Monday, 15 August 2022

Colombians Pin Their Hopes on 5G Due to Lacklustre 4G Experience

Despite the harsh impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the country’s population and economy, Colombia’s telecom sector has been recovering due to positive performances in the fixed-line broadband, mobile broadband, and mobile voice and data markets.

Colombia’s fixed-line penetration remained stable by the end of 2020, though began to increase into 2021 as a result of the particular demands on households resulting from government measures associated with addressing the pandemic. However, at less than 15% it is well below the Latin American average. The mobile market, by contrast, reached a penetration rate of 136% (an increase of over three percentage points on 2019) and managed to keep the same upward growth trajectory that it has sustained over the last ten years. The fixed-line broadband market also expanded, with the number of subscribers increasing 11.4%, and with revenue increasing 9.9% thanks to increased data usage as many customers were forced to work or study from home during the year.

The mobile broadband market was the standout performer in 2020, with a 13% increase in the number of subscribers year-on-year, albeit the penetration rate is relatively low compared to other Latin American countries. Most significant of all was the surge in mobile broadband traffic — a 51% increase over the previous year — which was again a reflection of the strict lockdowns that Colombians had to endure for much of 2020.

Market leader Claro continued to expand its dominance of the mobile broadband market, increasing its share over the last decade by 10% to reach 54% at the start of 2021. Tigo, conversely, has seen its share halved over the same period of time, yet its subscriber base has still managed to grow on the back of a strong overall market. Tigo also suffered the most from Colombia’s imposed lockdowns in 2020, severely impacting its retail sales (a 20% decline in revenue) with nearly half of its stores being forced to close.

There are 4 networks in the country: Claro (formely Comcel), Movistar, Tigo Une (Tigo merged with UNE) and newcomer WOM. The three major operators share almost 90% of the market, led by Claro with about the half and followed by Movistar and Tigo with about 20% each.

2G and 3G is on 850 MHz on Claro and Movistar and 1900 MHz on all three majors. 4G/LTE started 2013/4 on 2600 MHz (B7) on Claro and Tigo and 1700 MHz (AWS/B4) on Movistar and Tigo and reaches already most of the population. WOM started as a 4G/LTE network only on 1700 MHz (B4) and roam on other networks for 2G/3G.

The most recent Open Signal report found Tigo to be the best performing operator in most of their categories. 

While Colombia’s Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications (MinTIC) has not yet scheduled an auction of 5G spectrum , in November the regulator announced plans for public consultation on increasing spectrum caps for the frequencies below 3 GHz — up to 50 MHz in the frequency range below 1 GHz and to 95 MHz in the 1710MHz-2690MHz range. The regulator is also considering applying an 80 MHz spectrum cap for the 3300MHz-3700MHz frequencies and intends to make all 400 MHz in this range available for 5G services. Earlier this year, in October, MinTIC renewed Claro and Movistar’s 1900 MHz spectrum licenses, while requiring the operators to update their technology and improve their coverage and quality of services.

In terms of 4G download speeds, Opensignal users on Tigo experienced the fastest average download speeds of 18.7 Mbps. Movistar and Tigo users saw declines in average 4G download speeds, of 0.5 and 2.1 Mbps respectively, while Claro users observed an increase of 1 Mbps. In addition, OpenSignal users on WOM networks enjoyed average 4G download speeds of 14.5 Mbps, which led to a statistical tie with Claro for second place. These changes resulted in Tigo’s lead over second-placed competitors decrease from 6.9 to around four Mbps.

In 2013 Claro merged with Comcel, dropping the name Comcel. They are now the market leaders in Colombia with the best nationwide coverage and a 48% market share. 4G/LTE on 2600 MHz (Band 7) is available for prepaid in about 200 towns and 28 capitals served by its network.

In May 2022, Claro Colombia announced its intention to switch off all 2G services by December 2022 in order to re-farm more spectrum for 4G and for a possible 5G launch.

In 2014 the merger of the two smallest networks in Colombia UNE and Tigo was finalised. The new joined network is marketed mostly under the name of Tigo. They remain the smallest major network in the country with slightly less coverage and 4G/LTE is available for prepaid on 1700 MHz (Band 4).

Tigo wins all but one of the Open Signal awards outright. The only exception is 4G Coverage Experience, which Claro successfully defends and claims outright for the fifth time in a row. Tigo increased its lead over its competitors in Upload Speed Experience and 4G Availability categories, but its lead in Download Speed Experience over Claro declined. 

In May 2021 Millicom International Cellular (MIC) announced that its Tigo Colombia subsidiary will become the first operator in Latin America to deploy Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) architecture. The rollout will be carried out in partnership with Parallel Wireless and deliver 4G service coverage at 362 rural sites. 

Telef贸nica acquired the former state-owned Colombia Telecomunicaciones in 2006 and sells it under its brand name of Movistar. It's now the 2nd operator in the country giving good coverage and speed. 4G/LTE has started in 5 main cities – Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga on 1700 MHz (Band 4) and 77 municipalities. 

WOM announced in August 2021 that it signed up one million subscribers since it launched in April 2021. The operator attracted new customers by offering plans, which undercut its competitors’ prices by 40%. With a new aggressive player in the market, managing subscriber churn will become an even greater challenge for the established mobile operators in Colombia. Maintaining high quality of mobile network experience will remain crucial to retain existing customers and attract new ones. 

DirecTV Colombia – a subsidiary of US telecoms giant AT&T – has reportedly switched on a fixed-wireless 5G service in selected parts of Bogota. According to Tecno Movida, the network has gone live in Kenedy and Engativa, and utilises equipment from Ericsson, Qualcomm and Gemtek. The network, which includes a cloud native 5G core and uses Massive MIMO technology, is capable of supporting download speeds of up to 100Mbps.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, satellite pay-TV provider DirecTV Colombia won a 4G concession in June 2013, securing 2×15MHz of FDD-LTE spectrum and a 40MHz block of TD-LTE spectrum in the 2600MHz band. The operator went on to launch its LTE-based 4G wireless broadband service in July 2014 and served 187,322 4G subscribers as of 31 December 2019.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Cambodians are Praying for 5G to Ease Data Congestion and Increase Speeds

Cambodia’s mobile-dominated telecoms sector spent the last couple of years battling two major challenges: the global pandemic, and the government’s retraction of trial licenses for the rollout of 5G.

Citing concerns about wastage and inefficiency occurring if each operator built a separate 5G infrastructure in order to maximise their own network’s coverage (and, presumably, to capture greater market share), the regulator withdrew the licenses that the operators had been using for their 5G trials. This was despite all of the operators having already announced a successful completion of their trials. More than a year later, the market is still waiting on the government to release its 5G policy and roadmap, along with the allocation of spectrum and approvals to permit commercial operation. 

In the meantime, the mobile network operators have maintained their focus and investment strategies on upgrading and expanding their existing LTE networks around the country, and to 5G-enable their base stations. When the 5G market eventually arrives, the underlying infrastructure will at least be ready to support a rapid adoption of the higher-value applications and services.

Overall, the mobile market fell back slightly during 2020 and 2021 (in terms of total subscriber numbers) as the Covid-19 crisis wore on, but it remains in relatively good health as mobile users increased their data usage over the period. Likewise, the mobile broadband market experienced a small but very rare contraction in 2020, although penetration rates were already very high in this area. There is likely to be a quick rebound to previous levels once economic conditions stabilise, followed by a modest rates of growth over the next five years.

The number of providers in Cambodia has decreased from 9 to 3 in recent years, currently there the main operators are Metfone (by Viettel), Smart (by Axiata) and Cellcard (by Mobitel).

2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE has started on Metfone, Smart and Cellcard so far on 1800 MHz (band 3). 

According to the most recent Open Signal report on Cambodia 5G remains some way off, with a representative of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications saying that both the release of the 5G roadmap and the assignment of 5G spectrum to operators will hopefully occur in 2022. In addition, Cambodia’s mobile networks are struggling under the weight of the nation’s high data consumption. In the Quantifying the Impact of 5G and COVID-19 on Mobile Data Consumption report, it was found that Cambodian users consumed a staggering 15.9 GB of data per month on average in Q1 2021, up from the 13.6 GB/month observed in Q1 2020.

Back in June, Smart Axiata’s CEO Thomas Hundt said that high data consumption had “loaded the 4G network to a level where the operators can’t fully satisfy the expectations from the users in terms of speed anymore”, but he also indicated that this congestion would ease once 5G is deployed.

The market leader Metfone currently has registered up to 9 million subscribers, occupying 50% of the market share. 

Metfone, has recently signed a credit package contract with MB Cambodia for the upgrade and expansion of its telecoms network, reports Khmer Times. Under the agreement, MB Cambodia, a branch of Vietnam’s Military Commercial Joint Stock Bank, will provide a credit package with a limit of up to USD100 million.

Metfone has developed the School Information System (SIS) to promote online learning to ensure students were not deprived of education during the health crisis. The SIS platform is equipped with a range of useful features, with documents able to be stored and retrieved quickly, and its digital archiving system enables school information to be stored securely and safely, unlike in physical form where documents can get damaged. Metfone plans to make the system available for all schools across the Kingdom.

Smart, a.k.a. Hello Axiata and Smart Mobile, is the 2nd provider in Cambodia. They were the first network to have started with 4G/LTE in 2014. 

Smart Axiata has invested more than $90 million in its wireless network in 2021. The operator aims to expand and improve its network to ensure stable and fast mobile broadband connectivity for its eight million subscribers. The main focus of the upgrade will be on enhancing the 4G LTE network. However, Smart also intends to ensure the network is ready for a major 5G upgrade once the government gives 5G the go-ahead. In fact so strong has been the adoption of 4G by Smart’s subscribers, that it has plans to shut down its 3G network over the course of 2021 and repurpose the residual frequency spectrum used for 3G to 4G. Smart currently operates approximately 3,000 network sites across Cambodia, allowing its subscribers to use a 4G LTE network that covers 91.5 percent of the population. By the end of 2021, Smart Axiata had planned to add 350 sites to meet the growing demand for robust and dependable connectivity. Existing network sites will receive substantial capacity upgrades.

Smart Axiata has conducted a live 5G trial in the capital Phnom Penh using a mobile device from Chinese equipment vendor Huawei. The firm said that when commercial rollout begins in the next few years, 5G coverage will initially be centred on ‘hotspots’ in major cities. According to Smart Axiata’s CEO Thomas Hundt:

‘Our mission is to enrich the lives of millions of Cambodians through world-class networks and exceptional digital experiences, which is why we invest USD70 million to USD80 million yearly, primarily in network infrastructure, to improve mobile broadband connectivity across the Kingdom. Trust that we will continue to improve our existing 4.5G service while preparing for future technologies like 5G in parallel.’ 

Cellcard (a.k.a. Mobitel) is the 3rd provider in Cambodia. In 2015 they started with 4G/LTE in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and 5 other towns on 1800 MHz (band 3). They currently have approximately 3 million subscribers. 

During the Pandemic they ramped up efforts to keep communities connected during lockdown by installing more than 169 new 4G LTE sites. The Proudly Khmer and only 100% locally owned mobile communications company. In addition to the new sites, Cellcard engineers installed small cell solutions for indoor coverage at hospitals and community venues and invested in three new mobile Cell on Wheels solutions to add coverage and capacity to outdoor locations to support the Ministry of Health’s response to the pandemic at key treatment sites and test & vaccination centers.

The work is part of Cellcard’s continued long term investment in network expansion which will see a total of 500 4G LTE sites added in Phnom Penh.

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