Thursday 25 November 2021

Mongolia is Getting Ready for 5G and IoT

Mongolia has a population of 3.3 million but there are roughly 4.69 million mobiles, giving the penetration rate of 141.8%.

Telecommunications in Mongolia face unique challenges. It is the least densely populated country in the world and a significant portion of the population live a nomadic lifestyle. It has been difficult for many traditional information and communication technology (ICT) companies to make headway into Mongolian society. With almost half the population clustered in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, most landline technologies are deployed there. Wireless technologies have had greater success in rural areas.

Mobile phones are common, with provincial capitals all having 4G access. Wireless local loop is another technology that has helped Mongolia increase accessibility to telecommunications and bypass fixed-line infrastructure. For Internet, Mongolia relies on fiber optic communications with its Chinese and Russian neighbours.

There are four mobile operators in the country: MobiCom, Unitel, Skytel and G-Mobile.

Skytel and G-Mobile both only operate 3G networks in Ulaanbaatar and GSM-incompatible CDMA/EVDO networks in the rest of the country. 

On MobiCom and Unitel 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G (HDSPA) on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE started in 2016 in Ulaanbaatar city only on 1800 MHz (Band 3) and new licenses were given out for 700 MHz (Band 28).

MobiCom is the biggest Mongolian cellular operator with 1.7 million active subscribers. It was established in 1996 as a joint Mongolian-Japanese venture and is the first Mongolian cell phone service. It was founded by Mongolian Newcom Group, and Japanese KDDI. As of 2015, Mobicom held over 1/3 of the market, with network coverage of 95% of the population. 

Mobicom introduced 3G (HSPDA) networking in 2009. Its network support phones with 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (Band 3) has been launched for all users without any surcharges and is enabled by default on all new SIM cards.

The operator has launched a 5G interoperability trial in partnership with its parent company and Telecom Infra Project (TIP). 

Unitel (Universal or United telecommunications) was founded together with South Korea in 2005 as GSM mobile phone operator. In 2010 Unitel declared that it has become 100% indigenous company (i.e. Mongolian share owners bought all share from the Korean side).

Unitel network covers approximately 88% of population. In 2009 Unitel launched its 3G network on 2100 MHz. In 2016 they started 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (Band 3) in the towns of Ulaanbaatar, Erdenet, Darkhan City, Dalanzadgad, Tsogttsetsii open for prepaid. It has a lower coverage, but better prices than MobiCom.

GSMA Intelligence estimated Unitel’s mobile connections at 1.6 million at end-Q3, placing it in the top two of four operators in Mongolia.

The operator has secured an option to be the first in the nation to employ satellite connectivity services from specialist Lynk Global. The company expects to be able to provide satellite services to standard mobile phones in 2022, when Unitel will have a “first-to-market right” to use it within the sprawling country. 

In a statement, Unitel CEO Enkhbat Dorjpalam noted the topography, extreme weather and size of Mongolia meant it had very specialist coverage needs. The Unitel executive explained Mongolia was 1.6 million square kilometres with a population of 3.3 million spread across the country, adding “we have unique needs for coverage in our country given our nomadic lifestyle and extremely large livestock population of more than 70 million animals, which is a critical component to our society’s growth and resiliency.”

GMobile LLC was founded in April 2006. In 2008, GMobile was the first operator to introduce 3G technology in Mongolia and launched G-Internet phone service – mobile internet service based on 1X, EvDo technology. It presently only has175,000 subscribers.

Skytel Group has approximately 255,000 active subscribers the company's network functions on an HSPA+ network in Ulaanbaatar and [CDMA2000 1x] & [EVDO] network technology in the rest of the country.

Mongolia-based operator ONDO (IN Mobile Network LLC), is now the the fifth mobile operator in Mongolia, it has received a license to provide mobile services from the national telecommunications regulator Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC).

According to local media reports, ONDO is piloting the latest generation of high-speed mobile internet or 5G technology in Mongolia using cutting-edge technologies in the telecommunications industry.

The report said that ONDO plans to deploy 4G, 5G, and IoT networks, according to its new website, with an initial focus on the capital Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia’s Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC) has awarded the country’s fifth mobile licence to ONDO (registered as IN Mobile Network), which plans to operate under the SuperNet brand. The firm plans to deploy 4G, 5G and IoT networks, according to its new website, with an initial focus on the capital Ulaanbaatar. A list of licensees published by the CRC shows IN Mobile Network’s concession expiring on 10 September 2031.

Saturday 20 November 2021

Telefonica Plans to achieve Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC)

Many operators are working towards Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) to simplify their architecture and their operations. It was nice to hear Cayetano Carbajo, Director for Core, Transport and Service Platforms, GCTIO Telefónica SA at Layer 123 Conference. Kudos to them for sharing the video online (embedded below).

Like most other operators looking to bring the true 5G power to consumers and enterprises, Telefonica is moving to 5G Standalone architecture. It will be Cloud Native with Open Core Capabilities to develop application through API exposure. 

As can be seen in the roadmap above, Slicing will allow QoS differentiation for different types of services. The most interesting thing is that Converged Core will allow signalling for 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G and for fixed line. 

While this converged core will be containerised, there are some challenges today that they are expecting to be solved in the near future. The eventual reward is higher efficiency and a much higher level of automation.

During the talk, Cayetano also discussed some technical 5G core details including their approach to increase resiliency. I highly recommend watching the embedded talk below. You may also find some of our other posts on related topics useful. They are highlighted below.

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Wednesday 17 November 2021

5G Network Sharing using MOCN for Rural South Korea

South Korea may have been the first country where all the networks switched on their 5G but that does not mean they have been having an easy ride. 

Back in April, the ICT ministry announced that the three major mobile carriers will share their 5G networks in remote coastal and farm towns in a move to accelerate the rollout of the latest generation networks. The Korea Herald reported

The carriers -- SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. -- signed an agreement so that 5G users can have access to the high-speed network regardless of the carrier they are subscribed to in 131 remote locations across the country, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT.

Under the plan, a 5G user would be able to use other carrier networks in such regions that are not serviced by his or her carrier.

The ministry said telecom operators will test the network sharing system before the end of this year and aim for complete commercialization in phases by 2024.

The ministry said the selected remote regions are sparsely populated, with a population density of 92 people per square kilometer, compared with those without network sharing at 3,490 people per square kilometer.

The move comes as the country races to establish nationwide 5G coverage, with network equipment currently installed in major cities.

In another article back in September, The Korea Herald reported:

The number of 5G network base stations in South Korea accounted for just 11 percent of the total in the second quarter, data showed Monday, amid continued user complaints against the latest generation networks.

As of the April-June period, there were 162,099 5G base stations in the country, compared with a total of 1.47 million mobile network base stations, according to data from the Korea Communications Agency.

The number of 5G base stations was far outnumbered by around 1 million 4G base stations and over 300,000 3G base stations.

In comparison, the number of 5G users accounted for 23.8 percent of the total in July at just over 17 million, while there were 50.5 million 4G users and 20.2 million 3G users.

The latest data comes as local mobile carriers have faced complaints from 5G users over spotty connection and slower-than-expected speeds since the networks' launch in April 2019.

At a recent GSMA conference, Daehun Lim, Head of Global Strategic Partnerships, LG Uplus shared the 5G Rural Network Sharing plans in more details. The picture on the top shows the timelines and the areas that are planned to be covered by each operator.

The network sharing will be based on MOCN which we have explained in our tutorial here.

Since the 5G spectrum allocation for all the operators is very similar, we don't expect any issues with the network sharing plan going forward. We will have to wait a couple of years before is becomes commercially available though.

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Wednesday 10 November 2021

Honduras is looking for Reliable 4G before Transitioning to 5G

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Central America and has long been plagued by an unstable political framework which has rendered telecom sector reform difficult. This has created real difficulties for operators as well as consumers. While the population is just under 10 million, it is as large as the size of England or the state of Pennsylvania in USA.

Fixed-line teledensity, at only 4.9%, is significantly lower than the Latin American and Caribbean average. Poor fixed-line infrastructure has been exacerbated by low investment and topographical difficulties which have made investment in rural areas unattractive or uneconomical. Consequently, the internet has been slow to develop. DSL and cable modem technologies are available but are relatively expensive and thus take-up has been low thus far, while higher speed services are largely restricted to the major urban centres. Nevertheless, the demand for broadband is steadily increasing and there has been some investment in network upgrades to fibre-based infrastructure. The government also provides free internet to around 75,000 households in Honduras.

On the positive side, these factors have encouraged consumer take-up of mobile services, a sector where there is lively competition supported by international investment. Even so, mobile penetration is substantially below the regional average. Revenue growth from the mobile sector looks promising in coming years as operators invest in their networks, expand their reach and upgrade their capabilities to accommodate mobile broadband services. Mobile data as a proportion of overall mobile revenue has increased steadily, though low-end SMS services will continue to account for the bulk of data revenue for some years. 

There are 3 network providers in the Central American state of Honduras: Tigo (by Millicom), Claro (by América Móvil) and Honducel (by Hondutel). The three networks use different frequencies: Tigo's 2G and 3G is on 850 MHz, Claro's is on 1900 MHz and Honducel's is on 1800 MHz. In 2014/5 Tigo and Claro both started with 4G/LTE on the 1700 MHz (AWS Band 4) frequency.

Tigo is the clear market leader in the country with a solid 60% share, followed by Claro with 39% and Honducel with below 1%. Overall, 99% of municipalities in Honduras have 2G coverage and 49% have 3G coverage by any provider. So don't expect high speeds and data use especially in remote areas is still very slow. 4G/LTE started in 2014 in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba. For its license, Tigo is required to establish a 4G/LTE network in all major cities equivalent to around 15% of the country’s territory.

Honduras’s National Telecommunications Commission (Comision Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, Conatel) has indicated that it is poised to free up the 3.5GHz band for mobile use, as it seeks to ‘deliver the benefits of regional harmonisation with other Latin American countries.’ In freeing up the band, the regulator has identified international roaming, spectrum optimisation, investment cost and implementation time as its key priorities.

Spectrum in the 3.3GHz-3.7GHz range will be designated for mobile use, while frequencies in the 3.7GHz-3.8GHz range will be earmarked for fixed-wireless broadband use. The spectrum will be auctioned via a public tender, although no date has been disclosed.

Millicom’s Tigo brand is the largest mobile provider in Honduras. Millicom have revealed plans to spend $135 million on network improvements across three markets in Latin America, signing up with Ericsson to install LTE and 5G-ready kit to improve and expand coverage. The modernisation of its networks in Honduras, Paraguay and Bolivia is designed to widen its coverage to an additional 2.5 million people across 712 municipalities. Improvements include replacement of existing 4G packet core technology with an Ericsson dual-mode 5G core. Following the upgrade the operator will be able to use carrier aggregation technology.

The project is expected to take between two and three years to complete.

Claro by Mexican América Movil is the only viable competitor to Tigo in the country. It has a slightly lower coverage, but lower rates too. Claro’s 4G/LTE network started in 2015 and was initially made available in major cities such as Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba.

Honducel was established in 2013 as mobile branch of the state-owned telecom operator Empresa Hondurena de Telecomunicaciones (Hondutel). Generally because of almost non-existent 3G coverage and unreliable service, it can't be recommended for travellers. It hardly reaches 1% market share and survives as their state-owned parent company still controls the landline market. In 2017 Honducel, has reportedly suffered heavy subscriber losses and ended the year below 10,000 mobile subscribers.

The Honduran government is said to be preparing a financial rescue package for state-backed telco Hondutel, as the scale of the company’s debt has been revealed. According to La Prensa, the stricken telco’s losses exceeded HNL298.9 million (USD12.4 million) in 1H21, which follows three consecutive years in which the company posted an annual net loss. Compounding the situation, state utility firm Empresa Energia Honduras (EEH) has cut off Hondutel’s electricity supply over the non-payment of its HNL450 million bill.

The government has indicated that the plan will see Hondutel modernised to become a gigabit-capable ‘broadband institution’. The tentative plans will see the government invest in a new submarine cable to double or triple the country’s available bandwidth. Despite the dire situation, the privatisation of the company has been ruled out, however. 

Thursday 4 November 2021

China Mobile Talks About Orchestration and Automation

At the ETSI NFV Event back in April, Dr. Lingli Deng, China Mobile presented a talk on "From Orchestration Towards Automation". The abstract of the talk says:

Autonomous network proposes to optimize user experience, automate management operations, and maximize resource efficiency by simplifying network architecture, encapsulating autonomous domains, and providing closed loops for business/network operation control, and clarifies the target architecture and implementation path for network intelligence.

The autonomous network puts forward two dimensions of space and time requirements for the network management system of telecom operators:

On the one hand, the hierarchical, domain, and closed-loop autonomous architecture and cross-layer business-driven interaction of autonomous driving networks require operator network management systems to achieve functional enhancements ("addition") and interface simplification ("subtraction") in the spatial dimension.

On the other hand, the introduction of AI technology in autonomous driving networks and the complexity of network management itself require operators to achieve continuous iteration and gradual improvement in the time dimension of their network management system ("spiral upward").

In this speech, we will share China Mobile's autonomous network goals, approach, related practice, and overall thinking about the obstacles we are facing and proposed way forward, especially from the perspective of industrial collaboration, and the progress and next steps of ETSI NFV related work.

In particular, as an essential part of network management plane, MANO will need to be enhanced not only with simplified intent/policy interfaces, but also providing basis for enabling a complete zero-touch close loop (including VNF configuration), as well as the DevOps mechanism for AI models and/or analytics microservices embedded with network elements

The talk is embedded below:

In the ITU News MAGAZINE last year, researchers from China Mobile Research Institute contributed an article on "A standards round-up on autonomous networks". The article provides a detailed list of specifications in various groups including ITU, 3GPP, ETSI, etc.

Quoting from the magazine:

There are discussions among standards development organizations (SDOs) about the level of autonomous capabilities in networks

The study of autonomous network levels (ANL) can provide reference and guidance to operators, vendors and other participants of the telecommunication industry for autonomous networks, standardization works and roadmap planning.

Since industrial convergence is the key for reducing the cost for any single vendor or single network operator, building an open collaboration platform for cohesively developing both a reference implementation for case-agnostic functional architecture and standardized external or internal interfaces would be the easy way for communication service providers (CSPs) to kick off and stay in the converged direction towards network autonomy.

For example, a rule-based policy engine could be one of the common functional modules to support both timed control tasks in Level 1, imperative closed loops in Level 2, and adding intent-to-rule translation modules in Levels 3 and 4.

The article starts on page number 23. You can download from here.

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