Wednesday 27 October 2021

South African MNO, Cell C, is Transitioning from Telco to Techco

If you can't beat them, join them says the old proverb. The South African MNO Cell C has taken this seriously. A news article back in September said:

In a bid to give its customers access to world-class network quality, excellent service and innovative value offers, Cell C has over the last eight months deactivated 39% of its physical radio access network (RAN) towers with 100% migration in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and Limpopo. 

Over the next four months, Cell C plans to decommission a further 5% of its towers, with a focus on parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga. 

Rather than spending billions building network infrastructure to compete with its fellow mobile giants, the company concluded roaming agreements with network partners like MTN and Vodacom to use the spare capacity that they have on their networks. 

Prepaid customers will roam on the MTN network, whilst post-paid customers will be on the Vodacom network. 

We see a dual approach by Cell C here. Rather than putting all their eggs in a single basket, they have spread their risk portfolio.

In our blog post last year, we saw that both MTN and Vodacom has similar coverage and capabilities. This would mean that Cell C subscribers will win regardless of whichever network they are on.

With Vodacom, it looks like Cell C is using a roaming agreement and will act like a Thick MVNO. We have explained the different types of MVNOs here but if you prefer to watch a video then see here.

The approach with MTN, based on the above slide shared by them seems to be a combination of MVNO and MORAN. To understand what MORAN is, read here or watch the video here. Cell C explained it as follows back in June:

Cell C has successfully decommissioned 34 percent of its physical Radio Access Network (RAN) sites, while seamlessly migrating prepaid and Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) customers to roam solely on its partner network, MTN, via a virtual RAN.

The initial Cell C and MTN roaming agreement from 2018 provided coverage in areas outside of the main metros. The decommissioning of sites in these provinces means that where Cell C customers previously moved between Cell C and MTN towers, they will now only roam on MTN’s network through the virtual radio network provisioned for Cell C, which has wide network coverage. 

Based on technology advances it is possible for network operators to avoid duplication of investment in RAN infrastructure. In this model, Cell C will decommission its physical RAN, which includes towers, base stations, antennae, radio and transmission equipment, while MTN will provision a virtual RAN.  Cell C will use its own spectrum on this virtual RAN and manage the customer experience.  As a mobile network operator Cell C is still responsible for its spectrum licenses, core network, transport network, billing system and subscriber management.

While Cell C continues to refer to the arrangement as 'virtual RAN', it shouldn't be confused with vRAN / Open RAN. It would be interesting to see how this arrangement works and if this will continue for 5G going forward.

Cell C's FY 2020 annual results presentation slides and video may be worth a watch. 

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Wednesday 13 October 2021

Hungary's MNOs are keen for Nationwide 5G Rollout

Hungary has the advantage of a developed telecom infrastructure, with a focus among operators to develop the 5G sector and upgrade fixed networks to provide a 1Gb/s service. Services based on 5G have been supported by the January 2021 multi-spectrum auction for spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands. Digi Mobile failed to secure spectrum, which prompted the operator’s parent company to sell the unit to 4iG.

As in many other markets in the region, the number of fixed-lines continues to fall as subscribers migrate to the mobile platform for voice and data services. Operators have thus looked to bundled packages to boost revenue and retain subscribers. This strategy encouraged Vodafone Group to acquire UPC Hungary in mid-2019.

The dynamic mobile market is served by four MNOs and a small number of MVNOs. Mobile penetration is relatively high for the region, and there remains considerable growth in mobile broadband services delivered via upgraded networks. Revenue growth is focused on mobile data as operators struggle with competition and regulated tariff reductions.

Maygar Telekom is at the forefront of 5G developments, supported by the government, universities, other telcos and vendors forming the Hungarian 5G Coalition. By March 2021, Vodafone Hungary managed about 300 5G base stations in Budapest and its surrounds, as well as in a number of other cities.

The four mobile operators in Hungary are: Magyar Telekom (a.k.a Telekom, formerly T-Mobile/Westel), Telenor Hungary (formerly Pannon, partly state-owned), Vodafone Hungary and DIGIMobil (limited coverage, postpaid only)]

For the three major providers Telekom, Telenor and Vodafone 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G is on 900 and 2100 MHz, while Digi works only on 1800 MHz with 2G/4G. The big three carriers are offering 4G/LTE services since 2015 on 800, 1800 and partly 2100, 2600 MHz (bands 1, 3, 7 and 20). LTE-A is available by big three providers in bigger cities in up to 300 Mbit/s. Telekom and Telenor have network sharing agreement for 4G on 800 MHz (B20) outside of Budapest and have therefore almost the same coverage on 4G/LTE. Generally Hungary has a quite good coverage with 4G/LTE networks and high speeds in most areas except Digi.

According to the recent Opensignal report on operators in Hungary, it was found that Telekom is the dominant operator when it comes to national mobile network experience. The operator won five out of the seven awards outright — Video Experience, Games Experience, Voice App Experience, Upload Speed Experience, and 4G Coverage Experience — and further jointly won the Download Speed Experience award with Telenor. It was noteworthy that Telekom users saw strong results for the experiential metrics — Excellent rating in Video Experience, Good ratings on Games Experience, and Voice App Experience. Telekom also had a considerable lead in Upload Speed Experience, with the users on its network observing 18.9% to 306.5% faster speeds compared to their peers. However, this was not the case for other metrics, as Telenor came close to challenge Telekom on most of them.

Hungary has held a strong position globally when it comes to mobile network experience and is striving to establish the same level of global success in the 5G era. The country opened its doors to 5G earlier last year with the auction of 5G capable bands in which three national operators — Telekom, Telenor, and Vodafone — acquired three bands of which the 2.1 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands were ready to be used immediately, while the 700 MHz band was available for use from September 2020 onwards. Since then, 5G deployments have been evolving in the country.

In terms of commercial 5G service, Vodafone claimed to be the first to launch services covering downtown Budapest in late 2019, using its existing 3500 MHz band frequencies. Telekom has claimed to have expanded 5G mobile services using the 2100 MHz band, via Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology and launched its commercial 5G network in April 2020 using the 3600 MHz band in selected areas of downtown Budapest and central Zalaegerszeg. In contrast, Telenor is yet to launch commercial 5G services, while the newest mobile operator — DIGIMobil — did not acquire any spectrum from the 5G auctions. The measurements from 5G users contribute to the overall scores included in this report.

In the future, as Hungary’s operators continue to make strides for a nationwide rollout it will be interesting to see how the mobile network experience in the country shapes up.

In this report, Opensignal used real-world data to compare the experience of our users on the country’s four key national operators — DIGIMobil, Telekom, Telenor and Vodafone — for a period of 90 days starting October 1, 2020.

Magyar Telekom Nyrt., often simply called Telekom, is the largest Hungarian telecommunications company. The former monopolist is now a subsidiary of (German) Deutsche Telekom.

It has the best and fastest network according to Opensignal. 4G/LTE is available on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz and covers 98% of the population coverage map in up to 150 Mbit/s.

Telekom launched its commercial 5G network in April 2020 with spectrum in the spectrum from the 3.5GHz band, connecting areas in downtown Budapest and county capital Zalaegerszeg, it also switched on 5G base stations in the Lake Balaton region in July 2020.

Magyar Telekom stated 5G services are live in four other county capitals Debrecen, Szeged, Kecskemet and Szombathely. There is also 5G connectivity in the town of Budaors and 21 settlements around Lake Balaton.

DSS technology enables spectrum to be shared between 4G and 5G to a millisecond, allowing operators to rely on spectrum they already possess.

Telenor in Hungary was sold by Telenor to the Czech PPF Group in 2018, and since 2019 25% of it is owned by the state. It has pretty good coverage throughout the country. Their 3G is on 900 and 2100 MHz up to 42 Mbit/s and their 4G/LTE is available on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz covering 99% of the population up to 150 Mbit/s.

Vodafone is the smallest provider in Hungary what the number of customers is concerned. It covers about 98% of the population on 2G and 3G and about 95% on 4G.

For 3G your device should be capable of the 900 MHz frequency, because most of its 3G antennas are based on it up to 21 Mbit/s. 4G/LTE network started in 2015 on 800 MHz and now available on 1800 and additionally on 2100 and 2600 MHz available for prepaid users in up to 75 Mbit/s.

Vodafone has signed a cooperation agreement Huawei along with Hungary's East-West Intermodal Logistics and British telecommunications operator, in a joint effort to build Europe's first smart railway hub managed by a 5G private network to be empowered by Huawei.
Vodafone Hungary and Huawei's Hungary subsidiary will provide a 5G private network for the project. 5G technology will be used to remotely control fully automatic gantry cranes for intelligent loading and unloading operations. It will be able to handle 1 million standard containers per year after project completion in the first quarter of next year.

A 4th LTE license to Romanian-backed RCS & RDS company (brand name: 'DIGI') was given out in 2014. They started their own 2G and 4G network on 1800 MHz (band 3) in May 2019.

Their coverage is very limited and there is no domestic roaming on other networks. They sell only postpaid packets. 

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Saturday 9 October 2021

Telefonica Presents Strategy for Systems and Network Evolution

Last month, speaking at Morgan Stanley Telecoms CTO Symposium, Enrique Blanco, Global CTIO of Telefónica laid out their strategy for 'Systems and Network Evolution'. This included mobile as well as fixed line evolution.

As part of the presentation, he covered the following topics:

  • Evolution of Fiber technology towards 50G-PON by means of a multiservice approach
  • Providing differential customer experience through excellent Wi-Fi quality and home equipment
    • Moving forward to Wi-Fi 6, using home devices ecosystem as an open service platform at home and providing FWA solutions
  • Completing coverage and capacity deployments of 4G networks as 5G networks are activated
  • 5G deployment at the right pace according to business needs
  • 5G, in its final version (SA), will provide differential attributes for the provision of new services
    • 5G is an attractive technology to promote new enterprise businesses that demand specific use cases in Industrial IoT
    • 5G and Edge computing as enablers for new services requiring low latency and locality
  • Evolution of networks and systems towards virtualized and open architectures to ensure the strength of industry ecosystems
    • This is being carried out in all the segments of the network and the systems
  • Open RAN and Open Broadband: enabling the evolution of our access while managing the vendor map by creating robust ecosystems
  • Follow IT Architecture principles to progress towards the cloudification and digitalization, and provide differential value to the market and customers
    • While building a new operating model where AI would be a key component…
  • Create value with 5G beyond improvement in browsing, speed and latency
  • Working with active sectors in 5G and approaching horizontal multi-sector 5G applications
  • Serving Society as a whole while supporting sustainability
  • Become leaders in cutting-edge digital services by unlocking the power of integrating technology

You can get the slides for the above presentation from here. Pablo Eguiron, CFO at Telefónica Tech also did a virtual presentation on 'The partner to fully capture the B2B opportunity' at 18th Caixabank BPI Iberian Conference. Slides from that are available here.

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