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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