Sunday 23 January 2022

Montenegro is Ripe for 5G!

Montenegro has a small telecom market supported by a population of only 623,000. Fixed broadband services are available via a variety of technology platforms, though fibre is the dominant platform, accounting for almost 40% of connections. The growth of fibre has largely been at the expense of DSL as customers are migrated to fibre networks as these are built out progressively.

Mobile penetration is particularly high, though this is partly due to the significant number of tourists visiting the country seasonally, as also to the popularity of subscribers having multiple prepaid cards. In the wake of the pandemic and associated restrictions on travel, the number of mobile subscribers fell in 2020, as also in the first quarter of 2021, year-on-year. Networks support a vibrant mobile broadband services sector, largely based on LTE. 

Two of the MNOs began trialling 5G in May 2021. Montenegrin regulator EKIP (Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services) confirmed that the country’s latest round of spectrum auctions saw 220MHz of frequencies sold. The auctions were conducted in late December, with spectrum in the 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2GHz and 2.6GHz bands available for bidding. Licences obtained during the auctions are valid between 21st April 2022 and 1st September 2031.

Montenegro has three network operators: Telenor, Crnogorski Telekom and M:tel. M:tel had a 34.61% share of the overall number of subscribers at the end of May 2021, followed by Crnogorski Telekom with 34.27% and Telenor with 31.12%.

All operators have good coverage in 2G on 900 and 1800 MHz, and on 3G on 2100 MHz. Also, all of them offer 4G/LTE on 800 (B20), 1800 (B3) and 2600 (B7) MHz. The tax of €1 per month for users of mobile telephony that was in place 2012-14, has been abolished again. 5G hasn't started yet, but is in testing phase.

Telenor (formerly Promonte) was owned by the Norwegian provider and sold in 2018 to the Czech PPF Group. It covers already 98% of the population with 3G and 4G/LTE and has recently surpassed T-Mobile in customer numbers. From 2016 4G/LTE was made available for prepaid.

For the second time in a row, Telenor received the "Best in Test" award at the independent measurement of the quality of mobile networks in Montenegro, conducted by Umlaut from November 2020 to April 2021.

PPF Telecom Group has entered into a final agreement to sell a 100% stake in mobile network operator (MNO) Telenor Montenegro to Hungarian technology company 4iG for an undisclosed price. The transaction, which is subject to customary regulatory clearances, is expected to be completed before the end of 2021.

Telenor Montenegro claims 475,580 mobile subscriptions and a leading 37% share of the market at 30 September 2021. Private investment company PPF Group acquired Telenor’s assets in Montenegro, Hungary, Bulgaria and Serbia in 2018 in a deal valued at USD3.3 billion.

Crnogorski Telekom (a.k.a. T-Mobile, formerly Monet) owned by Croatian Telekom (indirectly by Deutsche Telekom) has a good coverage on 2G, 3G and 4G rivalling with Telenor. In 2016 they finally opened 4G/LTE for prepaid too. They cover 70% by the end of 2016 with 4G/LTE using 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz.

Crnogorski Telekom (CT) has begun 5G network testing in Bijelo Polje and Berane, making it the first telecoms operator in Montenegro to successfully test a 5G network at several locations in real world conditions using existing 2100MHz frequency spectrum. The operator received support from the Deutsche Telekom group and hardware partner Ericsson for the tests, which were performed in coordination with the Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services (EKIP) and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of Montenegro.

m:tel is the newest operator in the country, but battles hard for its position. It's a joint venture between Telekom Srbija and Telekom Srpske. Coverage is in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE.

Back in November, Montenegro’s telecoms watchdog, EKIP, launched a public tender to award technology neutral licences for wireless frequencies in the 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2GHz and 2.6GHz bands for mobile telephony services. The bidding is scheduled to take place between 1 and 24 December 2021 and the concessions will be valid until 1 September 2031.

The auction was conducted using a combined format of a multi-round clock phase and a single round of sealed bids. Participation is open to companies and consortia with at least five years of experience in public mobile electronic communications network operation and service provision.

Mtel was the biggest spender, shelling out EUR5.911 million to acquire permits in the 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2GHz and 2.6GHz bands. Meanwhile, Telenor and Crnogorski Telekom each acquired 2.6GHz licences with respective bids of EUR825,011 and EUR350,000. CommsUpdate notes that the auctions generated a total of EUR7.086 million (US$8.027 million), with four 5MHz blocks in the 2.6GHz band – worth around EUR192,000 – going unsold.

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