Thursday 17 February 2022

Finland is on top of the world with 5G and Data Consumption

Finland’s telecommunications market is among the more progressive in Europe, with operators having been at the forefront in deploying technologies and with the regulator being among the first to auction spectrum for 5G use. These efforts have been supported by the government which is working towards its target of providing a broadband service of at least 100Mb/s by 2025. 5G services were available to more than 40% of the population by early 2021, and take-up among subscribers has been strong although most will remain with LTE in the short term.

The country enjoys one of the highest broadband and mobile penetration rates in the region, with customers able to make use of the latest iterations of technologies including DOCSIS3.1, LTE-A, 5G, and GPON fibre infrastructure.

Just as Finland was in the forefront of LTE developments in Europe, so has it emerged as one of the pioneers in 5G. The auction of spectrum in the 700MHz and 3.5GHh bands has enabled network operators to extend the availability of LTE services nationally and to prepare for 5G services. Spectrum in the 2.5GHz band was auctioned in mid-2020 and has since enabled the MNOs to widen their 5G footprint considerably.

Finland has three national network operators: Telia (by the Telia Group, formerly called Sonera), Elisa (prepaid packages under Saunalahti brand) and  DNA (by DNA Oyj, part of Telenor Group)

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz, 4G/LTE on 700 (B28), 800 (B20), 1800 (B3) and 2600 (B7) MHz. In the less populated northern and eastern parts of the country Telia and DNA share one common network called Yhteisverkko covering more than “half of Finland’s total geographical area" and serving more than "15% of the population". In 2020 all three networks started 5G NR on 3500 MHz (n78) mostly in the cities and is so far only offered on some 5G plans of Telia and Elisa on prepaid. 

All three operators have a very good coverage and high speed at low prices even in remote and rural areas. Because of the heavy data usage in Finland, 5G becomes very important. According to OpenSignal in 2021, 5G was available to about 11% of Finns and had an average download speed of 200 Mbit/s. In 4G availability all three networks are close at around 93% and download speeds of 37 Mbit/s. DNA featured as the fastest mobile network for both average download and upload speeds, while sharing the victory in Voice App Experience. Elisa solely won 4G Availability, while sharing Games Experience, Voice App Experience and 4G Coverage Experience. Telia solely won Video Experience, while sharing the victory in Games Experience, Voice App Experience and 4G Coverage Experience.

All three national mobile operators in Finland are busy deploying their 5G networks in the country, as they all secured the same amount of spectrum in the recent 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz 5G spectrum auctions.

Telia, rebranded from Sonera in 2017, has the most customers in Finland and its coverage on 3G and 4G is equal to Elisa. In 2018 4G/LTE reached 98% of population. Telia has opened its 5G network to some prepaid plans in 2022.

In November 2021, Telia claimed to have launched the Nordic and Baltic regions’ first commercial Standalone 5G core network in partnership with Nokia. 

Nokia noted that the rollout included its cloud packet core and registers, which allow subscriber data to be consolidated into a common repository using a distributed and flexible architecture. Telia Finland is also reportedly using Nokia’s RAN. This network was initially launched in 20 geographical areas across Finland with more rollout in future that will lower latency and include network slicing capabilities. 

Elisa Saunalahti is Elisa's consumer sub-brand, which has very good coverage and speed in Finland. For 3G it mostly uses the 900 MHz band (in contrast to 2100 MHz in the rest of Europe), but it is still supported by almost all modern devices. In 2017 B28 on 700 MHz was added for LTE in rural areas. 5G was opened in 2022 for some prepaid plans.

In January 2022 Elisa has confirmed that it has doubled its 5G footprint in the twelve months since January 2021, and now covers four million Finns with its fifth-generation infrastructure. As such, 5G connectivity is now available in a total of 153 locations – equivalent to more than 70% of the population.

In a separate announcement, Elisa has highlighted the level of 5G adoption within its user base. Ville Valkama, Elisa’s Business Director for Consumer Customers, revealed: ‘In 2021 5G phones became commonplace in Finland. The share of 5G models in the phones we sell is already approaching 90%.’

DNA is the 3rd operator in Finland, yet it offers comparable coverage and very high speeds at good rates: coverage map. In 2019 the majority of DNA shares were sold to Telenor from Norway. Unlike Telia and Elisa, 5G is not yet offered by DNA for prepaid, only for subscriptions.

DNA has announced that all of its 5G base transceiver stations (BTS) are now connected to a core network that supports Standalone (SA) 5G architecture. Kimmo Liikonen, DNA’s Director of Core and IP Networks, commented: ‘For our customers, the implementation will take place in stages during 2022, as long as the last quality assurance and design work has been done. We are also looking forward to the sale of terminals that fully support the Standalone 5G network, which are not yet widely available.’

In August 2021, DNA announced that it was planning to shut down 3G by the end of 2023 freeing up spectrum for 4G and 5G network connections. Also, in December 2021, Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom announced an invitation to submit bids for three spectrum licenses for 700 MHz frequency bands which will be technology-neutral. Although 3G shutdown and technology-neutral spectrum auctions are not directly related to 5G, they are certainly positive steps towards releasing valuable spectrum for 5G deployment.

Telecoms tech developers from Japan and Finland are planning to work collaboratively on the development of 6G technologies, an area becoming increasingly influenced by Chinese companies. The Nikkei writes that Nokia will join the effort and that Japan’s ‘Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium’ will sign the agreement soon with Finnish group ‘6G Flagship’. The accord will be formally announced at the Global Digital Summit 2021, an event the paper has organised with Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC).

Japan’s Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium aims to commercialise sixth-generation communications technology in the 2030s, and includes the University of Tokyo and domestic telcos NTT Corp, NTT DOCOMO, KDDI (au), SoftBank Corp and Rakuten Mobile. 6G Flagship, meanwhile, is led by Finland’s University of Oulu. Talks are also said to be underway to draw in a US counterpart, with the likes of Cisco Systems and Intel touted as possible candidates.

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