Tuesday 26 December 2023

Top 5 Posts for 2023

Here are the top 5 most viewed posts from 2023. These posts were not necessarily posted this year, so I have added the month and year it was posted.

If you had a favourite post, let us know in the comments below.

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Monday 11 December 2023

AT&T's Plans on Open RAN and 6G

AT&T was in news recently for their announcement about acceleration of Open and Interoperable Radio Access Networks (RAN) in the United States. According to their press release

This industry-leading move, in collaboration with Ericsson, will further the telecommunications industry efforts and help build a more robust ecosystem of network infrastructure providers and suppliers. AT&T’s spend could approach roughly $14 billion over the 5-year term of the contract with Ericsson. 

AT&T’s Open RAN plan is for 70% of its wireless network traffic to flow across open-capable platforms by late 2026. The company expects to have fully integrated open RAN sites operating in coordination with Ericsson and Fujitsu, starting in 2024. This move away from closed proprietary interfaces will enable rapid scaling and management of mixed supplier hardware at each cell site.  Beginning in 2025, the company will scale this Open RAN environment throughout its wireless network in coordination with multiple suppliers such as Corning Incorporated, Dell Technologies, Ericsson, Fujitsu, and Intel.

At the Brooklyn 6G Summit (B6GS), Chris Sambar, who leads AT&T’s Network organization and teams responsible for designing, engineering, building, and operating AT&T’s next generation mobile and fiber networks, gave a keynote on "Network: The Innovation Platform". The narrative of the talk says: 

Today’s 5G build is the foundation of 6G. Flexible and open architecture being developed and fine-tuned with 5G will be central to 6G, and maintaining a customer-centric, forward-looking mindset will be critical as we scale and deploy technologies such as Stand Alone core, edge computing, AI, and NTN integration. Implementing the lessons learned in the 5G era and ensuring we have end-to-end alignment across the 6 pillars of our architecture will be vital to making 6G a success.

RCR Wireless provides a concise summary of the talk here:

AT&T has spent $40 billion on spectrum in the last few years; Verizon has spent more than $50 billion; and T-Mobile US had to acquire another major operator to get its spectrum holdings. With 5G not even at its midway point and the industry already trying to figure out what they might have to spend on 6G, “it can’t be a bottomless-pit industry,” he said.

That said, Sambar did also discuss the promise of 6G for extended and virtual-reality immersive experience for training public safety and military members, and the potential of better network-focused AI and ML to save network operators “hundreds of millions or billions of dollars” if things like self-optimization of networks can be done better and faster. That in itself represents a major challenge. Sambar says that he has thousands of employees in network operations, between AT&T’s wireline and wireless networks and “hundreds” of algorithms that do very simple if-then work and essentially send tickets to humans when a scenario comes up that fits its if-then criteria. If one of those algorithms breaks, he said, “we have to go figure out where it is, what server it’s sitting on, what’s wrong with it and how do we fix it. I would love a machine to manage that for me”—or even better, to stitch the capabilities of multiple algorithms together for more efficient and effective AI/ML applicability to network operations.

The video of the talk is embedded below, thanks to IEEE TV:

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Wednesday 6 December 2023

4.5G Coverage is Good Enough for Comoros

The Union of the Comoros, an archipelago off Africa’s east coast with high levels of poverty, sought to improve communications, trade, and economic opportunities by expanding mobile communications and internet services. With support from the World Bank Group, the government liberalized the telecommunications sector, held an international tender, and awarded a second telecoms license. Through competition, Comoros now has better quality and cheaper telecoms services, as well as broader coverage. In a country with scarce government resources, the World Bank’s $32 million has made a substantial contribution by leveraging over $90 million in telecoms licensing fees and infrastructure investment.

Comoros has 2 mobile operatorsHuri by Comoros Telecom (Comores Telecom) and Telma Comoros (Telma Comores). Both operators have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks. The following frequencies are used by the Comorian operators: 2G: 900 MHz, 3G: 900 MHz and 4G/LTE: 800 MHz (Band 20).

Until 2016 Comores Telecom (Comtel) was the sole provider of wireless, broadband and fixed line services on Comoros. Mobile services started in 2003 when Comtel launched a GSM-900 network under the brand name HURI.

2G started as late as 2002 and SIM cards were $100 at the beginning. 3G services started in 2013. Mobile penetration remained low in the Comoros. Many users were dissatisfied with Comtel's bad service and high prices while it had a monopoly. In 2018 they had to slash prices because of their new competitor.

From July 2018 they started to advertise with a "4.5G" network, so 4G/LTE seems to have be started on unknown frequencies (probably bands 20 and 3).

Telma Comoros, officially known as Telma Comores but will be referred to as just “Telma,” was awarded a license in 2015 to bring competition in the Comorian telecom market. They are an operator from Madagascar where they operate as Telma Malagasy. 

The launch of Telma Comores has expanded mobile services in Comoros, giving people high quality 4G LTE mobile broadband technology at lower prices. In response to this competition, Comores Télécoms has launched an even faster 4.5G network. By 2018, mobile broadband subscriptions rose to 58 per 100 inhabitants, and coverage is on track to provide all citizens with broadband mobile phone and inter- net services by 2030.

Telma doesn't block VoIP providers like Skype or WhatsApp calls. They also feature very cheap calls to neighboring French Mayotte. They might be the smarter alternative, once they have full coverage now. At least they brought the incumbent to cut prices.

Friday 1 December 2023

5G Development Strategy & Plan of Turk Telekom

Founded in 2011, Global TD-LTE Initiative (GTI) has been dedicated to constructing a robust ecosystem of TD-LTE, speeding up the commercialization of TD-LTE and promoting the convergence of LTE TDD and FDD. Today, GTI has become an influential cooperation platform with global presence with operators and key vendors, and has completed the GTI 1.0 mission by building an end-to-end TD-LTE ecosystem and achieving global commercialization of TD-LTE and converged LTE TDD/FDD.

As the newest member of GTI, Ahmet Fethi Ayhan, Network Director at Turk Telekom, had the opportunity to share Türk Telekom's 5G roadmap and network transformation with the world's leading industry representatives at the 38th workshop held in Istanbul.

His talk is embedded below:

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Monday 27 November 2023

Grenada is Slowly Progressing Towards High Speed 4G

Grenada is an island country consisting of Grenada itself and six smaller islands in the southeastern Caribbean. It's located northwest of Trinidad and Tobago, northeast of Venezuela, and southwest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. About 126,000 inhabitants live on 348.5 km2 area.

Like on many Caribbean Islands there are these two usual providers: Digicel Grenada and Flow (by Cable & Wireless). Flow is the incumbent provider and Digicel came to the Caribbean 2001-6 to end this monopoly and has since become market leader in Grenada by aggressive marketing.

2G is on European bands while 3G is on US bands. Both operators have 2G/GSM on 900 and 1800 MHz. For 3G Flow uses 850 MHz (CLR band 5) while Digicel employs 1900 MHz (PCS band 2). 

Digicel Grenada, launched commercial 700MHz LTE network services in December 2018.

Flow addressed widespread criticism over the quality of its fixed broadband services by announcing it has spent XCD15 million (USD5.6 million) to provide faster web browsing for its subscriber base. As a result, they have been able to increase speeds from 15Mbps to 50Mbps, putting the country ‘on par’ with many developing nations.

Recently Grenadians have become more and more dissatisfied with the services provided by FLOW and Digicel. Many customers have reported losing money due to various reasons, including sudden deactivation of their numbers despite having substantial account balances. This issue raises significant concerns regarding transparency and accountability within these companies. Additionally, the quality of telephone and internet services provided by both FLOW and Digicel has been deemed unacceptable by many customers, particularly in rural areas where Flow Landline and broadband services have experienced prolonged outages.

In light of these failings, it is imperative that the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC) in Grenada takes proactive measures to ensure that these companies meet accepted standards. If the NTRC fails to fulfill its responsibilities, it may be necessary for the government to intervene by considering potential changes in board membership.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Jio 5G - Enabling India to go Digital

Jio, the incumbent Indian MNO, was in news recently for having rolled out 1 million 5G cells across India. An RCR Wireless article nicely summarised their announcement from the earning statement as follows:

Reliance Jio Infocomm has already deployed over 1 million 5G cells across India, the telco said in its earning statement.

Jio’s 5G network is currently providing coverage in nearly 8,000 towns and cities across India.

Jio also highlighted that it has contributed to 85% of the overall 5G capacity in the country. This has been powered by a 100% in-house 5G stack, designed, developed and manufactured in India, the telco added.

Reliance Jio Infocomm has been rapidly expanding its 5G network using Standalone (SA) architecture since October 2022. Reliance Jio had previously secured a mix of wireless spectrum for 5G across the 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands. Jio is the only Indian operator with the 700 MHz low-band spectrum.

Earlier this month, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited demonstrated what it claims to be India’s first satellite-based giga-fiber service, dubbed JioSpaceFiber, at India Mobile Congress 2023.

The telco said the new offering aims to provide high-speed broadband services to hard-to-reach geographies across the country.

At the recent Brooklyn 6G Summit, Shyam Mardikar gave a keynote on how Jio 5G is enabling India to go Digital. His bio states: "Shyam Prabhakar Mardikar is responsible for Reliance Jio’s mobile network and leads the network strategy, design, and transformation towards making Jio’s mobile network fully converged, programable and future ready. Over past one year, he has successfully led world’s fastest 5G network creation with nearly 1 Mn 5G cells live.

His talk is embedded below:

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Friday 20 October 2023

Rwanda got 4G, Satellite Connectivity and Possibly Stratospheric 5G

Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda, is a landlocked country in the Great Rift Valley of Central Africa, where the African Great Lakes region and Southeast Africa converge. Located a few degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwanda was slow to liberalise the mobile sector, allowing MTN a monopoly until 2006 when the fixed-line incumbent, Rwandatel (since acquired by Liquid Intelligence Technologies) became the second mobile operator. There was effective competition among three operators after Tigo launched services in 2009. However, the acquisition of Tigo by Airtel saw a significant consolidation in the market, and the cancellation of Rwandatel’s licence in 2011 resulted in the market becoming a duopoly between the dominant operator MTN and Airtel. However there is a third operator now: kt Rwanda (KTRN for Korea Telecom Rwanda Networks), which is on 4G/LTE only.

The fixed broadband sector has suffered from limited fixed-line infrastructure and high prices. Nevertheless, operators are rolling out national backbone networks which also allow them to connect to the international submarine cables on Africa’s east coast. These cables gave the entire region greater internet bandwidth and ended the dependency on satellites. Liquid Technologies has continued to expand its FttP services across Kigali and a number of other towns, while the country also has a new cable link with Tanzania, and via Tanzania’s national broadband backbone it has gained connectivity to the networks of several other countries in the region.

The number of subscribers on LTE infrastructure has increased sharply, helped by national LTE coverage achieved in mid-2018. Mobile remains the dominant platform for voice and data services. The regulator noted that the number of mobile subscribers increased 2.7% in 2021, year-on-year. However, there was a slight fall in the beginning of 2022, though this decline was entirely from Airtel.

MTN based in South Africa is the leading operator in the country with the best coverage. They claim to have a 95% coverage in the country. But this refers to 2G only. 3G is only available in the centers. It used to have a market share of 100% back in 1998, but now faces stiff competition from 2 new players in the market.

Both Airtel and MTN have launched their own 4G LTE networks, having had their operating licences amended to enable them to roll out 4G technology. The two firms were previously only able to offer LTE-based services using the infrastructure of wholesale provider KT Rwanda Networks (KTRN), but the government announced earlier this year that KTRN would lose its exclusivity in the 4G market.

MTN claims to have so far upgraded 80% of its network sites to support 4G technology, while Airtel has not given an update on its coverage. Both firms say they are offering 4G at the same price as their 3G tariffs.

Tigo changed the game when it entered the market in Rwanda in 2008. Their coverage is was as good as MTN's, but they offered quite lower rates.

Airtel bought Tigo in 2017 and Tigo was merged with Airtel. In the intermediate time it was called Airtel-Tigo. In 2020 Airtel-Tigo has rebranded as Airtel Rwanda. The firm has also been issued with a new twelve-year unified operating licence under its new moniker. Airtel claims around 46% of Rwanda’s mobile subscriber total, with the remainder accounted for by market leader MTN.

Airtel launched its own 4G network in July of this year.

In 2013 the Government of Rwanda and KT entered into a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with a Korean group to install a high-speed broadband network and expand the nation's online services capacity. KT Rwanda Networks was established to deliver universal broadband access based on 4G/LTE technology upon Rwanda’s national Fiber optic infrastructure and to manage the fixed-mobile converged infrastructure as the wholesale provider of high-speed mobile broadband, covering 95% of the population within 4 years. 

Airtel and MTN both offered services via KTRN’s 4G wholesale infrastructure, in which Korea Telecom is thought to have invested $140 million. However this monopoly has now ended as both have launched their own networks. 

Back in February, Starlink, the satellite broadband service from SpaceX, was issued a licence to enable it to operate in Rwanda, following on from its recent commercial launch in Nigeria which marked its entry to the African market. A report from New Times said that 500 Rwandan schools were set to receive connectivity from Starlink under a pilot scheme by the end of the month, with full commercial availability before the end of March. The Rwandan government is aiming to connect a further 3,000 schools to the internet by end-2024.

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change non-profit organization has announced that it worked with the Republic of Rwanda government to provide SpaceX Starlink internet to 50 schools situated in rural communities.

A survey from Ookla, for the second quarter of 2023, said that the Starlink satellite service was faster than all fixed broadband providers in Nigeria and Rwanda. In Rwanda, median download speeds were a little closer with Starlink recording a median download speed at 63.10 Mbps in Q2 2023 compared to the aggregate of all fixed broadband providers combined at 34.55 Mbps.

This week, the Government of Rwanda and SoftBank Corp. announced that on September 24, 2023, they successfully tested SoftBank's proprietary 5G communications payload in the stratosphere installed on a solar-powered High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) prototype.

The demonstration, conducted for HAPS research purposes in Rwandan airspace by SoftBank and the Government of Rwanda, marked the world's first publicly announced delivery of 5G connectivity from a HAPS UAV in the stratosphere*1. The successful 5G connectivity demonstration follows a stratospheric flight test conducted in Rwanda in June 2023, during which the HAPS UAV prototype carried a mockup of the payload with a similar weight and dimensions.

SoftBank's stratosphere-ready communications payload continuously delivered 5G connectivity for approximately 73 minutes in the stratosphere at a maximum altitude of 16.9km and performed as expected in demanding atmospheric conditions.

During the test, the stratosphere-ready 5G communications payload enabled a 5G-based Zoom video call between a smartphone at the test site in Rwanda and SoftBank team members in Japan. Since the radio waves transmitted and received from the 5G communications payload installed on the HAPS UAV prototype in the stratosphere operated on the same frequencies as existing smartphones and devices, a regular 5G smartphone was used in the test.

Friday 29 September 2023

No Plans for 5G in Barbados with Plenty of Scope for LTE Improvement

Barbados is a sovereign island country in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. It's covering an area of 432 km2 and is situated about 168 km east of the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and 400 km north-east of Trinidad and Tobago. Almost 300,000 people live on the island.

Like on many Caribbean islands there are these two usual providers: Digicel Barbados and Flow (by Cable & Wireless)

Flow is the incumbent provider and Digicel came to the Caribbean 2001-6 to end this monopoly. A third provider called Sunbeach on CDMA was closed in 2013. Digicel has become market leader and commercially launched its 4G/LTE mobile network in the capital Bridgetown in 2016, Flow in 2017.

Flow is on US frequencies of 1900 MHz for 2G and 850 MHz and 1900 MHz for 3G, while Digicel uses European bands of 900 MHz and 1800 MHz for 2G and 2100 MHz for 3G. Digicel's 4G/LTE has started on 700 MHz and 1900 MHz (bands 17 and 2) while FLOW's 4G/LTE is on bands 1900 MHz and 850 MHz (bands 2 and 5).

Digicel started in 2004 to challenge the monopoly of Lime (now known as Flow). They have been very successful in Barbados and had a 57% market share in 2015. In 2016 they were the first operator to launch 4G/LTE in Bridgetown and have extensive coverage over the island. 

Flow (previously called Lime), is operated by Cable & Wireless. In recent years they have fallen back against Digicel, but lowered rates in 2017. They offer a good 2G and 3G coverage, and launched 4G/LTE in 2017.

Barbados has issued a third telecoms licence, as it seeks to break up the long-standing Digicel-Flow duopoly. Clifford Bostic, Director of Digital Infrastructure at the Minister of Industry, Innovation, Science and Technology (MIST), told Barbados Today:

‘We have a third service provider in Barbados that has been licensed, and that is KW Telecommunications Ltd, and they are also preparing for number portability, as well as preparing to launch their services in Barbados.’

While little is known about KW Telecommunications, or its backers, the newcomer appears set to fill the void left when the previous third operator, debt-wracked Ozone Wireless shut down in August 2019, barely two years after its launch.

Monday 18 September 2023

Lack of 4G Coverage, Low Data Rates and High-Costs is Impacting Equatorial Guinea Web Experience

Equatorial Guinea is located on the West coast of Africa with about 1.7 million inhabitants. It is a different country to Guinea (aka Guinea-Conakry) or Guinea-Bissau.

Two GSM-based networks are operating in Equatorial Guinea :Getesa (formerly: Orange, Getesa-Orange) and Muni.

There is also a CDMA-based provider that is not compatible with usual GSM-devices called Gecomsa.

Mobile phone adaption was rather slow in this country, but they now have more than 800,000 mobile connections. 2G and 3G are available on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. 

Equatorial Guinea is next to the ocean, which means it is connected to several submarine cables. This is essential to know because most landlocked African countries have slow speeds and bad connections because the country has to rely on neighbouring countries for fibre bandwidth.

The issue is that there is massive inequality in terms of internet access in Equatorial Guinea. Although internet services are widespread throughout the country, the quality of service is lacking due to the lack of proper broadband infrastructure. A country can have access to multiple submarine cables. However, if the domestic internet infrastructure is lacking, then the locals cannot take advantage of the connection.

According to a study done by cable.co.uk, the mean download speed in Equatorial Guinea is less than 1 Mbps. In other words, it would take more than 22 hours to download a 5 GB file. This study focused on broadband speeds. Mobile speeds are often slower than broadband speeds, so one should not expect fast speeds in Equatorial Guinea.

The Getesa network was called Orange until 2018. The French operator left the country in a long legal dispute 2014-18.

Equatorial Guinea’s government lost a Paris Court of Appeal case against a fine imposed in 2014 by the International Court of Arbitration for reneging on a 2011 agreement to buy Orange’s Getesa 40% stake in the event of a new entrant launching (a clause it failed to honour after the 2012 launch of majority state-owned cellco Gecomsa). In October 2016 the government finally agreed to pay a total amount of EUR 150 million including interest to Orange.

Orange was soon rebranded first to Getesa-Orange and in 2018 to Getesa, that is now fully state-owned. It's still considered the best operator in the country.

Getesa switched on its 4G LTE smartphone network in January 2021. The operator encouraged users to ‘Use your 4G to stay connected with your family, friends, clients and with the whole world’, following its initial post announcing 4G’s availability on 24 December 2020, which stated: ‘4G arrives at Getesa’ alongside a picture of a smartphone user. 4G coverage or other details were not provided.

 TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that Getesa had previously claimed that it would be able to launch 4G in main cities by end-2019 supported by fibre backhaul/backbone availability, having held a demo of LTE technology in May that year, but a launch took a further year to materialise, whilst in the meantime Getesa repeatedly claimed in its marketing that its 3G network offered faster data speeds than some 4G operators.

Muni is the only private competitor to the state-owned networks. It's no.2 behind Getesa with a lower coverage/speed. Muni launched 4G LTE services in Equatorial Guinea in June 2019, although initially aimed at home internet modem users rather than mobile phone subscribers.

Gecomsa is another state-owned provider however its CDMA-only which is not compatible with usual GSM devices and hence not suitable for travellers. It started in 2012 as joint venture between the Guinea government and the state-owned ZTE manufacturer from China. Gecomsa also introduced LTE technology in December 2020 but strictly for fixed residential/office broadband services (initially covering Equatorial Guinea’s capital Malabo and adjacent districts.

The Equatorial Guinea government and operators signed an agreement to slash telecom tariff prices by 50% on May 1 2022, as the government looks to permanently reduce sky-high prices in the country. 

Equatorial Guinea is widely known for having the highest prices for connectivity globally. The 2021 study from Cable.co.uk also found that 1GB of data in Equatorial Guinea cost around US$46.97.

The nation’s vice president Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue stressed the discount is temporary and will continue as a permanent structure to pricing is agreed upon, reported Ecofin Agency. 

Operators that do not comply with the slashing of prices will lose their telecom licenses, warned Mangue.

Wednesday 6 September 2023

Belize Mobile Operators Have Many Challenges and No Plans for 5G

One of the smaller countries in Central America, Belize in many respects has closer ties to English speaking countries of the Caribbean than with its immediate neighbours. Prior to independence, Belize had been a British colony since 1862, only changing its name to Belize from British Honduras in 1973.

In Belize, the telecommunications market is predominantly served by two major mobile operators: Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) is a government-owned telecommunications company that provides mobile, landline, and internet services and operates as Digi (formerly DigiCell). It has a significant market share and has invested in expanding its infrastructure and services. The second operator is SpeedNet Communications operating under the brand "Smart," is the primary competitor to BTL. It offers mobile and internet services, providing consumers with choices in the market.

GSM users don't have much choice as the only GSM-based operator in the country used to be Digi (DigiCell). 2G/EDGE is on 1900 MHz and 3G/HSPA which is still marketed as "4G" is on 850 MHz. Real 4G/LTE started in 2016 on Digi and Smart! on the 700 (B13) and 1900 (B2) MHz bands. Smart! has become an alternative soon as it's moved from CDMA to 3G on 850 MHz.

Belize’s fixed-line teledensity and mobile penetration remain lower than average for the region, a legacy of insufficient market competition and underinvestment in telecoms services, exacerbated by lax managerial standards within the incumbent operator Digi. 

However, Digi has recently adopted a reforming strategy, partly expressed by its rebranding in August 2018 as it aims to transform itself at all levels into an effectively competitive operator more commercially minded and focussed on cheaper pricing and customer retention. The company has undertaken significant investment in infrastructure, launching an LTE-A service at the end of 2016 and in mid-2017 completing a submarine cable to Ambergris Caye, enabling it to launch an FttP service in San Pedro. Loans secured since 2017 enabled the company to migrate its infrastructure from legacy copper to fibre. BTL invested BZ$93 million dollars to provide high speed broadband to 80% of residences across Belize.

Digi has provided fresh details regarding its fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) rollout in its published 2021-22 Annual Report

The FTTH infrastructure now passes 90% of Belizean homes, after being extended to an additional 1,200 homes in Corozal Free Zone, Central Farm, Consejo Shores, Spanish Lookout, San Pedro South and Caye Caulker North. In terms of mobile upgrades, new 4G cell sites were deployed on Coco Plum Island and Manta Island in Southern Belize and the telco now operates ‘over 150 mobile sites’.

As of 31 March 2022 BTL claimed 204,000 mobile subscriptions (up from 194,000 year-on-year), 31,000 fixed broadband subscriptions (unchanged y-o-y) and 13,500 fixed voice lines (down from 15,700).

Smart launched the first LTE network in Belize in December 2015 over the B13 (700 MHz) band. Recognising the eventual deprecation of CDMA based networks and after years of delays, the company launched its 3G UMTS network in June 2017 over the B5 (850 MHz) band. 4G/LTE is on Band 13 / 700 MHz.

Smart now claims to operate the largest, fastest network in Belize, providing mobile, home and Internet service to over 100,000 customers.

The operators in Belize face several challenges for example: limited infrastructure, Belize's geography, with dense forests and low population density, poses challenges for building and maintaining a robust telecommunications infrastructure, especially in rural areas. Also the cost of service, Belizean consumers often grapple with high mobile service costs, including data charges. Balancing affordability with quality service remains a challenge for mobile operators.

A modern 5G network does not yet exist in Belize. The penetration rate of 4G, i.e., mobile communications with at least LTE speed, was recently 70 percent. In other words, 121,581.60 people in the country had to make do with a maximum Internet speed of the outdated UMTS standard (or even less).

A great deal more investment, collaboration, and a focus on meeting the evolving needs of consumers, However, with investment, collaboration, and a focus on meeting the evolving needs of consumers by Belize's mobile operators is needed to further improve and develop the mobile landscape. 

Thursday 31 August 2023

United Arab Emirates has a Fantastic 5G Experience but Coverage Needs to Improve

The UAE has a strong mobile market, dominated by Etisalat and du. Both are majority-owned by the government. In a bid to attract additional foreign investment, it was resolved in early 2021 that the stake held by foreigners in the two companies could be increased.

The U.A.E. was the fastest 5G market globally in Q2 2023 according to Ookla's Speedtest Intelligence data, with growing competition between the nation’s two network operators helping to drive overall performance in the market to reach a median download speed of 557.63 Mbps. etisalat by e& was the fastest 5G operator globally with a median download speed of 680.73 Mbps.

Etisalat and du have deployed LTE networks providing national coverage, while the 5G penetration rate is the second highest globally after China. This has underpinned growth in the mobile broadband sector, and has enabled the strong development in the take-up of rich content and applications, as well as m-commerce. To help increase the capacity of 5G networks in coming years, and so keep up with data demand, the government has allowed for the GSM networks to be closed down and for spectrum and other assets to be re-purposed for 5G by the end of 2022.

According to the most recent Open Signal report  Etisalat remains top for award hauls. The operator takes home the greatest number of award wins, with nine outright victories and one shared win, a change from the last report when it was the sole victor in seven categories and shared first place with du in a further four. Du manages a respectable six first place finishes, five outright wins and its shared win with Etisalat for 5G Voice App Experience.

There has been a lot of focus on 5G in the United Arab Emirates, with both operators announcing partnerships with equipment vendors in February 2023. Du has partnered with Huawei to develop 5.5G (or 5G-Advanced) technology. They are expecting it to offer greatly improved data speeds, lower latency and increased energy efficiency. Not to be outdone, Etisalat has chosen Nokia to upgrade its existing 5G network, with the vendor providing services for replacing existing equipment and implementing automated transport slicing. Along with this, in late February 2023 Etisalat launched its commercial 5G standalone access (SA) network. The operator expects that the SA network will offer enhanced performance for business and residential customers

Both Emirati national operators have turned their attention to satellite connectivity, with du demonstrating what it claims to be the first satellite-enabled 5G backhaul in the Middle East, using SES's satellites in January 2023. Since then, Etisalat announced that it has launched a 5G satellite solution, partnered with Eutelsat. Using satellite technology would bring access to remote areas with low terrestrial connectivity, and it will be interesting to see how these technologies develop.

The Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced the completion of the second phase of testing of 5G-Advanced services in the 6GHz band. The regulator is working with local service providers Etisalat and Du on the trial, with the aim of achieving 10Gbps download speeds using 400MHz of spectrum in the 6GHz range. The TDRA’s director general, Majed Sultan al-Mesmar, commented: 
‘The exponential number of internet users, and the scientific advances witnessed by the world today, require new speeds to accommodate the increasing load on networks and keep up with the high specifications of emerging technologies on the world stage such as metaverse applications, to name a few. Having attained a speed of 10Gbps … this new, globally unprecedented speed will lead to faster data transfer, ushering in a new era of high-quality streaming and seamless cloud services. The trial will also enhance the IoT by providing the infrastructure necessary to simultaneously handle multiple connected devices, while ensuring seamless and reliable connectivity.’

Meanwhile in May 2023 Du completed a successful demonstration of 5G Voice over New Radio (VoNR) technology to showcase its 5G Standalone (SA) capabilities. The trial was carried out in conjunction with equipment partners Huawei and Nokia.

Saleem AlBlooshi, Chief Technology Officer at Du, said: 
‘The successful demonstration of 5G network VoNR capabilities represents a significant milestone at a time when the digital sector is entering a new era. It enables unprecedented simultaneous voice and data transmissions and provides incredibly rapid connectivity transmission rates.’

Du claimed eight million mobile subscriptions and 559,000 fixed broadband subscriptions at the end of June 2023, up 8.0% and 18.3% year-on-year, respectively.

While 5G speeds, rollout and adoption increasing rapidly, according to OpenSignal, 5G availability is still low for both the operators and has a lot of scope for improvements. With the rapid rate of deployment, this number is surely bound to go up in the coming years.

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Tuesday 15 August 2023

Bulgaria Enjoys a Fantastic 5G Experience

Bulgaria’s telecom market was for some years affected by the difficult macroeconomic climate, as well as by relatively high unemployment and a shrinking population. These factors continue to hobble investment in the sector, though revenue growth has returned since 2019. There still remains pressure on revenue growth, however, with consumers migrating from fixed-line voice telephony to mobile and VoIP alternatives, while the volume of SMS and MMS traffic has been affected by the growing use of alternative OTT messaging services.

The mature mobile market has effective competition between A1 Bulgaria, Yettel (branded as Telenor Bulgaria before March 2022, the Telenor Group’s local unit that had been sold to the PPF Group in August 2018), and the incumbent operator Vivacom. Competition intensified following the implementation of a streamlined mobile number portability process. In addition, customer preference for bundled services has put pressure on pricing and encouraged operators to offer generous voice and data packages. This in turn has impacted on operator revenue.

Vivacom was sold to United Group in April 2020, following European Commission approval. The company is investing in network upgrades and its development of services based on 5G have stimulated other market players to invest in their own service provision. A1 Bulgaria and Vivacom both launched commercial 5G services in 2020.

All three operators have a good 2G and 3G coverage over 95% of the country. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz like in most of Europe. 4G/LTE is supported by all operators on 1800 MHz (B3) only, added now by 2100 MHz (B1) and 900 MHz (B8).

According to the most recent Open Signal report  A1 wins 12 awards out of a possible 13 — nine shared victories and three outright wins. A1 notably comes at least joint first in every single award category for overall and 5G experience, winning three speed awards outright (Download Speed Experience, 5G Download Speed and 5G Upload Speed), and shares Consistent Quality with Yettel.

A1 reported on its website that it has completed the integration of a Standalone (SA) 5G network consisting of a Nokia-supplied Radio Access Network (RAN) and Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core backbone network, with the latter vendor taking a lead role in the integration project. Todor Tashev, Network & Services Senior Director at A1 Bulgaria, confirmed that 5G SA solutions are now available for B2B customers, who can ‘take advantage of the new technology to automate processes and solve complex problems’. The operator also highlighted the development of Private 5G SA network services as a key element of the Industry 4.0 concept, alongside massive machine-to-machine/IoT connectivity and ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) supported by 5G SA’s near-real-time transmission.

Vivacom  claim to own the best developed network in Bulgaria. They are the only telecom operator in the country that provides converged solutions through terrestrial, copper and satellite infrastructure, a mobile network and public Internet. They maintain the only networked international networking center in Bulgaria, the network management center and the largest real-time data storage and booking center. Vivacom owns its own infrastructure, which includes: a 5G network, they launched the first Bulgaria 5G network in all 27 district centers of the country in September, 2020. The fifth-generation network provides higher speed, lower latency, and more connected devices, which is an important condition for the development of areas such as telemedicine, digital education, gaming, automated production, and others.  According to the most recent Open Signal Report  Vivacom was the outright winner for 5G availability. 

Yettel  has over 3 million subscribers in Bulgaria, they believe in putting the customer first, Yettel's mission is clear: to help people achieve balance in life. During its 20-year history in the Bulgarian market, the company (operating until March 2022 under Telenor brand) has built a strong reputation as a pioneer in the field of wireless networks and beyond, launching the first commercial 4G network in Bulgaria in 2015, the first VoLTE service in 2018 and paving the way for the development of 5G with the first test of a 5G network in the country.

Monday 31 July 2023

Over 21 Trillion KPIs per Week

Earlier this year in May, Thomas Hodi, Senior RAN Expert & AI Product Owner, A1 Telekom Austria, while speaking in FutureNet World conference highlighted 

At FutureNet World conference earlier in May this year, Thomas Hodi, Senior RAN Expert & AI Product Owner at A1 Telekom Austria explained the KPIs challenges faced by operators. Austria, which is one third the size of UK, roughly has around 7,000 mobile base stations. Since A1 operates in different countries, they have roughly 50,000 mobile base stations. 

Each base station generates roughly 3,000 KPIs/hour. This means that the 50k base stations will generate three billion, six hundred million KPIs per day. Adding the KPIs for hundred million subscribers results in a massive 21 Trillion, 25 Billion, 200 Million KPIs per week. This is a massive number that provides an insight into one of the challenges faced by the operators. 

While the talk by Thomas is not available, you may be interested in the Panel on 2Autonomous Operations – Enabling the future of the telco industry?", available here.

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Tuesday 18 July 2023

5G Coverage in Portugal has Increased Significantly

Portugal has a well-developed mobile network. Population coverage by 3G infrastructure is universal, much of the country have access to 4G and 4G+ connectivity. This includes the island communities of Madeira and the Azores. Furthermore, 5G is increasingly available in Portugal, although for now, this is limited to the largest cities.   

Despite its relatively small size, the Portuguese mobile phone market is an increasingly competitive place. There are three network operators to choose from: MEO, Vodafone, and NOS. 

When it comes to subscribers, MEO leads the way with around 42% of the market share. Operated by the former state-controlled Altice Portugal, MEO has historically been dominant in the Portuguese market. However, other operators, such as Vodafone (30%) and NOS (24%), are closing the gap.

In the most recent Open Signal report all three operators performed very well, although NOS did best with three outright wins (Download Speed Experience, Excellent Consistent Quality and Core Consistent Quality) and 11 shared victories. 

Market leader MEO  owned by Altice Portugal launched its 5G network on January 1 2022. 5G is now available in all district capitals. The operator also says its 4G network now covers 99.7% of Portugal’s population. 

Earlier this year the National Communications Authority (Anacom) imposed a fine of 2.5 million euros on MEO, Altice Portugal, for "violation of the rules applicable to the termination of contracts".

NOS is the smallest operator in terms of subscribers but is quickly gaining ground due to its excellent coverage and services. 

As of April 2023 their 5G network covered 88% of the population, with 3,441 base stations reinforcing its market leadership in the technology.

Vodafone  the second largest operator acquired Nowo which had been the fourth operator  in Portugal, last year. Vodafone also recently signed European solar power purchase agreements with Iberdrola to deliver clean energy for Vodafone customers in Germany, Portugal and Spain. For Vodafone Portugal, the power purchase agreements (PPA) will provide the energy from the newly built Velilla solar photovoltaic (PV) plant located in Palencia, Spain.

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Tuesday 4 July 2023

Operators in Kyrgyzstan Cautiously Test 5G!

The Kyrgyz Republic, known as Kyrgyzstan, has the highest levels of mobile penetration across Central Asian (CA) countries — 159.9% with 2.94 SIMs per unique mobile subscriber, according to GSMA Intelligence. Despite being the second poorest country across CA, Kyrgyzstan came first regarding 4G Availability (the proportion of users of 4G-capable devices who spend most of their time on 4G networks). The National Development Strategy of the Kyrgyz Republic 2018-2040 is one initiative that facilitates digital transformation to hasten the country’s economic development. The State Communications Agency (SCA) stated in its annual report for 2021 that a total of 2,049 settlements across the country were covered by 4G LTE mobile networks at the end of 2021, equivalent to 96% of the country’s 2,130 officially registered cities, towns and villages. 2G mobile network technology extended to 2,088 locations (98%), while 3G networks were present in 2,081 (97%). Overall, 42 settlements (1.9%) were outside mobile network coverage, some due to a lack of power transmission lines.

Beeline Kyrgyzstan, Megacom,  and O! (Kyrgyztelecom) are the major mobile operators in the country. Megacom Kyrgyzstan, run by the state-owned Alfa-Telecom has started its rebranding campaign to MEGA following Megacom ownership transfer to the state-owned Kyrgyzstan State Development Bank. The operator announced that it expanded and upgraded its 2G, 3G, and 4G networks in seven regions and the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic. It plans to continue network coverage expansion across remote areas of Kyrgyzstan.

MEGA currently claims roughly three million mobile subscriptions, and its CEO Nurlan Mamytov stated that its strategic goals for 2023 include expanding the active user base, deploying at least 200 additional base stations in twelve months, upgrading network quality and data/internet speed, modernising existing technical infrastructure, further expanding the distribution/sales network, developing fintech services, and ‘creating favourable conditions for attracting large investments’.

In April of this year Mega launched Kyrgyzstan’s first VoLTE calling service. The IP-based 4G mobile voice service is available to compatible handset owners in all areas covered by MEGA’s LTE network, its press release claimed. VoLTE calls are provided at no extra charge to the user, with the cellco highlighting the technology’s benefits including fast call set-up time, high-definition sound quality and simultaneous high speed 4G mobile internet/voice connections.

Beeline is the biggest competitor of MegaCom in the country. They recently announced plans to leverage its parent group VEON’s partnership with satellite provider OneWeb to ‘become the first mobile operator in Kyrgyzstan capable of providing continuous communication and high speed internet to the most remote areas of the country, even those areas that have not had access to the network until now.’ Beeline said that the partnership with OneWeb will enable the elimination of digital inequality, ensure continuous communication in emergency situations ‘and increase the rate of economic growth of the population’ using high speed, low-latency satellite internet connectivity.

O! by Nur Telecom is the smallest of the three operators. Starting in Bishkek, Osh and Jalal-Abad, it offers 4G/LTE on 800 and 2600 MHz (B7 and 20). This has now spread to the country side and 97% of the population are covered in 2020 by LTE.

O! reported in August 2022 that they had conducted measurements of 5G data speed ‘which for the first time in Kyrgyzstan accelerated to 1.5Gbps.’ The company’s technical director Anton Kovalenko noted that ‘the launch of 5G into commercial operation is not far off, but it is too early to talk about a mass commercial launch, the transition will be phased.’ He added: ‘If [customers] are looking for a new smartphone, then in my opinion, it already makes sense to turn your attention to devices with support for the latest technology.’

5G in Kyrgyzstan is being tested in the n77 and n78 (3400MHz-3800MHz) frequency ranges, and will initially be integrated with existing 4G networks. O! expects its eventual 5G network to provide data speeds around ‘ten times faster than 4G’ with ‘average speed of 150Mbps-200Mbps.’

The mobile telecommunications sector in Kyrgyzstan is experiencing a dynamic phase with continuous efforts to improve network coverage, enhance service quality, and offer competitive pricing, mobile operators are striving to provide residents and visitors with an excellent mobile experience. As the industry evolves, customers can expect more advanced services, increased connectivity, and a vibrant mobile ecosystem in Kyrgyzstan.

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Wednesday 14 June 2023

Everything is Hunky-Dory in Austria as 5G Rollouts Gather Momentum

Austria has a highly developed telecommunications market, with a wide range of mobile operators offering services to consumers. The market is dominated by three major operators: A1 Telekom Austria, T-Mobile Austria, and Hutchison Drei Austria. These three companies provide the majority of mobile services to consumers in Austria. 

In common with other countries in the region, the operators as well as the government and regulator have focused on delivering improved telecom infrastructure. The government has a program to provide a national gigabit service by 2030, delivered by private enterprise though with some state funding. This is based on fibre networks supported by 5G, with the MNOs able to expand the reach of their 5G services following auctions held in March 2019 and September 2020. More recently, a plan has also been developed through to 2026 which would release additional spectrum in several bands to help increase network the capacity, and so improve the quality of services offered.

According to the most recent Open Signal report on Austria it was a two-horse race in the award table in Austria, with A1 and Magenta winning 10 and nine awards, respectively. A1 claims five awards outright — both overall speed and both consistency awards, along with Video Experience. Magenta is the sole winner of Games Experience, Voice App Experience, 5G Upload Speed and Availability — while operators jointly win the remaining five awards. 

The results in this report were based on measurements collected across all major mobile operators in Austria – 3, A1 and Magenta – over the period of 90 days between June 1, 2022 and August 29, 2022.

A1 has announced that they will shut off their 3G network on band 1 (2100 MHz) from Februrary 2023 (starting in Carinthia and Salzburg). The band 1 spectrum will be refarmed for 5G (going from 20 to 25 MHz of 5G on n1). The 3G network on band 1 (2100 MHz) and band 8 (900 MHz) will be shut off until the end of 2024. Drei has not made any indication yet about a 3G shutdown. A1 and Magenta agree that 2G will not be going anywhere any time soon.

A1 Telekom Austria is the market leader in Austria. The company was formed in 2010, following the merger of A1 Telekom Austria and mobilkom Austria. The company offers a wide range of mobile services, including voice, SMS, and data services, and has invested heavily in 5G infrastructure. A1 Telekom Austria also offers fixed-line services, including broadband and IPTV.

 4G/LTE is available on band 20 (800 MHz) nationwide, band 3 (1800 MHz) in smaller and bigger cities as well as band 7 (2600 MHz) in bigger cities, covering 98% of the population. 4G+/LTE-A carrier aggregation is available on cell sites which broadcast multiple 4G/LTE bands. 

In July 2021 A1 Telekom Austria has announced that its total number of 5G transmitters has increased to 2,000 across the country. The firm’s 5G network now covers almost 50% of the population across the country, including 80% of the capital Vienna.

According to Open Signal A1 has developed an end-to-end 5G network slicing proof of concept with Amdocs, which demonstrated management of 5G network slices and virtualized applications over public/private cloud and edge, along with its monetization potential. 

Magenta Telekom, which was formed in 2019 from the merger of mobile operator T-Mobile Austria and cableco UPC Austria is the second-largest mobile operator in Austria. The operator offers a range of mobile services to consumers, including voice, SMS, and data services. They have also invested heavily in 5G infrastructure, with a focus on providing high-speed data services to its customers.

Magenta has recently upgraded fixed broadband speeds for more than 500,000 existing customers. Through the upgrade, customers on low download rate plans will now be able to access speeds of 100Mbps, which has become the operator’s new entry-level plan, while other upgrades include from 100Mbps and 125Mbps to 150Mbps, from 150Mbps to 250Mbps and from 250Mbps to 300Mbps. The speed upgrade is being carried out on the firm’s HFC network and is at no additional cost for customers.

The operator has enabled 5G access across all of its smartphone tariffs and intended to expand its 5G coverage to 55% of Austrians by the end of 2022 — while also planning to switch off its 3G services from the beginning of 2024.

Hutchison Drei Austria is the third-largest mobile operator in Austria, with a market share of around 24%. The company was formed in 2013, following the merger of Hutchison 3G Austria and Orange Austria. Hutchison Drei Austria offers a range of mobile services to consumers, including voice, SMS, and data services, and has invested heavily in 5G infrastructure. The company also offers fixed-line services, including broadband and IPTV.

Hutchison Drei Austria has announced the commercial launch of 5G Standalone (5G SA) services under the name ‘5G+’. The offering has been made available for 1.3 million homes and businesses across the country, and all of the firm’s existing 5G transmission sites have been activated for 5G+.

Drei has worked with Qualcomm and ZTE to showcase a 5G Standalone network using the 700 MHz band and aggregating a 1400 MHz supplemental downlink band. According to the involved parties, this development will help to improve 5G download speed and coverage in suburban and rural areas. Enhancing 5G experience in Austrian rural areas is important, as there is a notable 5G rural-urban divide in Austria, as recent research has demonstrated.

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