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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Thursday 8 June 2023

Low Cost Bit Factory as Foundation for Axiata's Telco to Techco Evolution

Last year, Thomas Hundt, chief strategy and technology officer at Axiata Group, outlined the company’s efforts to reduce operating costs, as it grapples with the challenge of managing rising capex at Huawei eMBB Forum in Bangkok. Axiata is one of the largest operator groups in Asia, with 163 million customers in 11 countries including Malaysia and Indonesia. MWL reported:

Hundt insisted operators can better handle the “capex tsunami” by collaborating and sharing infrastructure and offloading tower assets.

He highlighted Axiata’s aim to become a platform company which requires building new technical capabilities. “We are very much engaged in transforming our IT” to improve efficiency.

As data demand grows exponentially, ARPU has been relatively flat and even declining, with sub-$2 ARPU in some of its markets, he said.

The price of a 1GB of data has fallen significantly every year since 2020, but at the same time the yield is declining. “At the end of the day, the yield and the costs are not giving us a fantastic data margin, which we have to address through structural transformation.”

While Axiata has not launched commercial 5G services in markets in Asia, he said it is preparing for rollouts, adding in the next year it aims “to unlock the power of 5G”.

As you will notice from the image on the top, Axiata has set itself a target of driving the bit production cost down to 10 cents per Gigabyte. This will only be possible is they utilise the collective brain of all OpCo leaders coming together to make Group-wide decisions, OpCo resources taking on Group targets, and OpCo resources involved in end-to-end execution. 

The group is go through a number of activities to be able to achieve this very challenging target of USD 0.10/GB. These include:

  • Value-Based Planning
  • 3G Shutdown
  • Moving to Open RAN and Open Networks
  • Spectrum Optimization
  • Improving VoLTE Maturity
  • Transitioning to NFV/SDN/Distributed Network Architecture
  • Harmonization of procurement across the group
  • Squeeze hardware efficiency through software
  • Lean/Autonomous Operations
  • Network De-risking

You can watch the presentation embedded below:

Axiata is in process of evolving from a traditional CSP towards being both a platform play and a digital CSP (DSP).

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Friday 2 June 2023

Strategic Investments in 4G Networks have set High Expectations for 5G in The Channel Islands

There are three island territories within the British Isles that are known as Crown Dependencies; these are the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey which make up Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. The Crown Dependencies are not part of the United Kingdom, but are self-governing possessions of the British Crown.

The Channel Islands, located in the English Channel between the UK and France, are a popular tourist destination and a hub for offshore finance. While they may be small in size, the Channel Islands have a thriving mobile market, with a range of operators offering services to locals and visitors alike.

The state of mobile operators in the Channel Islands is generally strong, with reliable coverage and high-speed data services available to residents and visitors. The two main mobile operators are Sure and JT. Both companies offer a range of voice, text, and data services, as well as a variety of plans and packages to suit different needs and budgets. Both Sure and JT, have invested heavily in their network infrastructure and are constantly improving their services to meet the needs of their customers.

Sure, owned by the Batelco Group, offers 2G, 3G, and 4G services across both Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey) and the Isle of Man. They have invested heavily in their network infrastructure to ensure reliable coverage and high speeds. Their 4G mobile network was found to be the fastest for data downloads in both Guernsey and Jersey and averaged more than twice as fast as the other operators in both islands.

JT, previously owned by the Jersey government is now privatized, they also offer 2G, 3G, and 4G services across both Jersey and Guernsey. 

JT has also invested heavily in its network infrastructure and has worked to expand its coverage and improve its services. The company has a reputation for offering competitive pricing and excellent customer service, which has helped it to maintain a significant market share despite the competition from larger operators like Sure.

Airtel-Vodafone is the third mobile phone provider in Jersey and Guernsey and a partnership between Bharti Airtel of India and Vodafone UK. Their coverage is on par with their competitors. 4G/LTE has been started and covers most of the islands now.

Founded in 2007, Airtel-Vodafone claims to have a subscriber base of over 45,000. However Sure are due to acquire Airtel-Vodafone. The acquisition is tipped to bring investment to the Channel Islands, according to Sure's parent company, Bahrain-based telco Batelco. In a press release regarding the matter, Batelco claimed that the merger of the operators would ‘trigger significant investment in the Islands’ digital infrastructure including the introduction of the latest 5G technology to the islands, resulting in the delivery of innovative mobile networks on an accelerated program to provide high-speed gigabit technology’.

As of April 2023 letters have been sent to Ofcom by the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority (JCRA) it recommended that each operator be allocated 2×10MHz of 700MHz spectrum, as well as a contiguous 40MHz block in the 3.4GHz-3.8GHz band. Notably, frequencies in the latter band are expected to be increased incrementally over the duration of the licence to eventually reach 100MHz, subject to a number of factors, including: effective defragmentation of spectrum in the 3.4GHz-3.8GHz range; a 5G service launch within a defined period of Ofcom awarding a spectrum licence and rollout of a minimum stated number of 5G equipped base stations; and demonstrable evidence presented that spectrum already awarded is being efficiently used.

With regards to the JCRA’s specific frequency recommendations, meanwhile, it has suggested that JT be allocated the following spectrum blocks: 713MHz-723MHz/768MHz-778MHz and 3.52GHz-3.56GHz. For Sure, meanwhile, the recommendation is that the operator is awarded the following spectrum blocks: 723MHz-733MHz/778MHz-788MHz and 3.67GHz-3.71GHz.