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.