Wednesday 12 October 2022

Belarus 'Ready' to Deploy 5G Technology

Belarus’s government and telecom regulator are concluding three major programs aimed at developing the telecom sector and digital economy. Major progress has been made, in particular enabling the mobile network operators to trial 5G services and extending the reach of fibre infrastructure.

These programs were initiated in 2015 and 2016 while the country experienced declining economic growth and formed part of wider efforts to develop the economy through promoting the digital economy and developing the ICT sector. Such considerations have also encompassed a growing interest in applications relevant for smart cities.

Following the political turmoil of mid-2020 the local currency has depreciated against the US dollar and the euro, and this has placed greater strain on operator revenue.

The mobile sector has also experienced some growth, with a rise in mobile penetration attributed to effective competition which has helped drive down consumer prices. Operators have concentrated on developing mobile broadband and data services with a view to capitalising on such services to increase ARPU.

Recent spectrum auctions have facilitated the development of mobile broadband access, particularly in rural areas, while the state-sponsored operator beCloud, charged with developing a wholesale-based LTE network, has enabled commercial LTE services to be extended to about 80% of the population. beCloud is also charged with developing the network infrastructure to support 5G services. It is undergoing the process using spectrum in three bands.

These mobile networks are operating in Belarus in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE: MTS [МТС] (owned by Beltelecom & MTS Russia), A1 (formerly Velcom, owned by A1 Telekom Austria Group), Life:) (mostly owned by Turkcell) for 4G/LTE: beCloud (partly state-owned, providing only 4G/LTE, for all providers above)

Many people in Belarus carry two mobiles, one with an MTS and the other with a A1 SIM card to avoid paying for more expensive cross-network calls. Life is in 3rd place with a lower coverage but very good prices.

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz. In 2016 the two major operators cover 53%, which has been extended to more than 97% in the meantime.

4G/LTE has started in 2015. A 4th state-owned provider called beCloud had a monopoly license for 15 years and is building up the 4G/LTE network on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz (bands 3, 7 and 20), which is marketed by the private operators. MTS has been launching its 4G/LTE marketing in 2015, life:) followed in 2016 and A1 in 2019.

MTS (or МТС in Belarusian for "Мабільныя ТэлеСістэмы") is a joint venture co-owned by state owned Beltelecom and Russian owned MTS operator and is the leading provider in Belarus. Its network coverage is 98% on 2G and 95% on 3G.

As part of its ongoing 4G LTE rollout, MTS Belarus is extending LTE-800 coverage to the Brest region, targeting more than 130 settlements, including rural areas. The deployment will be carried out in stages it said with the initial phase taking in the settlements of Brest, Baranovichi, Drogichinsky, Kobrinsky, Luninets, Ivanovsky, Pruzhany, Kamenetsky and other areas. In a recent press release, the MNO highlighted that the launch and development of LTE-800 in rural areas is being implemented jointly with infrastructure partner Belarusian Cloud Technologies (beCloud).

MTS Belarus said its LTE-800 network covers ‘thousands of settlements’ across Belarus. Previously, it was launched in Vitebsk, Gomel, Mogilev and Minsk regions. In fiscal 2022, it plans to provide dense 4G coverage to the western regions of the country – e.g. the Brest and Grodno regions.

A1 is the strongest competitor of MTS in Belarus with almost the same 2G/3G coverage. About 76% of the population are covered by 4G/LTE in 2020. It was called Velcom before.

In 2019 A1 finally announced the launch of 4G/LTE services in the city of Minsk and parts of the Minsk region, using the common infrastructure of national LTE access provider beCloud. Coming more than three years after rivals MTS and life.

beCloud and A1 Belarus have collaborated to expand coverage of 4G LTE in the Vitebsk region by ‘almost seven times’, blanketing more than 5,200 settlements in the process. In a press release, beCloud confirmed that mobile internet services using LTE-800 technology are now available in more than 75% of the region’s territory, including rural areas where more than 98% of its population lives. During the deployment, more than 200 base stations operating in the 800MHz band were installed in the region to provide wide geographical coverage and reliable signal reception in rural areas.

Turkish owned life:) is the smallest operator in Belarus. Its 3G is still more limited to population centers as the 900 MHz frequency is not yet employed. Where available, they give data at much better rates, but at a lower coverage.

life:), has announced that following the latest improvements to its network, a further 59 4G LTE base transceiver stations (BTS) have been launched throughout the country. In extending the reach of its 4G network the MNO said that BTS have been deployed in new parts of the capital Minsk and the Minsk region, as well as in towns and villages in the Vitebsk region, such as Begoml, Ozertsy and Obukhovo, and in the cities of Brest, Grodno, Gomel and Lepel. The company notes that the majority of its 4G BTS operate at 1800MHz, but that 800MHz sites are being activated to provide coverage over a wider geographical area.

As part of its ongoing national network rollout, beCloud has announced the deployment of a further 59 4G LTE base transceiver stations (BTS) across the country. In a press release outlining its progress the company confirmed that in February 2022 new 800MHz BTS were switched on in both the Vitebsk and Minsk regions, covering people living in Novaya Guta, Begoml, Krasnoseltsy, Obukhovo, Ozertsy, Osintorf, Ostrovenets, Prozoroki, Surazh, Zubrevichi, Dukovshchina, Dobrino, Dubrovo, Berezinskoye and Perezhir. Furthermore, beCloud significantly expanded its 1800MHz network coverage last month via 44 new base stations in Brest, Vitebsk and Vitebsk region, Gomel and Gomel region, and Minsk and Minsk region. As a result of the latest network expansion, beCloud’s network now comprises 3,508 BTS operating in three bands (1800MHz, 2600MHz and 800MHz), yielding combined network coverage of more than 97.4% of the population and 76.7% of the territory of Belarus.

News portal BelTA reports the Belarusian Communications and Informatization Minister, Konstantin Shulgan, as saying that his country is ‘ready’ to deploy 5G technology. ‘We’ve been making preparations by arranging test areas where every mobile carrier had a go at 5G technology. We saw how it erases boundaries between the city and the village in service provision,’ he is quoted as saying, noting that national PTO Beltelecom, MTS Belarus and Huawei have ‘arranged a test site’ in Kopyl District, Minsk Oblast. Shulgan went on to say: ‘This technology already allows starting practical work in this direction because the effect of the 5G technology is dozens of times higher than that of the 4G technology’.

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database writes that in June last year, Belarus’ national infrastructure operator Belarusian Cloud Technologies (beCloud) announced the ramping up of its 5G test zones in the country, as it entered the second stage of widescale testing ahead of the commercial launch of the technology. In a press release at the time, the company noted that since 2020 it has been carrying out trials to explore the possibilities of 5G technology and determine the optimal scenarios for its implementation in Belarus. With the tests organised into frequencies in the 2500MHz-2570MHz/2620MHz-2690MHz and 3400MHz-3800MHz bands, between May and December 2020 beCloud began verification of fifth-generation technologies in Minsk and Gomel.

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