Wednesday 29 June 2022

Burkina Faso Hopes to Expand Broadband Connectivity

Burkina Faso’s telecom sector in recent years has made some gains in providing the necessary infrastructure and bandwidth to support telecom services. An IXP completed in September 2020 increased international bandwidth capacity by a third, while in mid-2021 the government was able to start the second phase of a national fibre backbone project. This will link the capital city to an addition 145 municipalities, and provide additional connectivity to terrestrial cables in neighbouring countries.

This new infrastructure is also making it possible for the government to trial telemedicine, and so address the very poor availability of medical services in almost all parts of the country. However, the government, newly elected in November 2020, is under popular pressure to address security issues. Civil disturbances erupted in November 2021 after the government proved incapable of preventing killings by militants. The activities of the militants in side areas of the country jeopardise overall security, and render it difficult for the telcos to safeguard their networks and equipment.

There are three mobile operators in Burkina Faso: Telmob, the mobile arm of the fixed line incumbent Onatel (National Office of Telecommunications), which is partially owned by Morocco Telecom and has now been rebranded as Moov, Orange Burkina Faso SA (owned by Orange Middle East & Africa (OMEA) and Telecel FASO SA (owned by a local group, Planor Afrique). The market has been competitive since 2000. Mobile access is relatively high, with 86 per cent of households owning a portable telephone, of which 97 per cent are in urban areas and 82 per cent in rural areas.116 Licenses for 3G were issued in 2012 and mobile-broadband has since been growing rapidly. Operators have also launched mobile money services since 2013.

Orange, formerly Airtel Burkina, is broadcasting 2G on 900 MHz and 3G on 2100 MHz bands with good coverage in the country (coverage map). The company has been acquired by France Télécom in 2016 from Bharti Airtel, and rebranded it to Orange in 2017. It has become the market leader in 2018 with 49% share. They started with 4G/LTE in 2019 in the capital and 5 other locations on 1800 MHz (B3).

Onatel is the partially state-owned provider, but for 51% owned by Maroc Telecom. It has now been rebranded as Moov Africa. It's mobile branch was called Telemob before. For "fixed" lines they broadcast on 2000 MHz CDMA for which no prepaid packages are available and hence not mentioned further.

The GSM signals are broadcast in the 900 MHz band for 2G and 2100 MHz for 3G. 4G/LTE started in 2019 in 35 locations from launch, including the capital of Ouagadougou: Coverage map . Onatel lost the market lead in 2018 to Orange with 46% customer share.

Telecel Faso is member of the Telecel group owned by Planor Afrique active in many West-African countries. They broadcast on 900 MHz band with 2G/GPRS, and finally caught up in 2017 by being available on 2100 MHz for 3G in Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Koudougou and Hounde as well. They are the smallest provider in the country with only 19% share.

In 2020 they announced the launch of 4G+ (LTE-A) mobile services which deliver download speeds of 100Mbps and upload speeds of 20Mbps, as the operator moved to match rival offerings in Burkina Faso.

Burkino Faso’s government has detailed its National Strategy for the Development of the Digital Economy, which seeks to boost connectivity in urban areas.

Local news outlet Le Faso reports that the cities of Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, and Koudougou will be prioritized for high-speed broadband connectivity during the plan’s first phase, with the remaining regional capitals the focus of phase two.

Kisito Traore, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Posts (MDENP), stated that the strategy was aimed at correcting “significant territorial disparities” in Burkina Faso’s digital infrastructure, noting that “the majority of the population has limited access to broadband and access to very high speed internet is marginal.”

TeleGeography reports that under the strategy, the Ministry aims to deliver fibre optic connectivity to all administrative buildings, companies and universities by 2030.

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Thursday 23 June 2022

Fiji is Looking to Build Upon its Success of 4G and Fibre

Fiji is a small country, slightly smaller size than that of New Jeresy, USA or Wales, UK and has less than a million people. With well-developed infrastructure, Fiji has become a hub for the Pacific, hosting the secretariat for the Pacific Islands Forum and the main campus of the University of the South Pacific. In addition, Fiji is a center for Pacific tourism, and Nadi International Airport is by far the busiest airport in a Pacific island country.

Fiji has a relatively sophisticated communications infrastructure with the highest mobile and internet penetration in the Pacific Islands. It is the leading market to watch in terms of both LTE and 5G development in this region.

LTE, LTE-A, and fibre technologies have received the most investment by the Fijian mobile operators, which include Digicel Fiji, Vodafone Fiji, and Telecom Fiji. Notably, LTE now accounts for the largest share of connections in the mobile segment. Concentrating on the more highly populated areas, the operators are preparing for the next growth area of high-speed data. They also have 5G in mind, and are preparing their networks to be 5G-ready, anticipating an easier migration to the technology based on the relatively high LTE penetration rate. The sale of Digicel to Telstra also passed a major hurdle when the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission approved the transaction in March 2022.

Fiji presents a challenging geographic environment for infrastructure developments due to its population being spread across more than 100 islands. However, the majority of Fijians live on the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

In July 2018, the two islands were linked by the Savusavu submarine cable system, which provides a more secure link in times of emergency weather events such as the regular tropical cyclones that often cause massive destruction to the area, including destroying essential infrastructure such as electricity and telecommunications equipment.

In Fiji, the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the economy that is otherwise reliant on the hospitality and tourism sectors. The country faced strict lockdowns and restrictions on cross-border travel due to the onset of the Delta variant in April 2021. Although the economy is in recovery, these sectors still face an even more challenging business environment.

As mentioned earlier, there are three mobile operators on the islands of Fiji: Vodafone Fiji, Digicel Fiji and Telcom Fiji.

Vodafone is the incumbent operator with the most customers and a slightly better coverage. Digicel has better prices and a still good coverage on the main islands. MVNO Inkk Mobile resells Vodafone at lower rates.

2G is on 900 MHz. 3G on 2100 MHz with Vodafone and 900 MHz with Digitel. 4G/LTE started in 2013 on both operators using 800 MHz (band 20) and 1800 MHz (band 3) and is given out for prepaid.

In 2016 Telecom Fiji, public owner of the landline phone network, switched on its 4G/LTE network. It's branded as Connect 4G+ and uses the 700 MHz frequency (band 28). It's coverage is in major towns on Viti Levu island only. As they market their prepaid plans to residential and business customers as well as students only, it's not (yet) an option for travellers.

Vodafone used to be the only provider on Fiji before Digicel arrived on the scene in 2008. Still, it has the better coverage throughout the archipelago. Its 2G covers all islands up to EDGE, sometimes patchy on the remote islands. 3G is now in the most areas of the main islands. Vodafone claims a 3G coverage of 95% of Fijians, and 4G coverage extends to almost every major city and town in both Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. 

Vodafone Fiji has also become the primary internet provider for Fiji and has over 1 million active connections on the network as customers have multiple data and voice connections. In 2019 the Smartphone Penetration stands at 78% in the Fiji market and this is above the global benchmark of 75%.

The total number of base stations will increased from the 390 to more than 600 base stations in 2019 around the country. Almost all existing and new base stations are providing 4G+ coverage. This made  Vodafone by far the largest 4G+ mobile network in Fiji covering 96% of the Fijian population.

When Digicel arrived in Fiji in 2008, it shook the scene and many customers moved here from Vodafone. It has more aggressive prices, but a weaker coverage. 2G and 3G on 900 MHz are on the main islands only. 4G/LTE has started in 2014 and was extended in 2016 to Nasinu, Ba and Labasa, building on its existing 4G coverage which serves the greater Suva area, as well as Nadi including Denarau Island and the wider Lautoka area. 4G licenses on 800 and 1800 MHz (B20, B3) are used and 4G is open for prepaid.

In 2020 Digicel Fiji unveiled a major network upgrade initiative in the country to improve the lot of customers on the island nation. Digicel Fiji chief executive officer Farid Mohammed confirmed the FJD30 million (USD13.9 million) network upgrade to increase LTE coverage and develop its ‘Digital Lifestyle’ partnership with customers across Fiji. Mohammed said that in phase one of the project, the cellco had spent more than FJD14 million since late 2019 to add capacity to the LTE network, while also upgrading most of its cell sites in main urban centres to 4.5G LTE-Advanced Pro technology (Pre-5G) in Suva, Nausori, Nadi and Lautoka. He further stated Digicel has increased their LTE coverage in maritime areas and Vanua Levu, partly to meet a 40% rise in data traffic demand during the COVID-19 lockdown. Going forward, the remaining funds will be spent to further improve LTE coverage across Fiji with the ultimate aim of upgrading ‘almost all’ of the remaining sites to LTE. What this means is that they will provide LTE/4G on the remotest areas of Fiji like the Lau Group, Koro Island, Taveuni and Vanua Levu.

In October 2021, Australian MNO Telstra said that it has agreed to buy the Pacific operations of Digicel Group in a $1.6 billion deal largely funded by the Australian government and seen as a way to contain China's rising influence in the region. Digicel Pacific would continue to be run as a separate business within Telstra’s ‘International division’, while ‘maintaining separate P&L and IT systems’. Digicel Pacific has around 2.5 million subscriptions on its books across Papua New Guinea(PNG), Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu.

In 2016 Telecom Fiji, public owner of the landline phone network, switched on its 4G/LTE network. It's branded as Connect 4G+ and uses the 700 MHz frequency (band 28). It's coverage is in major towns on Viti Levu island only. As they market their prepaid plans to residential and business customers as well as students only.

Telecom Fiji is currently going through a large transformation to deliver a fully digital experience to customers and offer new, customized services. Oracle Communications Policy Management running on Oracle Private Cloud Appliance infrastructure will support these efforts by enabling Telecom to provide flexible service plan and pricing options to customers. 

Oracle Policy management tells Telecom’s network how to treat the customer’s data flows across its 4G and fixed broadband network based on the specifics of their service plan. This ensures an enhanced and consistent experience for Telecom’s customers, regardless of the network they are on, and lays the foundation for a seamless transition to 5G.

Telecom Fiji has also revealed that as part of its ongoing rollout of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology more than 5,000 homes in Suva, Nadi and Lautoka now have access to its ultra-fast fibre broadband services. Chief executive Charles Goundar said that his company is investing FJD180 million (USD87.1 million) over the next five years and accelerating deployment in the face of rising demand – compounded by the need for people to work from home during the pandemic.

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Tuesday 14 June 2022

Iran Overcoming Barriers to Launch 4G and 5G

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s telecom infrastructure has suffered from sanctions in recent years, which prevented the import of equipment and devices and encouraged widespread smuggling, with a consequent loss of tax revenue. To address this, the government introduced a device registration scheme, and bolstered the capacity for domestically manufactured mobile phones.

Operators have invested in broadening the reach of their LTE networks, which has increased network capacity and improved the quality of mobile broadband services. The country is also looking to 5G, with services having been launched by MCI and MTN Irancell in early 2021. The sector is still hamstrung by the paucity of spectrum, though the government is addressing this with plans to auction spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for 5G use.

Iran is keen to grow its Iran’s digital economy and the National Internet Network (NIN) is pivotal to Iran’s fixed broadband infrastructure plans and overall Smart City progress.

From a broad perspective, Iran offers significant opportunities for growth in the telecoms sector. The country has one of the largest populations in the Middle East, and there is a high proportion of youthful, tech savvy users having considerable demand for both fixed and mobile telecom services.

Currently Iran has 3 major GSM operators: Hamrah-e-Aval = 'the first operator' or MCI (2G, 3G, 4G), Irancell (2G, 3G, 4G) and RighTel (3G, 4G).

With all 3 featured operators 2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE has started with Hamrah Aval, Irancell and RighTel on 1800 MHz. According to user experience the GPRS service was unreliable and download speeds pretty slow. As a general rule, 4G is available in big cities and 3G in mid-sized ones, while there's very basic coverage in rural places, if at all.

Irancell is an Iranian telecommunications company that operates Iran's largest 2G-3G-4G-4.5G-5G mobile network, and fixed wireless TD-LTE internet services. It is the first provider of 5G internet in Iran.  It is the 32nd largest company in Iran. Currently, MTN Group holds a 49% percent stake in the Irancell consortium, while Kowsar Sign Paniz (KSP) holds the other 51% of shares.

On 3 December 2014, Irancell officially launched Iran's first 4G LTE network in nine cities. The License was granted as on a national basis and includes the overall geographical coverage of Iran.
Irancell made countrywide coverage with FD-LTE and TD-LTE. As of December 2021, Irancell has 50.4 million active subscribers.

MTN Irancell has launched the country’s first commercial 5G service, though it is currently only available in one area of Tehran. The firm had previously been testing 5G services at three locations in the capital. A report from PressTV says Irancell is planning to expand network coverage to the cities of Mashhad, Shiraz and Kish ‘in the next few weeks’. Iran’s Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) recently announced plans to award 5G licences in the 3.5GHz band, while rival MNO Mobile Communication Company of Iran (MCI) is expected to announce its own commercial 5G launch in the near future.

MTN Irancell has admitted having difficulty taking money out of Iran due to the sanctions, but it says it is able to convert earnings to loans to MTN Irancell, which is allowing Iran’s second largest mobile operator to continue investment in its fixed and wireless networks.

Hamrah-e-Aval, in Farsi: همراه اول‎, in English: the first operator, is still the market leader in Iran. It is owned by the Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran, better known as MCI. In 2015 they began with their 3G network, that they call Notrino. Though being still number one in the country, they lag behind Irancell in 3G/4G coverage. In late 2015 they started with 4G too, being only available to 10% of MCI customers so far.

State-owned MCI  has expanded its 5G coverage with a launch on the island of Kish, off the coast of southern Iran. The launch coincided with the KITEX 2022 International Exhibition which has been taking place this week on the island. MCI first introduced 5G services in Tehran in March 2021.

MCI is the longest-established and biggest mobile operator in Iran, claiming some 60 million subscribers or about 71 percent of the country.

RighTel is the 3rd operator in Iran. It was granted a 3G license in 2011 and it had a monopoly on 3G 2011-2014 in the country. Rightel works great in certain parts of large cities, but has horrible (or non existent) coverage in smaller cities and many rural areas. Many people thought its prices were too high, and the speeds given were much slower than what was advertised. High speed internet also caused some cultural controversies, leading RighTel to restrict selling its SIM cards to those 18 and older.

RighTel has just over 5 million subscribers

A report from Iran’s official IRNA news agency says that more than 35,000 villages have been connected to high speed internet networks over an eight-year period under a project to improve rural services. PressTV cites IRNA as saying that 35,519 remote villages had access to broadband services as of March 2020, up from virtually zero eight years before. A further 17,000 villages have received internet access but at lower speeds. The government introduced legislation in 2017 requiring the country’s two main cellular operators, MCI and MTN Irancell, to expand their networks to more rural regions. Landline phones have reached four million households in 47,000 villages, according to the report.

Iran’s Minister of ICT says he expects the country’s National Information Network (NIN) project to be complete within four years. A report from the Financial Tribune cites Isa Zarepour as saying: ‘After around two decades of foot-dragging, it is finally time to give the initiative one last push.’ The NIN scheme was first proposed by the government in 2005, but work did not start until 2013. The aim is to establish a closed national intranet of locally made, government endorsed Islamic content, which will sit alongside the World Wide Web. Critics say, however, that the government could use it to replace the wider internet, effectively cutting off many citizens from the outside world.

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Wednesday 8 June 2022

5G in Philippines is Gaining Momentum but still Long Way to go

Philippine’s telecom sector in 2020 suffered only minor impact as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Subscriber numbers fell in some areas, but this was offset by strong growth in mobile data and broadband usage since a significant proportion of the population transitioned to working or studying from home. Major investment programs covering LTE, 5G, and fibre broadband networks suffered slight delays due to holdups in supply chains, but activity has since ramped up in an attempt to complete the rollouts as per the original schedule.

Currently there are four mobile operators in the country. The major telecom operators had mixed financial results during the Pandemic. PLDT reported record revenues, whereas Globe Telecom’s performance dropped below 2019 levels. Shifts in customer behaviour during the enforced lockdown bolstered mobile data and broadband, whereas Globe Telecom’s leadership of the mobile market saw it suffer to a greater extent overall, as the total number of mobile subscribers fell in the first quarter of 2021. In spite of the setback, both companies predicted a positive outlook for growth through the rest of 2021 and into 2022. 

PLDT and Globe Telecom have maintained their dominance of the Philippines telecom market, despite having their duopoly status removed by the government as far back as 2017. Two new entrants – DITO Telecommunity and NOW Telecom – have since become the third and fourth operators, but delays in their respective launch programs have caused minimal impact to the leaders’ market share. The government remains keen, and committed, to seeing strong competition, growth, and service excellence in the telecom sector, so there is likely to be continued support (financially as well as through legislation such as enabling mobile tower sharing and number portability) to ensure that the sector remains viable for emerging players.

The mobile sector will remain the Philippines’ primary market for telecommunications well into the future. The unique terrain and resulting challenges associated with accessing remote parts of the archipelago means that in many areas fixed networks are neither cost-effective nor logistically viable. Both PLDT and Globe Telecom continue to roll out fixed networks in some urban areas where it remains feasible to do so (primarily to support fixed broadband or — in Globe Telecom’s case — fixed wireless services). However, the bulk of telecoms investment over the coming years will continue to be in 5G and 5G-enabled LTE networks. Coverage of LTE and 5G networks extends to over 95% of the population, and for the vast majority of people mobile will likely remain their only platform for telecom services.

In their most recent report on The Philippines, Open Signal have directly compared for the first time, the mobile network experience and the 5G experience of Filipino users in the same report and in another first they have also analyzed the consistency of users’ experience. Smart is once again the operator to beat in the Philippines. This time around it has snapped up 11 out of a possible 16 awards including all those for download speed and users’ experience when playing multiplayer mobile games or using over-the-top voice apps on cellular connections. DITO comes top for both Upload Speed Experience and Availability, while Globe wins the 5G Video Experience award and both awards for consistent quality.

Smart Communications by PLDT Inc, on of the two leading providers in the Philippines, as of end June 2021, had a total of 71.68 million mobile subscribers.

Smart announced they were teaming up with South Korea’s Samsung Electronics to accelerate the deployment of 5G Standalone (5G SA) technology in the Philippines. The pair recently activated commercial 5G SA sites in Makati City in the wake of Samsung’s successful Voice-over-New Radio (VoNR) tests at the PLDT-Smart Technolab in the city. 

To support growing mobile data traffic, Smart has deployed base stations nationwide as of end-December 2021, supporting its 4G/LTE and 5G subscribers from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi. This includes around 16,900 3G base stations, 38,600 4G/LTE base stations and 7,200 5G base stations.

Smart is the outright winner of all four Open Signal awards for users’ experience when playing multiplayer mobile games and using voice applications over cellular connections. Smart’s margin of victory is impressive for both Games Experience and 5G Games Experience for the former, its score of 54 points is 12.9 points (31.5%) higher than that of second placed DITO. Smart wins 5G Games Experience with a score of 68.1 points, ahead of Globe’s score of 56.8 points by an impressive 11.3 points.

Globe Telecom, the other major telecommunications provider in the Philippines, had the majority of its customer base in its mobile segment. In 2021, the company had around 87 million mobile subscribers, including postpaid and prepaid. In addition, Globe Telecom had around 3.7 million home broadband subscribers and 1.3 million landline subscribers.

It has now been over a year since DITO entered the market as the Philippines’ third mobile operator and it announced in March 2022 that its customer base had grown to seven million active mobile subscribers and that it was close to hitting its year three commitment to provide 70% population coverage, having deployed more than 4,000 cell towers.

DITO has recently launched a 5G home broadband service in some areas of the National Capital Region (NCR), it has yet to commercially launch a 5G mobile service.

The Philippines now also has a fourth major commercial mobile operator, with Now Telecom set to launch 5G services and build out a backbone network across the country.

With an enterprise offering that includes wireless broadband and cloud services, Now Telecom is well positioned to enter the consumer market in the Philippines as it holds both a congressional franchise for telecom services valid for the next 25 years as well as a mobile telecoms licence.

With the new provisional license Now Telecom can use 220MHz of spectrum in the 1,970MHz-1,980MHz, alongside 2160Mhz to 2170Mhz and 3.6Ghz to 3.8Ghz, including 5G frequencies for mobile and fixed wireless.

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Wednesday 1 June 2022

Vodafone UK Bares Its Vision and European Strategy

At Telco to Techco 2022, Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK’s Chief Network Officer gave a keynote presentation on 'Transforming Vodafone's network and operations to support the journey to Techco'.

He started his talk by referencing the Vodafone Technology’s Tech 2025 strategy that was launched last year. A video of this strategy is as follows:

Vodafone has formed a pan-European R&D unit called Vodafone Technology that, as part of the operator’s plans to “transform from a traditional telecommunications company to a new generation connectivity and digital services provider of scale across Europe and Africa,” will add 7,000 software engineers to its roster by 2025. 

But not all of those 7,000 will be new recruits – more than half will be existing Vodafone staff who will be retrained, while the rest will be either insourced (bringing in-house some tasks that have been done by external partners) or join as new recruits. 

Those 7,000 roles will be added to the existing 9,000 software engineers Vodafone already employs and, by 2025, at least half of the Vodafone Technology R&D team will be software engineers, up from about 30% currently.

The operator believes the move makes business sense as it will be able to develop more of its own unique, differentiating applications (for which it will own the IPR) and at a lower cost than outsourcing the development (Vodafone estimates that ‘insourcing’ is about 20% cheaper on average).

During the talk, Andrea referred to having access to the skills anywhere on their footprint in Europe and other parts of the world, which is central to their vision. 

Here is the video of his talk:

In case you were wondering how big is Vodafone's footprint, here is the latest stats from FY22 presentation.

Recently, the UAE state-controlled Emirates Telecommunications Group, which recently rebranded from Etisalat to e&, is now Vodafone’s biggest shareholder after confirming a £3.3bn investment on the UK group:

E& said it had made the investment “to gain significant exposure to a world leader in connectivity and digital services” and did not intend to launch a takeover bid, a statement which blocks the company from making such a move for at least six months.

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