Sunday 31 July 2022

Uruguay is a Land of Opportunity and Connectivity


Uruguay is a nation with few inhabitants, a small territory and a scarcity of mineral resources. However, the country has managed to progress steadily into one of the most stable countries in the area, ranking third in the Human Development Index (right after Chile and Argentina) and number 55 in the world, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Uruguay has also one of South America’s highest literacy rates (over 98%), the telecommunications network is 100% digital, and the internet penetration rate is one of the highest in Latin America (90%). 4G/LTE is available in 90% of the country, up from 64% in June 2019.  Household broadband internet access is 79%; over 70% of it through fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) systems.

It would be fair to say that Uruguay has an advanced telecom market, with excellent infrastructure and one of the highest broadband penetration rates in Latin America. Fixed-line teledensity is also particularly high for the region, while mobile penetration is the second highest after Panama. In terms of computer penetration, Uruguay tops all other countries in the region by a considerable margin, and this has facilitated growth in fixed-line broadband adoption.

The mobile market is dominated by Antel, with Telefónica’s Movistar in second place and América Móvil’s Claro third. All three operators offer mobile broadband through 3G and LTE networks. Operators have achieved nationwide 3G coverage and the number of mobile broadband subscribers continues to grow. Antel has been at the forefront with LTE services, though the auction of multi-band spectrum in August 2017 has also enabled Movistar and Claro to widen the reach of their LTE offers.

In April 2019 Antel launched a commercial 5G network, though limited in reach. At the end of 2019, spectrum in the 5G-suitable range was auctioned, enabling operators to launch 5G services. The regulator is working on a spectrum and connectivity policy that emphasises 5G.

Antel dominates the mobile market with a 51.5% market share of Uruguay’s 5.33 million mobile lines. Telefónica’s Movistar is second with 30.5% of the market followed by América Móvil’s Claro at 18%.  

Coverage and speed are pretty good for Latin American standards. But frequencies are very diverse. While Antel has 2G and 3G on "European bands", Movistar and Claro use "American frequencies". 

In the latest Open Signal report on mobile network experience report in Uruguay, every mobile operator wins outright in at least one category. Antel continues to claim both speed awards: Download Speed Experience and Upload Speed Experience  along with the 4G Coverage Experience award. Movistar comes first in 4G Availability and Games Experience ending the three-way tie for the latter that existed in the last report and claiming sole victory. Claro wins the Video Experience award, while Claro and Movistar remain joint winners for Voice App Experience.

Antel stands for Administración Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, the state-owned, national provider of telecommunication. It has a monopoly for landlines, but on mobile networks, it competes with Movistar and Claro. Still, it's the market leader with about half of all cellular customers and the best network in the country. 4G LTE covers nearly everywhere, and 4.5G LTE Advanced is available in select cities.

Uruguay made history in April 2019, when Antel claimed to have launched the first 5G network in Latin America, using the 28 GHz band and infrastructure supplied by Nokia. However, Antel’s 5G deployment was pre-commercial, with the limited coverage and targeted at business customers  the operator is yet to offer 5G services to individual smartphone users. Antel’s 5G network is still in the testing phase, with trials conducted in inland areas. The operator has invested heavily in its operations  $134 million in 2020 and spent a further $145 million in 2021, partly to increase its 4G territorial coverage to 99% between 2021 and 2022, especially in towns with less than 500 inhabitants.

Movistar by Spanish Telefónica is the second provider in the country. It has good coverage on "American" frequencies (see above). 3G coverage is about 50%, 4G/LTE has started in Montevideo and is given out for free when you have a 4G SIM card.

Claro by Mexican América Móvil is the smallest network in the country on "American" frequencies. 4G started in 2014 in Montevideo and has spread to other towns.

Claro Uruguay has begun technical tests of 5G in the 28GHz band after receiving authorization from the Regulatory Unit of Communications Services (Unidad Reguladora de Servicios de Comunicaciones, URSEC). TeleSemana cites a company statement as saying that Claro has adapted it core network and will be using equipment from Finnish vendor Nokia.

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Tuesday 26 July 2022

Singtel Surpasses 95% Nationwide 5G Standalone Coverage in Singapore

Singapore is a small country, roughly the size of Bahrain; 3.5 times the size of Washington DC or half the size of London, UK. That hasn't stopped it from reaching many 5G milestones. In a recent announcement, Singtel, the market leader, said that their 5G network now surpasses 95% nationwide coverage

The following is an extract from the press release:

This comes more than three years ahead of the regulatory target of end-2025, effectively making Singapore the first country in the world to be fully covered by standalone 5G.

Singtel’s standalone 5G network now covers more than 1,300 outdoor locations and over 400 in-building, as well as underground, creating immense opportunities for the development of ground-breaking applications and immersive experiences for both enterprises and consumers. Singtel was officially awarded the 3.5GHz and the millimetre wave spectrum as part of the 5G licence issued by the IMDA in June 2020, and an additional 2.1GHz spectrum in Nov 2021 which supported the achievement of this critical milestone.

Singtel has achieved many firsts in Singapore’s 5G journey, from launching the first pilot network in July 2018, the first standalone network in May 2021 to providing 5G in the North East Mass Rapid Transit Line that runs entirely underground in May 2022.

Singaporeans will get to experience their first 5G National Day Parade celebration which is being held at the floating platform this year, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID. To mark this nationwide rollout, this year’s Parade will be fully streamed on 5G – showcasing Singtel’s enhanced mobile broadband capability to support ultra-high-definition content. On-site spectators will enjoy high speed connectivity, enabling seamless streaming or uploading of high-resolution content from the Parade.

Singtel has been making steady progress in commercialising 5G. To support the development of a whole host of public sector 5G use cases for the built environment, transport, and tourism industries, Singtel launched the 5G@Sentosa testbed last year, in partnership with multiple government agencies, including the Government Technology Agency and the Sentosa Development Corporation. Around 15 live trials are slated to be running by the end of this year, and at least 30 by the first half of 2023.

Earlier this year, Singtel launched Paragon – the industry’s first all-in-one orchestration platform that consolidates all the necessary resources required across 5G and edge computing into one touchpoint, thus significantly lowering the barriers to 5G adoption and integration for enterprises, from cost to complexity. Recent partnerships include AETOS, Micron and Hyundai who have deployed 5G solutions to improve operational efficiencies, drive innovation and enhance problem-solving and decision-making capabilities.

On the consumer front, Singtel has successfully demonstrated 5G’s benefits and impact through use cases such as Singapore’s first 5G-powered remote racing in Sentosa and The People’s Gallery, an exhibition developed in collaboration with National Gallery that leverages augmented reality to transform more than 25 neighbourhood void decks into art galleries.

In their 7am insights, Telecom TV wrote:

Singapore, the island city-state of 728.6 km², which is home to four communications services providers, plus MVNOs, now has blanket 5G coverage via Singtel’s 5G network. The operator, which lost its domestic monopoly in 2000 when the Singaporean government deregulated the telecoms industry, has completed the task more than three years ahead of schedule – and despite the immense disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Singtel is the country’s biggest mobile provider with some 4.1 million subscribers and now, should any 5G subscriber feel a bit lost in and around the primary and secondary rainforests and lakes that remain untouched in the centre of the island and cover 21.96% of Singapore’s land mass, well, they won’t need to worry because, when their phone is on, Singtel will know where they are and the appropriate app will guide them back to the nearest air-conditioned shopping mall. The 5G network now covers more than 1,300 outdoor locations and provides signal in more than 400 buildings in addition to the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) underground/overground rail system. Not to be outdone, two of Singtel’s biggest rivals, M1 and Starhub, are also deploying “island-wide” 5G. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

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Sunday 17 July 2022

Mali has to focus on 4G coverage improvement before 5G discussions can be taken seriously

Mali’s topography includes large tracts of sparsely populated desert, with many settlements being hard to reach and thus rendering it difficult and expensive to provide effective fixed or mobile networks.

Security issues have also been a concern, leading to delays in building the national backbone network. Following a coup in 2012 large areas in the north of the country were taken over by Islamic militants. The coup of September 2020 unsettled politics, and was soon followed by a second coup. The coup leaders put off holding the promised elections, and this in turn contributed to the February 2022 decision by France and other European governments to end their military support against the militants. Many areas of the country have remained generally ungovernable.

Compounding these difficulties is the fact that underinvestment in fixed-line networks has meant that telecom infrastructure is barely adequate to serve consumer needs in most towns and is largely absent in most areas of the country. In addition, a combination of poverty, high illiteracy, and low PC use has led to a very low take-up of fixed-line internet services. In common with many other countries in the region, Mali has taken to mobile networks for voice and data services. Mobile networks account for about 98% of all telecom connections. Despite these challenges, there has been progress in fixed-line connectivity, particularly during 2020 and 2021.

Orange Mali entered the market as the second mobile and fixed-line operator in 2003, and soon became the dominant provider. The duopoly with the national telco, Sotelma, continued until late 2017 when Alpha Telecom (after much delay) launched mobile services. A fourth mobile licence was secured by Mobilis, owned by Algérie Télécom, at the end of 2019.

Mali’s landlocked location makes it dependent on neighbouring countries for international bandwidth, which has kept internet prices high. Improvements in this sector can be expected from the recent arrival of several new international submarine cables in the region, while Orange Group has also been engaged in building a terrestrial network linking the capital cities of eight countries in the region, including Bamako.

Orange Mali owned by French Telecom is the current market leader. The company was extremely successful when it entered the market as the 2nd mobile and fixed-line operator in 2003. They quickly amassed more than 80% market share, offering converged fixed, mobile and broadband internet services.

At the end of 2016, Orange Mali’s network covered about 95% of the population and 46% of the country and had a base of 11 million active mobile subscribers, of which more than 99% were prepaid customers. Their uses mainly cover voice, mobile internet and mobile payment services. Only around 20% of the population have 3G coverage with speeds up to 42 Mbps like in Bamako and other regional capitals. In 2017 Orange Mali renewed its license and received permission to launch 4G/LTE services. It already trials 4G/LTE in Bamako, that is to be expected to be commercially launched by 2018.

Like in most parts of Africa mobile networks double as a payment system. Started in 2010, Orange Money service had 3.5 million customers at the end of 2016.

Orange Mali has claimed the country’s first 5G network tests, presenting its progress at a pilot project launch event on 7 July 2021 attended by government officials including Harouna Mamadou Toureh, the Minister of Communication, Digital Economy & Modernisation of the Administration. Agence Ecofin reports that Orange has begun testing 5G technology in Mali’s capital city Bamako and other regions. 

Some months back, Intelsat announced that it has been selected by Orange Mali to bring 3G and 4G connectivity to hard-to-reach areas in the country. The press release highlighted that this agreement ‘marked a first in Francophone West Africa – the successful deployment of 4G networks over satellite, judged to be the optimal solution given the size of the country and the logistics involved’.

Malitel (recently rebranded to Moov Malitel) operated by SOTELMA is the old state telecom provider and first mobile network in the country since 1989. It was privatized in 2009 and now owned: 50% by Maroc Telecom, 20% by local investors, 20% by the Mali government and 10% by staff.

In user numbers and coverage Malitel is in the 2nd position in Mali right now caring for about 41% of the mobile market as well as for a rather limited landline system.

Their 3G coverage is restricted to the towns of Bamako and Kati, Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso, Segou, Mopti and Kenieba, the mines of Loulou, Tabakoto, Gounkoto, Sadiola, Siama and Morila as well as Diboli on the border to Senegal. Outside these areas there is only coverage with GPRS at 54 Kbit/s. 4G/LTE has been started at the end of 2018.

In 2012 a 3rd license was issued to Alpha Telecom Mali, but commercial operations have not started until 2017 and the local counterpart has defaulted in the meantime. Finally, in October 2017 the network was launched in Bamako under the brand of Telecel and at year end 3G was added.

In 2018 the first phase of its network deployment was completed. With the cellco having focused its initial efforts on reaching the southern parts of the country, it now covers locations including Kati, Sikasso, Segou, Kayes, Koutiala and Koulikoro. Telecel is now preparing to begin the next phase of its network rollout, covering Mali’s northern and central areas. So far it can't be recommended for travellers because of its restricted coverage, but can be useful locally.

Algerie Telecom subsidiary Mobilis is poised to become the latest player to dip its toe in Mali’s telecommunication market, having been awarded an operating licence to deploy services nationwide. The award – which includes rights to offer 2G, 3G and 4G services – was confirmed by Modibo Arouna Toure, Mali’s Minister of the Digital Economy and Communication, under a provisional agreement with the government. Full terms are yet to be negotiated

Wednesday 6 July 2022

Armenia is content with 4G LTE

Armenia had to battle through 2020 on two fronts: the Covid-19 pandemic that effectively shut down the economy, and a brief but brutal war with neighbouring Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The country has struggled to build economic momentum and independence since breaking away from the Soviet Union in 1991, and these two events have only served to further delay Armenia’s prospects for economic recovery in the short to medium term.

Despite the woes besetting the country on the larger scale, Armenia’s telecom sector was still able to post modest gains — at least in the mobile and broadband segments. Its fixed-line penetration continues to slide downwards, only buttressed by the rollout of fibre networks which have encouraged the take up of bundled services. Even so, the fixed broadband market remains undeveloped, being somewhat hamstrung by the lack of underlying infrastructure outside the main cities.

In general, Armenia’s small population and low GDP per capita means that the country presents limited opportunities for growth. The one bright spot for the sector is mobile broadband, which is expected reach 130% penetration rate by 2026, at a CAGR of more than 8.6%. However, this is subject to the country managing to avoid conflict.

Armenia has three mobile network operators: Viva-MTS (formerly Viva Cell MTS by MTS Armenia), Team (formerly Beeline, by Telecom Armenia) and Ucom (formerly Orange).

2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G/UMTS is on 2100 MHz (and 900 MHz on Ucom) like in the rest of Europe. 4G/LTE started in 2012 on the 2600 MHz (band 7) and Beeline 2016 on unusual 450 MHz (band 31) and UCOM on 800 (B20), 1800 (B3) and 2600 (B7) MHz. 5G hasn't started yet.

Viva-MTS, previously called VivaCell MTS, owned by Russian MTS, is the market leader in the country with more than 60% of mobile customers on its network.

2G and 3G coverage is at 99.8% and 98.8% of the population, respectively; with 99% of Armenia’s populated ares served by its 4G/LTE signal in 2020. It has the best coverage and speeds in the county.

After undergoing a corporate rebrand to mark its strategic shift from ‘a telecommunications operator to a comprehensive digital services company’, its name was changed from VivaCell-MTS to just Viva-MTS. According to General Director Ralph Yirikian, the rebrand is

 ‘in line with global trends in the sector, as well as the growing needs and expectations of subscribers who want to see the Company being more than a telecommunications operator’.

 In dropping the ‘Cell’ part from its brand identity, MTS Armenia said the move reflected its desire to develop and promote digital products and services, and move beyond its traditional mobile offerings. Today, alongside its voice and data services it currently offers gaming, entertainment, and educational applications, e-wallet, mobile TV, cloud services, and business and financial management, amongst others. 

‘For many years, the foundation and symbol of our identity has remained unchanged. “Cell”, besides its main meaning, symbolises mobile communication services, that is, what we have always provided. Thus, while continuing to provide telecommunications services, we are growing into a digital company that provides a variety of services,’ 

Yirikian clarified.

Beeline by Veon Armenia used to be the 2nd operator in the country. In 2020 VEON announced that it has struck an agreement to sell its fixed and mobile business VEON Armenia (trading as Beeline) to Team LLC (Team Telecom Armenia) – the business created by brothers Hayk and Aleksandr Yesayan when they jumped ship from rival operator Ucom in April 2020. In 2022 Telecom Armenia announced that on 1 May it's replacing the Beeline trademark with the new Team Telecom Armenia brand.

Team./Beeline has a good coverage in 2G (2G zone) and 3G (3G zone). In 2016, it started 4G/LTE in Yerevan only so far on the unusual frequency of 450 MHz (on band 31). This was added by B3 (1800 MHz), but remained somewhat lower than its competitors.

According to the General Director Team Telecom Armenia Hayk Yesayan the introduction of a 5G network by any of the telecom operators in Armenia will be an exclusively marketing step. He says: 

"I can confidently say that the speed and channels that we have today  eliminate the need to switch to 5G.  These are additional capital  investments that will be unprofitable, because any technology that  you buy and do not use becomes obsolete. In fact it turns out that  this is a waste of money and labor,"

In this regard, the head of Team Telecom Armenia stressed that in the  next year or two, the introduction of such a technology for the  Armenian market is inexpedient. At the same time, Yesayan stressed  that the same amount of financial resources can be invested in the  development of other areas that are more relevant and will bring more  benefits to the field of information and telecommunication  technologies (ICT).  

Yesayan noted that all communication operators in Armenia can now  safely work with 4G, which fully meets the requirements of the  market.  According to him, the advantages of the 5G network are used  in large industrial enterprises, and today there is no such need in  the country.  

Running alongside the rebranding, meanwhile, Telecom Armenia noted that it is continuing the build-out of a Next Generation Network (NGN) with peak 25Gbps speeds, based on 25G-PON technology. The NGN network is already available in the districts of Davtashen and Arabkir in the capital Yerevan, as well as in the towns of Kajaran, Jermuk and Gndevaz. In addition, in recent months, the company has also extended 4G LTE coverage to a further 14 towns and 65 smaller communities, deploying 80 or so base transceiver stations.

Ucom for Universal Communications, officially Յուքոմ, is the smallest operator in the country, but has grown a lot in the last years through a good network at the lowest prices. In 2016 they were acquired by the broadband operator Ucom which has rebranded its network from the former Orange label.

Their 4G/LTE has been launched in 2017 on 800 (B20), 1800 (B3) and 2600 (B7) MHz. 3G is available on 90% and 4G on 99% of population in 2022.

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