LTE in 2013 on 1800 and 2600 MHz and covered already 99% of population at the end of 2015 opened on most prepaid products.

Epic begun the rollout of a new fibre-optic network which will offer download speeds of up to 2Gbps. Until now, the firm has been utilising fibre infrastructure of rival operator GO under a wholesale agreement signed in 2018, but it is now deploying its own networks, beginning in the city of Mosta. Epic had just 1,162 fibre broadband subscribers at the end of 2020 according to figures from the Malta Communications Authority (MCA), as well as 8,245 fixed-wireless customers and almost 240,000 cellular subscribers.

Epic have selected Ericsson as their exclusive 5G radio access network (RAN) provider, bringing the wide-reaching benefits of 5G to Malta. As part of the new partnership, Epic will use Ericsson’s technology leadership to fully modernize their existing network.

RAN products and solutions from the Ericsson Radio System portfolio, including Ericsson Spectrum Sharing and Ericsson Antenna System will be deployed in Epic’s network as part of a smooth, fast, and cost-effective shift to 5G that will accelerate the digital transformation of Maltese society.

Ericsson RAN portfolio also includes Massive MIMO technology, which enables communication service providers to capitalize on mid-band 5G spectrum. And with a unique approach to energy optimization, Ericsson's radios and basebands will also improve the carbon footprint of Epic’s current network, contributing to significant energy savings.

GO Mobile is the big rival of Vodafone on the island giving good coverage and speeds too. 4G/LTE started in 2015 and covers most of the islands. At the moment it's expanding its fibre-optic 4G network.

GO has recently revamped its full mobile portfolio, allowing its customers to do so much more with their mobile bundle while on the move, thanks to unlimited data plans, at full speeds.

“Our unlimited data plans will allow our customers to really enjoy the best of Malta’s best rated network, with total peace of mind. They can connect to who and what matters to them, whether it’s accessing social networks, talking to family and friends overseas, entertaining their children, listening to their favourite tunes or watching their favourite TV programme with absolute peace of mind,” GO’s senior marketing manager, Alison Mercieca, said.

With more businesses shifting their operations online and more people working remotely, GO also enhanced its mobile plans for the business community so that everyone can really get to enjoy the benefits of these new plans.

Melita is Malta's smallest provider, but it controls half of the broadband market. Its 3G is on 2100 MHz, 4G/LTE has started in May 2018 in Valletta.

The 4G network is continually rolled out across the country. In 2018 it already covered 85% to reach nationwide coverage by the end of the year. Prepaid customers have access to 4G/LTE since September 2018.

Melita has launched what it says is a ‘nationwide’ 5G service, beating rivals Epic and GO to the country’s first commercial 5G offering. Melita claims that download speeds of up to 1Gbps will be available on its Ericsson-built network, although real-world speeds will be somewhat lower. Any customer with a 5G device can access the service, Melita CEO Harald Roesch told Times of Malta. He added: ‘Malta is one of the very few countries in the world with 5G nationwide coverage, and is now unparalleled in the EU. This investment benefits our economy in general.’ Melita is using existing spectrum for its 5G service ahead of an auction of 5G-capable licences in the 700MHz, 3.5GHz and 26GHz bands later this year.

Saturday 18 September 2021

Telstra Conducts 50 Tests on 5G mmWave and Small Cells to Measure EME

The Aussie MNO Telstra has been very active since dispelling the myths since the early days of 5G. They have a detailed page looking at mobile phones and health related issues as well as a YouTube playlist answering many of the questions.

This week they announced that they have now conducted more than 50 tests on 5G mmWave and small cells to measure the electromagnetic energy (or EME) levels in many different real-world settings. In some of the most extensive testing undertaken on 5G technology in Australia, they’ve found levels of mmWave electromagnetic energy to be similar to existing technologies like 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi.

Their article written by Mike Wood, Principal, EME Strategy, Governance and Risk Management at Telstra says:

I’ve been testing EME levels for decades, and this is some of the most extensive testing I’ve taken part in – we’ve really put mmWave and small cells through their paces. This round of testing was different, though, in that we also sought help from the graduates and young engineers in our business who really embrace the latest tech.

No matter how much we upped the ante – and we really threw everything we had at our testing to max out the small cells – we found that our 5G technology produces electromagnetic energy levels not just slightly below, but actually around 1000 times below the safety limits in most cases.

Importantly, we did our testing on Telstra’s live network. This wasn’t just a bunch of boffins testing EME in the lab – our 50 tests of 5G were real-world tests, in places like apartments, pubs, cafes, transport hubs, homes and businesses – and even a dentist’s office. We also used devices that are commercially available. This is where our grads and young engineers really put their mark on this project, seeking out the best real-world situations to put 5G to the test and gather valuable real-world data.

In a local café, one of my favourite places to work, our Telstra graduates arranged a coffee and 5G mmWave test where their challenge was to max out the hardware we had available – to all connect to the mmWave hotspots and run video streaming, jump on social media and their everyday online work from the café, really putting the 5G to the test with real-word scenarios while we measured the EME.

As we expected, the EME measured was very low whilst the grads enjoyed a seamless connection, learned how the testing was conducted, and helped us evaluate more real-world settings.

Encouraging our young engineers and providing these learning opportunities really helps us to ensure the Telstra networks are world class, all while we’re helping to develop Australia’s best technical talent. These are Australia’s future technology leaders!

You can read the complete article here. There is also an accompanying presentation showing pictures and providing a lot more detailed insights available here.

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Wednesday 15 September 2021

MTN is hoping their 5G will trump Orange's 4.75G in Cameroon


Cameroon for many years was one of the few countries in Africa with only two competing mobile operators. After some delays, Viettel Cameroon launched a third network and has since grown its subscriber base rapidly. Camtel became the fourth mobile operator in early 2020 after securing three licences. The investment programs among operators over the next few years will considerably boost mobile broadband services in rural areas of the country, many of which are underserved by fixed-line infrastructure.

The ICT sector in Cameroon is making steady progress, enabling the country to make better use of the digital economy. About 95% of all electronic transactions are carried through the m-money services operated by MTN Cameroon and Orange Cameroon. The government has also been supportive, having launched its ‘Cameroon Digital 2020’ program, aimed at improving connectivity nationally. A large number of small ICT projects form part of the overall program. Improved submarine and terrestrial cable connectivity has substantially increased international bandwidth, in turn leading to reductions in access prices for consumers.

The four present operators are MTN Cameroon, Orange Cameroon (previously Airtel), Nexttel (by Viettel) and Camtel (Cameroon Telecommunications - CDMA and LTE)

Nexttel (majority-owned by Viettel)was launched as a 3rd network in 2014, including the country’s first 3G mobile service. The operator has grown swiftly, signing up 2 million subscribers and gaining market share. Competition in 3G followed in early 2015 when both MTN and Orange launched services. Mobile broadband based on 4G/LTE was established at the end of 2015 and this has been the catalyst for a fast-developing mobile broadband sector. The investment programs among operators over the next few years will boost mobile broadband services in rural areas of the country. At the tail end of this ranking is the historical operator, Camtel, sole landline phone operator of the country, which has shrunk to 1.4% of the phone market, but launched a new 4G/LTE network.

MTN Cameroon is the country's biggest operator with a 37 per cent market share at the end of June 2021 (says Omdia research). Orange Cameroon has 35.5 per cent and Nexttel 25.5 per cent. Camtel Cameroon has less than two per cent of the nation’s subscribers. 

MTN is still the market leader in the country with over 10 million mobile subscribers. According to the 2019 report by Rohde & Schwarz, which audited the performance of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G mobile networks, concluded the MTN network as the best in Cameroon for data and voice quality.

MTN Cameroon have applied for permission to deploy and operate a trial 5G network. The operator has submitted a request to the Telecommunications Regulatory Board (Agence de Regulation des Telecommunications, ART) for a relevant licence to test 5G services in the country. MTN said the move is aimed at ‘giving Cameroonians access to more modern uses of information and communication technologies’.

At the end of December 2020, Orange Cameroon’s subscriber base was 9.26 million, against 7.87 million at the end of 2019 and 6.9 million subscribers at the end of 2018. 

Orange Cameroon claims to be the leader of the 4G technology, ahead of MTN Cameroon, Nexttel, and Camtel. It also believes to have covered 79% of the Cameroonian population with 3G.

They have increased the speed and capacity of its LTE-A network in certain parts of the country. In order to use the new service, which is described by the operator as ‘4.75G’, customers require a compatible handset or device. Nokia and Orange embarked on a major 4G LTE regional rollout in 2018, which saw the Finnish vendor upgrade the cellco’s radio access network to enhance mobile broadband services. In January 2020 Orange launched LTE-A (referred to by the company as ‘4.5G’) in a number of towns and cities, including Douala, Yaounde, Mbankomo, Sangmelima, Mbalmayo, Ngaoundere, Bafia, Garoua-Boulai, Bandjoun, Bangangte, Ferme-Suisse, Mbanga, Yop and Mengbwa.

Nexttel (owned by Viettel) started in 2014 in Cameroon. Two years later it had already 2.5 million subscribers, presently it has approx. 5 million. It has the most aggressive pricing.

Nexttel General Manager Benoit Yaoussou announced recently that they will roll out their own mobile money service called Nexttel Possa before the end of 2021.Yaoussou said the company will also prioritise the extension and stabilisation of its network. Nexttel already covers over 75%mof the national territory, particularly rural areas.

Camtel is Cameroon’s fixed line monopoly operator which has a limited network based on CDMA/EVDO called Fako that is migrating to GSM. In 2016 they rolled out their 4G/LTE network called "X-TremNet" on 1800 MHz (band 3).

Their Fako network is quite unreliable, based on CDMA, not compatible to GSM devices and can't be recommeded. However, their 4G/LTE XTremNet network can be a cheap option, if you have coverage. Douala and Yaoundé are covered only so far: 4G coverage list. Because of the limited coverage, it can't be an option for travelling, but may be an option for stationary use in Douala and Yaoundé. Speeds of around 50 Mbps have been reported. Have in mind, that there is no fallback or roaming on 2G/3G networks.

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Wednesday 8 September 2021

stc Saudi Arabia's Robotic Hajj 2021

The Hajj pilgrimage despite being greatly impacted and reduced in term of pilgrims due to the pandemic these last two years is being transformed by innovative technologies and advances in mobile networks especially with the rollout of 4G and 5G. 

For example stc Group have launched a series of smart robot technologies aimed at increasing the efficiency of the Hajj pilgrimage and developing a reference experience for the coming Hajj Seasons through shortening the effort and time and providing safety for the pilgrims. 

stc envisage two types of robots to be used in Mecca. The first robot is featured as a personal robot, while the other is a security robot. The personal robot works using 3D technology and is equipped with a screen, camera and microphone, as it can move among and talk to pilgrims, answer their inquiries and provide guidance and advice. It further enhances communication among individuals under the circumstances of remote work and social distancing imposed by Covid-19 pandemic.

The security robot is dedicated to follow up and monitor the compliance with the precautionary and preventive measures that the pilgrims must follow as per the applicable health protocols. It can measure the human temperature and monitor the mask wearing through its AI technologies. Further, it undertakes site sanitization on a continuous basis, where it can be controlled and operated remotely through the Monitoring and Control Platform.

Furthermore, stc enhanced “Augmented Reality” technology (AR) together with its efforts to expand and deploy (5G) technology across Holy Sites. Such AR technology is an interactive experience based on the latest technologies where the user can deal with the information and objects that reside in the virtual world and see the surrounding world through mobile devices such as smartphone or through wearable devices such glasses and contact. Such technology contributes to the enhancement of Hajj and Umrah experience and provides virtual guide for circumambulation (“Tawaf”), information about the directions to the main sites and first-hand information about the Holy Mosque.

Moreover stc Group has significantly raised its network operational plan, and its network availability rate with the latest technology in 5G and 4G in recent times. Regarding the Hajj pilgrimage 5G coverage in Mecca and the Holy Sites has increased by 48% comparing to last year. Data Traffic on stc network has increased 40% compared with the last year. With the number of international voice channels increased by 33% distributed over 8 international exchanges, the company. Concerning the internal coverage solutions, sites in the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque have been allocated and upgraded to 5G technology, in parallel with the company’s goal to create an innovative Hajj experience for pilgrims during this season.

The Digital Operations Control Center, which was recently launched at stc complex in Riyadh as the largest control and monitoring center in the region, has monitored the difference in the movement of services in parallel with the strategy of delivering more services through the latest networks. In fact, the voice traffic recorded more than 737% growth compared to last year, with more than 65% delivered through the 4G network to enhance customer experience in voice services, while the 4G and 5G networks have carried more than 96% of the internet traffic in Mina.

While data traffic increased on The Day of Arafat by 220% compared to last year, while the volume of voice traffic increased by 350%. Around 97% of this increase was transmitted through 5G and 4G networks. The data also showed a 330% increase in the number of stc customers on the Holy Mount Arafat.

This quantitative and qualitative increase in state-of-the-art voice traffic delivery and data traffic technologies comes in conjunction with the development of the 5G and 4G networks this year in order to increase the qualitative efficiency of customer experience across all stc services.

On the other hand, the critical communication network solutions provided by “specialized by stc” to government and private entities involved in the Hajj season recorded an availability rate of 99%, thus ensuring continuity of communication with field teams and immediate communication of critical and emergency situations. 

Another interesting innovation is the deployment of the 'smart card' this is linked with all services being provided to the pilgrims; such as their entry to hotels in Makkah and tents in the holy sites as well as their using of means of transportation.

Indeed King Salman of Saudi Arabia has affirmed that the digital Hajj system aims to reduce human cadres in managing crowds and organizing Hajj to ensure the safety of pilgrims and those serving them.

Deputy Minister Hajj Amr Al-Maddah said that the launch of the card establishes a digital phase ahead in which all transactions will be managed in a smart and contactless manner. He pointed out that it will also serve as an electronic financial wallet in the future; thus eliminating the need for pilgrims to carry cash.

The smart card can be used in payments through points of sale as well as to guide lost pilgrims on to their camps; governing access to camps and timing of grouping and transportation. It aims to facilitate the movement of pilgrims to and from Makkah and markedly reduce the waiting time for buses that transport them between Makkah and the Holy Sites. The card also enabled pilgrims to bring down the human contact to the minimum.

Also this year, instead of communal water dispensers, an army of robots was deployed to distribute sacred water to the faithful.

“Bottled zamzam water is much better. There are fewer people and there's no need to queue,” Pakistani-American Aneela, 37, told AFP.

Egyptian pilgrim Siam said the new technologies meant the Haj was “keeping up with the times”.


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