Wednesday 29 May 2024

North Macedonia is a 5G Leader within Central and Eastern European Countries

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was renamed as the Republic of North Macedonia in February 2019. The country has been a European Union (EU) candidate since 2005 with accession discussions facing delays over the years. As part of the EU pre-accession process, North Macedonia has built closer economic ties with the Union which accounts for 77.5% of Macedonia’s exports and just over half of its imports. Closer regulatory and administrative ties with European Commission (EC) institutions have done much to develop the telecom sector and prepare the market for the competitive environment encouraged in the EU.

Macedonia’s mobile market is served by three mobile operators, MakTel (Makedonski Telekom), A1 Macedonia (known as One.Vip before a rebranding exercise in September 2019) and more recently Mtel. A1 Macedonia was formed from the merger of the local business units of Telekom Slovenije and Telekom Austria. In May 2016 they also merged with sister company Blizoo, and so has been able to provide a full suite of converged services. Mtel, a subsidiary of Telekom Srbija, launched mobile services at the end of 2022, a move that broke the former duopoly. The operators are increasingly focused on expanding their 5G networks, seeking stronger coverage across North Macedonia’s high value urban areas. Mobile data services are also becoming increasingly important following investments in LTE network rollouts and in upgrades to LTE-A technology.

MakTel or Makedonski Telekom is the dominant fixed and mobile line operator in the market of North Macedonia; it also operates as an Internet service provider, and as integrated telecommunications and entertainment services provider. Offering communication services and entertainment contents ensuring its future revenues, the company is also improving the competitiveness in North Macedonia, as well as growth in mobile and broadband services on national level.

The company has been active in the mobile telephone business since September 1996, when it was introduced as MobiMak when it was the first GSM mobile operator in the Republic of Macedonia. It was bought by Deutsche Telekom and in 2006 changed its name to Т-Mobile. In 2015 it changed its name to Makedonski Telekom, synchronising itself with other Deutsche Telekom group members. The network covers 99.9% of the population and over 98.5% of the territory of North Macedonia.

Makedonski was the first telecommunications company in the country to introduce 4G LTE, GPRS, EDGE and various converged internet and mobile services.

Makedonski Telekom has expanded its 5G footprint to 26 cities, since first launching its 5G network in February of last year. Its 5G service is available in several cities, including its capital Skopje and the wider area. Other areas include Stip, Veles, Kavadarci, Negotino, Sveti Nikole, Bitola, Prilep, Krushevo, Ohrid, Struga, Resen, Strumica, Radovish, Gevgelija, and Dojran. Makedonski also revealed that it has installed 900 new NB-IoT (narrowband IoT) enabled base stations for M2M communication in the country, with capacity of the new modernized network up by 70 percent.

A1 describe themselves as the leading mobile network operator and number two in the fixed-line market in North Macedonia. They say that have the fastest mobile network in the country. On top of this, the mobile network is becoming even faster by launching 5G. Close to 1,000 employees working under the ”A1 Makedonija” brand are constantly dedicated to providing the best user experience to more than 1.2 million customers.

Through its own network, A1 Macedonia provides its customers complete coverage with 4G/LTE mobile data all over the country and 4G+ in urban areas and coverage ratio of 99.8 % of the total population. A1 customers, as well as roaming visitors, enjoy the mobile network that provides fastest mobile internet which is confirmed by the independent regulatory the Agency of Electronic Communications. By the end of 2022, A1 started building its 5G network and accomplishing coverage of 56,6 % of the total population. Tourist centres, such as Ohrid Lake, are covered by LTE network and A1 Macedonia will continue investing in its modernisation.

MTEL has great ambitions in the North Macedonian market and also plans to offer to its customers other telecommunications services and digital services in the period to come. Telekom Srbija is already offering a wide range of telecommunications services in the field of mobile and fixed telephony, televisions and the Internet for more than 11 million customers in three regional markets – Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.

In its report on 'Sunsetting 3G to Aid 5G Progress in Central and Eastern Europe', Ookla said:

Our data shows that in Q2 2023, North Macedonia achieved the highest median 5G download speed in Central and Eastern Europe at 317.91 Mbps. Bulgaria was the only other country in the region that topped 200 Mbps (233.63 Mbps). It’s worth noting that North Macedonia not only excels in terms of median 5G speed but also when looking at 90th and 10th percentile results. For example, 5G download speeds in the 90th percentile reached 788.30 Mbps, while speeds in the 10th percentile clocked in at 90.90 Mbps. Makedonski Telekom and A1 Macedonia launched their 5G services with a combination of 4G frequencies using DSS before the 5G spectrum auction, with the regulator, AEK, awarding the licenses for frequencies in the 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz bands for 5G in July 2022. Makedonski Telekom invested over EUR 70 million in 2022 for network development. 

Given that North Macedonia had the fastest 5G among its peers, it isn’t surprising that its capital ranked first among regional capitals, with Skopje boasting a 475.92 Mbps median 5G download speed and a 59.94 5G upload speed in Q2 2023. 

The conditions of 5G licenses for Macedonian operators state that by the end of 2023, at least one Macedonian city should be covered with a 5G signal. But it is not only 5G that is achieving good performance. Skopje also ranked 25th on our Global Index City Speeds in July 2023, with a median mobile download speed of 96.79 Mbps, placing the city just behind Sofia in our rankings but ahead of some Western European capitals like Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Berlin, Rome, and London.

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