Wednesday 25 May 2022

Fantastic 4G Experience in Morocco is Setting Stage for 5G

Morocco’s mobile market is one of the more mature in the region, with a penetration rate of 137.5 percent.  The three mobile network operators – Maroc Telecom, Orange, and Inwi, offer fixed-line and fixed-wireless services. They have developed mobile data services based on the extensive reach of LTE infrastructure.  Growth in mobile data traffic is supported by the popular use of smartphones, which account for about 80 percent of all mobile phones in use.

The three mobile operators are the main providers of internet services, accounting for the great majority of all internet connections.  The issuing of LTE licenses in 2015 included conditions to ensure that services covered at least 65 percent of the population by 2020, while the promotion of broadband accessibility nationally is also supported by the National Broadband Plan through 2022 and by the Maroc Digital 2020 strategy.  The extensive deployment of mobile broadband infrastructure will further consolidate the dominance of mobile players in the broadband sector in the coming years. 

To establish itself as a leading hub in the field of digital technologies on the African continent, Morocco is encouraging foreign direct investment in the telecommunications sector, especially as it seeks to accelerate its whole-of-society digital transformation, promote new technologies, and develop telecommunications services.  All three telecom operators have successfully completed their pilot tests for 5G and stand ready to deploy their own 5G networks in Morocco. 

The three major telecoms operators are preparing for their transition to 5G, expected in 2023. For the next two years, they intend to invest in strengthening the coverage of mobile networks, the national backbones of telecommunications and infrastructure. Maroc Telecom had announced that it will invest $1 billion between 2019 and 2021.  Morocco’s telecom service providers consider data management and security when reviewing proposals for equipment and services. The 5G market offers good opportunities for U.S. technology companies.

In the latest Open Signal report, Maroc Telecom once again wins the lion's share of the awards, successfully defending its six outright wins from the previous report. In addition, this time around, Maroc Telecom also ties with inwi in 4G Availability. Meanwhile, Orange did not secure any win across the seven award categories.

In this report, the mobile network experience of users on the three nationwide mobile operators  Maroc Telecom, inwi and Orange is examined over a period of 90 days beginning on November 1, 2021, and ending on January 29, 2022, to see how they fared.

Maroc Telecom, a.k.a. IAM is the biggest mobile provider, mostly owned by UAE-based Etisalat, with the best coverage. In 2015 they have started with 4G/LTE with speeds up to 225 Mbps in major to minor towns that is available for prepaid without surcharges.

Mobile subscribers for Maroc telecom grew by 2.8% to 19.86 million in the first quarter of 2022, compared to the same period the year before. However, mobile revenues in the country fell by 5.1% over the same period. The average revenue per mobile customer in the first quarter of 2022, totaled MAD 44.9 per month ($4.59 per month). This is a decline of 7.9% from the first quarter of 2021.

Orange is the second provider in the country and mostly owned by Orange in France (formerly called France Télécom). That's why it was decided to rebrand it from the original brand of Méditel to Orange starting in 2016.

Inwi is the smallest provider in Morocco but with good coverage, if you stick to the towns mainly. Make a network scan, if you want to use it at a particular place. 4G/LTE has started in 2015 in 26 cities.

However it claims to be the fastest growing wireless provider in Morocco at the moment. Headquartered in Casablanca, its nationwide mobile/fixed network serves more than 12.5 million users with a mix of 2G/3G/4G and fixed wireless access (FWA) services. Since its founding in 1999, inwi has earned a reputation as a technology and innovation pioneer. Since 2017, the carrier has been rated the number one Internet provider by nPerf. Significant investment in fixed wireless service and a optimised TDD radio deployment have established inwi as the innovator of Internet and data services. Most recently, it became the country’s first to deploy an innovative 28-port, all-in-one antenna from CommScope, streamlining its network and paving the way for 5G.

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Wednesday 18 May 2022

EE Combines More 4G and 5G Spectrum for Even Higher Data Rates

You may be aware that the most common flavour of 5G in use today is known as 5G Non-Standalone (NSA). This allows the operator to combine 4G and 5G spectrum to achieve higher data rates. EE is one such operator in the UK. 

In a recent announcement, EE said that it has become the first European network to successfully aggregate a 5G signal using seven different spectrum carriers, including its existing 3.4GHz and new 3.6GHz 5G channels. The press release said:

This breakthrough will deliver new benefits for EE customers, with 5G data speeds topping 2.2Gbps in lab testing and expected real-world speeds of over 1.7Gbps on the network. The innovation means a major boost in 5G network capacity, using a total of 170 MHz of Bandwidth, and could deliver the fastest available 5G in some areas of the UK.

Working in collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies at BT’s Borehamwood lab, the EE network can now deliver a 5G signal using seven radio carriers, including some spectrum EE acquired in Ofcom’s spectrum auction last year. Using five 4G (LTE) carriers and two 5G (New Radio), it is the first time any European network has achieved this feat. A mobile test device featuring the Snapdragon® 8 Gen 1 Mobile Platform with Snapdragon X65 5G Modem-RF System was used to achieve the milestone.

While the press release doesn't detail the exact spectrum quantity in each spectrum, it specifies:

5 x LTE carriers = 1.8GHz (2 carriers), 2.1GHz (1 carrier) and 2.6GHz (2 carriers)

2 x NR carriers = 3.4GHz and 3.6GHz

Based on the spectrum holding, it can be assumed that 2x20 MHz was used in 1.8 and 2.6 GHz and 10 MHz in 2.1 GHz band was used. All these 5 carriers were carrier aggregated in LTE. 40 MHz of 3.4 GHz and 3.6 GHz was carrier aggregated in 5G. These were both used with dual connectivity to achieve the data rates specified above.

BT / EE has many firsts in the UK to their name so it's no surprise that their users will be able to enjoy top speeds going further. One final note is to point out that for the consumer segment, BT will use the EE brand as can be seen in the Tweet below.

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Wednesday 11 May 2022

Algeria to Launch 5G but Prioritise 4G Infrastructure Upgrades

Algeria has a well developing telecom infrastructure with growth encouraged by sympathetic government policies and regulations aimed at delivering serviceable internet connections across the country. However fixed internet speeds remain slow, and the country ranks poorly in international tables. Some efforts are ongoing to address this, with the government having pressed Algérie Télécom in early 2021 to increase the minimum rate available from 4Mb/s to 10Mb/s.

Mobile broadband is largely based on 3G and LTE, and the data rates are also low in global terms. Although LTE is available in all provinces, much investment is required from the MNOs to improve the quality of service. The government is encouraging the MNOs to undertake upgrades to LTE infrastructure before investing in commercial 5G services.

Intensifying price competition between the three MNOs: Djezzy, Mobilis and Ooredoo Algeria – together with increases in taxes on voice and data services, have had a negative effect on operator revenue. The difficult operating climate encouraged VEON to sell its entire share in Djezzy in mid-2021, allowing it to focus on its more profitable markets.

Djezzy is the brand under which Optimum Télécom is marketing its mobile offer. 

Djezzy broadcasts 2G on 900 MHz and 3G up to HSPA+ on 2100 MHz in 48 Wilayas. 4G/LTE was launched in 2016 on 1800 MHz (band 3) and is available in most Wilayahs. Djezzy is the most popular brand amongst young people with the most aggressive marketing and generally on par with Mobilis.

Coverage in cities is good, while outdoors on 4G/LTE, but often falls back to 3G indoors. Rural coverarge ranges from 3G to sometimes EDGE or no service. Speeds on 4G/LTE ranges between 10 and 20 Mbps to occasionally poor or trouble connecting to some websites. Overall, connectivity is fairly reliable, though.

Mobilis is the brand under which the mobile subsidiary of state-owned Algérie Télécom is marketing its mobile offers. Based on the number of subscribers it's currently the market leader in the country and was launched in 2003.

Mobilis has been offering 3G connection in basically 80% of all the cities and towns since 2012. 4G/LTE was launched in October 2016 on 1800 MHz (band 3). 4G/LTE is available in the Wilayas of Tlemcen, Constantine, Batna, Bordj Bou Arreridj, El Oued, Biskra, Boumerdès, Tipaza, Blida, Tizi-Ouzou et Sidi Bel-Abbès. 

The third operator in number of users in Algeria is Ooredoo and used to be called Nedjma before. It's now owned by an international telco based in Doha, Qatar.

Just like the other Algerian operators they operate 2G on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz and since end of 2016 on 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (band 3) as well. Ooredoo covers with 3G most populated areas in Algeria and 28 out of 48 Wilayahs are covered with 4G so far.

Algeria’s telecoms regulator has issued additional spectrum in the 900MHz band to the country’s three mobile operators. ARPCE (Authority for Regulation of Post and Electronic Communications / Autorite de Regulation de la Poste et des Communications Electroniques) granted spectrum in the E-GSM band (880MHz-890MHz/925MHz-935MHz) to Djezzy, Mobilis and Ooredoo.

In a statement, the regulator said that the spectrum was to be used for “improving the quality of service of mobile telephony networks”, and noted that it would “continue its efforts in the planning and assignment of frequencies, in order to offer the best quality of service to users.”

The Algerian government said earlier this year they aim to ensure the launch of 5G mobile networks ‘soon’ and is currently working on freeing up and optimising the requisite radio frequency spectrum. Telecoms minister Karim Bibi Triki announced that the 5G initiative – forming part of efforts to meet growing demand for broadband connectivity – was not previously prioritised by the government due to more pressing needs to improve poor 4G coverage and service quality in some parts of Algeria, but he indicated that the telecoms sector could now be aiming for a commercial 5G launch by the end of 2022.

Since 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic influenced all Algerian operators to bolster their networks to cope with greater internet traffic demands, leading to ‘5G-ready’ technology deployments, with state-backed operator Mobilis having begun 5G testing and rollout of 5G-ready infrastructure in partnership with Huawei, whilst rival operators Djezzy and Ooredoo have formed respective next-generation technology partnerships with Nokia and Ericsson. Furthermore, high speed fibre-optic backbone expansions in the country will help support the introduction of fifth-generation mobile services, with an existing 200,000km of state-owned fibre cable alone. During 2021 Algerian operators requested that the government clarify its 5G strategy to allow them to plan their future investments.

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Monday 2 May 2022

Swisscom Outlines Challenges and Plan to Transition to a Software Company

In a recent keynote at Mobile Europe's Telco to Techco, Christoph Aeschlimann, CTO & CIO, Swisscom gave a presentation on 'Redefining telco for the digital age'. During the presentation he highlighted the challenges of being a 170 year old operator, from infrastructure to processes and mindset.

To overcome these challenges, Christoph believes that a three pronged approach will be needed as highlighted in the image below:

  1. Disaggregation of Hardware and Software
  2. Telcos need to be become software companies
  3. AI and automation to create new opportunities

The current CEO of Swisscom, Urs Schaeppi, is stepping down from his role as a CEO and the Board of Directors has elected Christoph Aeschlimann as the new CEO of Swisscom. This will allow him to implement his vision of transitioning to a software company where many of the tools will be developed in house.

The presentation below is definitely worth listening to, along with the interesting Q&A at the end. Kudos to him for tackling all difficult questions on how they plan to transition to a software company going forward and how they will operate.

Interested in knowing your thoughts.

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