Thursday 25 May 2023

Uzbekistan is Toying with 5G

The mobile market dominates Uzbekistan’s telecoms sector in terms of penetration, revenue, and growth. There are four major operators providing a modicum of competition; three of the four are government-owned entities although private operator Beeline Uzbekistan has been able to capture up to a third of the market. The last two Covid-affected years have proved challenging for Beeline, in particular, but its most recent operating results suggest a turnaround in the company’s fortunes is under way. Overall, the mobile market is expected to reach 100% penetration in 2023 – a 50% increase in the last five years.

At the end of 2020, Uzbekistan embarked on a “Digital Uzbekistan 2030” strategy to stimulate the country’s digital transformation across various industries. To achieve this, Uzbekistan is expanding its telecommunication infrastructure to improve communication quality and close the urban-rural divide (50% of the population lives in rural areas) by inking several partnerships. VEON, Beeline Uzbekistan’s parent company, announced in May 2022 that it would invest $250 million over the next five years to develop the communications infrastructure and ecosystem of digital services in Uzbekistan to support Digital Uzbekistan 2030.

Andrzej Malinowski, the CEO of Beeline Uzbekistan, acknowledges that “there is a clear understanding that (mobile) is a driver of the economy and the best way to further improve education level within the country. We want to enable remote education and build an education platform as a social project, make it zero-rated and available to all”.

VEON also announced it would advise and provide digitalization services to the Uzbek government during the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In September 2022, state-backed Uzbektelecom signed eight contracts with Huawei and ZTE worth $506.8 million. The deal, backed by Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications (MITC), to implement a telecommunication network and infrastructure across the western and eastern regions of the country in two phases to deliver expanded population coverage and QoS. Furthermore, Uzbektelecom has also signed a contract with four Japanese companies — NTT, NEC, Toyota Tsusho, and Internet Initiative Japan (IIJ) — to deploy a telecommunications infrastructure development project to provide data center and telecommunication infrastructure to enable “Digital Uzbekistan 2030”.

Uzbekistan's 4 national GSM-based network operators are: Mobiuz (formerly UMS), Beeline, Ucell and Uztelecom (Uzmobile).

2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE has started on 2600 MHz (B7) on Ucell and Beeline on 850 MHz (B5, B18) with additional 700 MHz on Ucell, 800 MHz (B20) on, 1800 MHz (B1) on Uztelecom and with EVO using TDD-LTE on 2300 MHz (B40) dubbed as "Super iMAX". For many years Uzbekistan has been struggling to bring its telecommunications system up to the standard found in developed countries. Over the last two decades the situation has been gradually transforming, but coverage and speeds are still quite low outside the major population centers. 

Uzbekistan’s state operator Mobiuz has embarked on a wide-reaching modernisation of its network in order to boost capacity and quality of service.

Mobiuz has begun offering 5G services in areas of Tashkent. All Mobiuz subscribers with 5G-capable devices can activate the service to access data speeds of “up to 300Mbps” free of charge. In addition, the operator has introduced a new 5G tariff priced at a monthly rate of UZS75,000 (US$6.80) that it claims can deliver speeds as high as 1Gbps. Mobiuz has also claimed that 5G users will experience substantial latency improvements.

The network is currently powered by eight 5G base stations located around the city. Mobiuz has received a soft loan of US$150 million from the Chinese state in August 2019 to help the operator invest in its network up until 2023 – including substantial equipment overhauls, nationwide 3G & 4G coverage expansion, internet upgrade and the implementation of 5G - all using equipment provided by Huawei.

The operator also has16 5G base stations operational in test mode in the city of Samarkand. In Samarkand, Mobiuz’s 5G base stations were initially installed at the ‘Silk Road Samarkand’ tourism centre, in central districts of the city, at the main railway station and at the Mobiuz Service Centre.


Beeline is the second provider in the country. It's controlled by Russian-backed Veon (formely VimpelCom). 

Recently Beeline network has launched mobile connectivity across the metro service  in the capital city of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The new Beeline Uzbekistan coverage will provide 4G connectivity at all 31 underground stations on the four lines of the metro service. In 2022, the Tashkent metro enabled 220 million passenger journeys or a daily average of around 620,000 riders.

The expansion of 4G coverage to the Tashkent metro is part of Beeline’s ‘4G for all’ strategy, which saw the roll out of 2,300 4G base stations in 2022. The Beeline Uzbekistan network for the Tashkent Metro was developed using the Uztelecom infrastructure based on multi-operator RAN active equipment and sharing technology.

As of late 2021, Ucell has been servicing 7+ million subscribers with its 4G networks covering nearly 75% of the country’s major cities and towns. The company was the first to roll out a 5G network in Uzbekistan in the central business district of the capital city Tashkent on 8 April 2021. The company claimed that ‘real-world 5G speeds are approximately 1Gbps’ from launch, highlighting that ‘the data transfer rate is 10-100 times higher than 4G technology.’ Users can connect to 5G via Ucell sales and service offices in Tashkent or via a call centre.

Up until 31 May 2021 5G-capable device owners can sign up for a promotional Ucell 5G data package valid for five days costing UZS5,000 (USD0.48), allowing unlimited 5G internet usage ‘at up to 1Gbps’ within the central Tashkent coverage area. Ucell’s website confirmed that the new network uses 5G Band 78 (3500MHz) frequencies, with mobile USB/modem/router devices supported alongside smartphones. The website also states that ‘Ucell is developing new territories and very soon the technology will become available in other areas of the city and other cities of Uzbekistan.’

Uztelecom used to be a CDMA-only provider on 450 MHz (CDMA 2000 1x). In 2015 they started with GSM in 2G and 3G in Tashkent. They are the smallest GSM-provider in the country with a limited GSM coverage so far and only 5% of the country's users. Nationwide service extension is under way and 4G/LTE has started in 2017 on 1800 MHz (band 3). It's still the smallest, but fastest growing provider in the country.

In March 2023 Uztelecom began a mobile network upgrade project which includes deployment of 5G technology alongside 4G LTE coverage expansion and data speed improvements. Over 3,000 existing base stations throughout the country will be modernised alongside the rollout of more than 2,000 new base stations under the ‘Season of Renewal’ project.

In the first stage of the project, they plan to achieve ‘full’ 5G network coverage of the capital Tashkent plus ‘partial’ 5G coverage in regional centre cities, following which plans for subsequent stages of 5G expansion across the country ‘will be analysed’. The company also declared that it will be the first Uzbek network operator to provide 5G access on flagship smartphones, including Apple iPhone devices.

Uzbektelecom (Uztelecom) have previously signed deals including a 3G/4G/5G expansion worth over USD500 million with Huawei and ZTE in September 2022. Since July that year the telco operates a limited pilot 5G network in Samarkand.

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Thursday 18 May 2023

Little Appetite for 5G in Burundi with 4G/LTE Continuing Gaining Ground

Burundi, a small landlocked country in East Africa, has a rapidly growing mobile market with several operators competing for customers. While the country faces some challenges in terms of infrastructure and regulatory issues, the state of mobile operators in Burundi is generally positive, with reliable coverage and a range of services available to customers. 

Burundi is among those countries in Africa which largely depend on mobile networks for voice and data services. There is little in the way of fixed-line infrastructure outside the main towns, and most investment has been earmarked to improve the quality of mobile services and the reach of LTE networks rather than on extending the reach of fixed-line telecoms. Investment in national fibre networks generally supports mobile backhaul rather than fixed broadband services.

Almost all mobile subscribers are prepaid: there were only about 7,250 contract subscribers in late 2021, accounting for 0.1% of the total.

The number of mobile subscribers increased sharply in 2021, year-on-year, reaching about 8.1 million. As with the increase in the number of subscribers, the various different communication requirements which have resulted from restrictions aimed at controlling the pandemic since 2020 has resulted in a significant increase in voice traffic. The average number of voice minutes increased 25% between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the third quarter of 2021, while the number of SMS sent increased 50%.

There are four main mobile operators in Burundi: Econet Leo, Onatel, Lumitel, and Smart Burundi. Each of these operators offers a range of services including voice, messaging, and mobile data. As of the first quarter of 2022, the Burundian telecom market had 7,798,885 subscribers shared among these four operators.

Econet Leo was the first mobile operator to launch in Burundi in 2003. The company is a subsidiary of Econet Wireless International, a telecommunications group based in South Africa. Econet Leo has been able to establish itself as one of the leading mobile operators in Burundi due to its extensive network coverage and affordable pricing.  The operator provides standard 2G GSM services over 900 and 1800 MHz, and launched 3G UMTS services in July 2011. In March 2017 Econet Leo switched on 4G LTE over the B3 (1800 MHz) band initially in the capital Bujumbura and was slowly rolling out across the nation.

Lumitel is a relatively new player in the Burundian mobile market, having launched in 2015. The company is owned by Viettel, a Vietnamese multinational telecommunications company. Despite being a new entrant, Lumitel launched the first 4G/LTE network simultaneously in six provinces of the country in 2016 covering the core central parts of Bujumbura, Gitega, Ngozi, Rumonge Makamba and Muyinga. They have been able to rapidly expand network coverage and had approximately 3 million subscribers as of 2021.

Onatel is another major player in the Burundian mobile market. The company was founded in 1978 and was initially a state-owned telecommunications provider. However, in 2006, Onatel was partially privatized, and Vivendi, a French multinational media conglomerate, acquired a 51% stake in the company. They offer mobile services under the brand name "Tempo" and provide a range of services including voice, messaging, and mobile data. The company has an extensive network coverage, with its services available in all provinces of Burundi. In addition to mobile services, Onatel also offers fixed-line and internet services to its customers.

Smart Burundi is the fourth mobile operator in Burundi, having launched in 2019. The company is a subsidiary of Smart Africa, a pan-African telecommunications company. Smart Burundi has been able to establish itself in the market by offering affordable pricing and a range of innovative services. 

However the Agency for Regulation and Control of Telecoms (Agence de Regulation et de Controle des Telecommunications, ARCT) in Burundi has reportedly shut down Smart Burundi over its failure to settle its tax arrears and the expiration of its operating licence on 27 July. The ARCT requested Smart to cease all operations on 18 August at which point it reputedly owed around USD3.2 million in arrears. Further, the regulator noted that whilst Smart had filed to have its licence renewed in March this year, its failure ‘to provide the certificate of non-accountability requested by the Burundian Revenue Office which must confirm that the telecom company owes nothing to the tax authorities’ meant that its concession subsequently lapsed.

Overall, the Burundian mobile market is competitive, with each of the four main operators offering a range of services at affordable prices. The government of Burundi has also taken steps to improve the country's telecommunications infrastructure, including investing in fiber-optic networks and promoting the deployment of 4G technology. With continued investment in infrastructure and the rollout of 5G technology, the Burundian mobile market is poised for further growth and innovation in the years ahead.

Tuesday 9 May 2023

KDDI Launched their Metaverse and Web3 Service called αU (Alpha–U)

On March 7, 2023, KDDI launched  αU (Alpha–U), a metaverse and Web3 service, and introduced to its customers a new world where anyone can become a creator and to support the new generation of users who effortlessly move between the real and virtual worlds. The name αU comes from the Greek letter alpha (α), which symbolizes the beginning of something new, and the letter U, which stands for user. This reflects KDDI's goal of creating a new digital world that is accessible to everyone and that offers new opportunities for interaction and engagement.

αU is designed to be a comprehensive platform that offers a wide range of features and services for the Web3 era, including the metaverse, live streaming, and virtual shopping. Users can create their own avatars, their own virtual communities, explore virtual worlds, participate in a range of games and activities and interact with other users in real-time. The platform also offers a range of tools for content creators, including the ability to create and sell digital items and experiences.

This service eliminates the boundary between the real and virtual worlds, allowing users to enjoy everyday experiences such as attending live music performances, enjoying art, having conversations with friends, and shopping―anytime, anywhere. By collaborating with domestic and international partners, KDDI will provide support introducing Japanese creators and content to the world. Their aim is to build a creator economy in which creators can produce value and be compensated for their work. 

One of the key features of αU is its integration with Web3 technologies, which are designed to provide a more decentralized and transparent digital environment. The platform uses the Ethereum blockchain to enable secure transactions and to create a digital economy that is controlled by users rather than centralized authorities.

KDDI in partnership with Geometry Ogilvy Japan, had previously launched Virtual Shibuya, an urban-linked metaverse, in May 2020, and Digital Twin Shibuya, which links real and virtual spaces, in October 2022 as part of its continuous initiatives to expand urban experiences by utilizing 5G communications and AR/MR technologies.

Yasushi Arikawa, senior creative director, creative head of experience at Geometry Ogilvy Japan, explains that the initial version of the project was already under way before Covid hit, but it accelerated the need to create a virtual space as the city locked down;

“Having discussed the feasibility of implementing the experience in the real city, we then pivoted, and in May 2020 ‘Virtual Shibuya’ was born, a virtual platform that would itself reinvent the city of Shibuya. The city was locked down, and for those who could not go out ‘Virtual Shibuya,’ easily accessible with a smartphone, was immediately accepted as a new entertainment experience. The highly successful launch event attracted more than 53,000 visitors." 

"In October 2020, after the second and third waves of Covid, we hosted ‘Virtual Shibuya Halloween’ in a safe and secure virtual space to discourage people from visiting the huge ‘Halloween in Shibuya’ event that usually attracts one million visitors a year and represents Shibuya Ward. Several programs were held, including Trick or Treat content with digital incentives, avatar contests, talk shows and music concerts, which were successful in attracting more than 410,000 visitors.”

Mr Arikawa elaborates:  

For the past three years, Virtual Shibuya has offered this new form of entertainment enabled by technology, such as live music performances from artists, talk shows featuring anime and manga characters, and other urban-linked experiences that are anchored in a virtual space. 

αU will evolve this from a traditional public space for experience to a space for communication.

Geometry Ogilvy Japan, also created a virtually produced film to showcase aU. This 30-second clip which showcases four artistic illustrations made by GenZ artist Mayu Yukishita, The AI and a virtual singer tell a story about the concept of “Already, one world” that blends the real and virtual worlds, takes us beyond the “uncanny valley” to an emotionally charged story

KDDI is also working in collaboration with Google Cloud on αU. Google Cloud’s Immersive Stream for XR product creates high-definition virtual entertainment experiences. Immersive Stream for XR allows users to engage in an immersive, interactive, and photorealistic experience, without downloading an app so they can immediately engage with content on any device.

The implementation of these technologies will promote further collaboration between KDDI and Google's technical teams in the future. Their aim is to create use cases that lead to innovation and new consumption and experience behaviors, such as the realization of the Metaverse Web3 service "αU”, a world where anyone can become a creator and leverages content distribution on platforms like YouTube.

The launch of αU is a significant milestone for KDDI and for the wider metaverse and Web3 community. The platform offers a range of innovative features and experiences, and it has the potential to become a major player in the growing digital economy. As the platform evolves and expands, we can expect to see new and exciting applications emerge, and we can look forward to a future where the digital and physical worlds are more closely connected than ever before.

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Tuesday 2 May 2023

Seychelles Plans to Introduce 5G and Competition

Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean with less than 100,000 inhabitants, the Seychelles is Africa’s least populous sovereign nation.

There are two mobile operators in the Seychelles: Airtel Seychelles and Cable & Wireless Seychelles. 
The following frequencies are used in Seychelles:
2G: 900 MHz
3G: 2100 MHz
4G/LTE: 800 MHz (Band 20)
5G NR: unknown

Commercial 5G NR has been available in Seychelles since June 2020 with Cable & Wireless Seychelles. However, 5G NR is currently only available to postpaid customers. It is unknown when prepaid customers can get access to 5G NR networks. Moreover, it is unknown when Airtel Seychelles will launch 5G NR and whether it will be available to prepaid customers from the start or not.

Airtel Seychelles has more than a 50 percent share of the mobile market in the country. It was the first company to launch prepaid mobile services in 1999 and gradually upgraded its network to 3G and 4G connectivity. According to Amadou Dina, Managing Director of Airtel Seychelles.

“Airtel Seychelles is among the top four companies in the world in terms of telecommunications. We have almost 98 percent smartphone penetration and 95 percent 4G penetration in the country.” 

C&W Seychelles competes closely with Airtel in this duopoly mobile market. Recently C&W revealed that it has carried out a network optimisation project including adding extra 4G LTE and 5G mobile base stations to strengthen capacity, data speeds and coverage. The company – which launched 5G services in July 2020 – stated in one of the posts: ‘We can confirm we have rolled out more 5G and LTE mobile sites … more customers can access much faster LTE and 5G in more areas than before.’

In a parallel project, C&W announced that it is constructing new cell tower sites to mitigate poor call drop rates in certain network sections, with 13 new tower sites deployed in September 2022, out of a total of 25 planned for completion by the end of October. So far, the towers have been deployed in zones with weak cell coverage in the following areas: Anse Royale/Les Canelles, Anse Faure, La Salette, Piton, Bougainville, La Gogue, Anse Reunion, Le Niole, Ma Joie, Morne Blanc, Providence, St. Louis and Sunshine House.

This duopoly mobile market may soon be disrupted by Intelvision, a fixed broadband and pay-TV provider in the Seychelles, which has revealed a plan to enter the mobile market with a network rollout in partnership with Chinese vendor Huawei. Intelvision has been assigned 5G-suitable mobile frequencies, whilst in October 2019 the operator revealed a strategy to enter the mobile market in partnership with Huawei, although its initial plan to begin 4G/5G network rollout in 2020 was delayed.