Thursday, 22 February 2018

Bahrain: Mobile Networks Overview

The liberalised telecoms market of Bahrain continues to develop at a rapid pace. Telecommunications industry revenues are increasing, mobile penetration is very high and mobile data is growing faster than voice. There are now over 2.6 million mobile subscriptions in the Kingdom and penetration sits at around 180%.

Consumers are benefiting from competition which has led to a decline in prices for services. Roaming costs have also reduced and will continue to do so for the next few years. The unlicensed mobile sector, led by handset devices has resulted in a revenue growth.

With mobile subscribers accounting for the majority of broadband subscriptions in Bahrain, the operators are focusing heavily on improving mobile infrastructure. LTE networks are well established, and the operators are now establishing new services like VoLTE, LTE-A, M2M and preparing for the advent of 5G in the future.

Batelco is one of three major mobile operators in the country with 1.14 million connections, excluding M2M, equating to an estimated market share of 34 per cent.

Batelco once enjoyed a monopoly in Bahrain, but now competes within a crowded market. It faces major competitors including Kuwait’s Zain and the Saudi Telecom Company-owned VIVA, along with a slew of smaller operators and internet providers. They’re all competing for a market of about 1.4 million people.

For Muna Al Hashemi CEO of Batelco Bahrain, turning Batelco into a digitally-oriented telecom while simultaneously keeping ahead of the competition is a multifaceted undertaking. “We are transforming our culture, our mode of operation [and] our infrastructure,” says Al Hashemi.

From an infrastructure perspective, Batelco signed a deal earlier this year with telecoms technology provider Ericsson to pursue updates to its mobile network. It’s also continuing to invest in expanding its fiber optic network across the country. Simultaneously, the telecom is preparing for transformative technology that hasn’t yet arrived.

Although some mobile operators in MENA have yet to introduce 4G, Batelco is already exploring the next frontier in connectivity. 5G mobile network technology is still a few years away, but Deloitte estimates that by 2021 the 5G subscriber base in the GCC will reach around half a million, and will grow across the region to become the standard by 2025.

Al Hashemi says the telecom conducted the first successful 5G trial in Bahrain in May 2017, with help from Ericsson. Held at Batelco’s headquarters, the test demoed to a live audience how the technology could be used in IoT applications.

She estimates that 5G should be ready for commercial use in Bahrain sometime in 2019 at the earliest. According to Ericsson’s 5G Business Potential Report, 5G technology could create $600 million in business opportunities in Bahrain.

VIVA Bahrain is a fully owned subsidiary of the Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC) 
Through its HSPA+ network upgrade in 2011, VIVA became the first operator in Bahrain to provide speeds of up to 42 Mbps to its broadband subscribers and to test successfully and showcase its 4G/LTE network in early 2012, officially launching 4G/LTE services to customers in January 2014.

VIVA was launched as Bahrain’s third mobile operator in March 2010. Despite entering a highly saturated mobile market (128% penetration at the time), VIVA was able to garner substantial market share and achieve market leadership within just two years, setting a new benchmark for a late entrant in the mobile and broadband segments.

Viva Bahrain,  is currently the country’s largest mobile network operator (MNO) by subscribers. Their VoLTE technology has been made available to customers using a selection of Samsung devices, enabling these subscribers to access higher-quality voice calls and faster data speeds over Viva’s 4G LTE network. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Viva Bahrain launched 4G services in January 2014 and introduced its LTE-A network in July 2017, while at June 2017 the company held a market-leading share of 42.2% of mobile subscribers in the Kingdom.

 The company’s success can be attributed to the trust and support of the local community and in line with its mission to ‘Make a positive difference to the local community’ by promoting a knowledge based society and participating in community development programs’, VIVA Bahrain created VIVA Jusoor. This Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme is dedicated to the development and execution of sustainable projects to benefit the local community by connecting people and facilitating a free exchange of experiences, ideas and information.

Zain Bahrain a telecom innovator focused on enhancing customer experience, reported a 22% surge in its customer base during 2016, from 795,000 to 971,000 customers at the end of the year. The leap in new customers was attributed to innovative products and services rolled out by the operator, which offer a fully integrated futuristic digital lifestyle. Zain Bahrain also benefited from growing awareness of the strong connectivity and speeds of its world class 4G LTE network. 

“Zain Bahrain’s profitability in such a highly competitive market landscape speaks volumes about the merit of its market strategy,” said Zain Bahrain’s Chairman, His Excellency Shaikh Ahmed bin Ali Al Khalifa. “And the fact that Zain Bahrain’s customer base continues to grow in the face of this intense competition speaks of the quality of the user experience on our network.” 

"Despite the intense competition, Zain Bahrain has managed to position itself well for the long term, with a higher share of the market as consumers responded to our many marketing initiatives during the year. We remain committed to our core values of excellence and innovation, and look forward to crossing the one-million customer mark in in the near future, while creating increased value for our shareholders.”  

Zain Bahrain’s cutting edge 4G LTE network saw a 35% expansion, with 87 new sites added to provide higher speeds and better indoor coverage to fixed wireless customers. A total of 44 new sites were also added to enhance the 3G and LTE mobile network coverage across the Kingdom. A high-end IMS based next generation Core Network was introduced to provide better call quality for fixed and enterprise customers.

In line with its commitment to innovation and enhancing customer experience, Zain Bahrain rolled out the Kingdom’s first ‘Truly Unlimited Social Media’ prepaid and postpaid packages under which customers were not billed for data used through social media applications beyond their initial subscriptions.

Zain Bahrain recently announced it expects to launch commercial 5G by the end of 2018. 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Vodacom South Africa; staying on top

Vodacom is the largest mobile operator in South Africa. It continues to increase its subscriber base and retain its number one position, for example 1.6 million active subscribers signed up in just the last quarter of 2017. According to Shameel Joosub, Vodacom Group CEO;

“Our strategy of sustained investment into our network and improving customer experience has delivered solid gains in customer numbers in South Africa, and driven growth in our International operations, resulting in stronger growth in group revenue of 6.7%. In South Africa, our customer base grew 14.4% to 41.6 million, contributing to the 6.2% increase in revenue, underpinned by a resilient pre-paid voice market and a highly successful summer campaign. During the quarter we delivered on our promise to reduce out-of-bundle data prices, evidence of our commitment to reduce the cost-to-communicate through our pricing transformation journey; this resulted in a 24.2% decline in effective data prices for the year.”
Vodacom said its network has now reached 77.6% 4G population coverage, while 3G covers 99.4% of the population. 

According to OpenSignal Vodacom well exceeded their global benchmarks for 4G speed, Vodacom’s aggressive technological approach may be the reason it won at least a share of all six of OpenSignal’s awards in this report. Vodacom is also currently showing the most forward momentum when it comes to adopting new LTE techniques. It's now offering voice over LTE services as well as using more sophisticated smart antenna technologies (4x4 MIMO) and more complex modulation schemes (256 QAM).

Recently, Vodacom Group’s CTO Andries Delport said “When do we run out of spectrum? We have run out of spectrum.” That’s likely why Vodacom is pressuring regulators to give it access to the 800 MHz spectrum band, the low frequencies of which can travel further and are more effective for reaching customers indoors. Such spectrum would likely improve both 4G availability and network speeds in buildings. However, Delport also estimates that between 1,500 and 3,000 new cell sites would be needed to address network gaps in rural areas, so capital investment without additional spectrum is another potential solution to spurring South Africa's 4G progress.

Regarding the advent of 5G Vodacom, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Nokia in November 2017 to trial 5G to accelerate the launch of the new technology. Andries Delport stated 
"We're committed to enhancing our network to cater for growing subscriber needs and provide excellent and quality network coverage for our 40 million customers in SA"In this regard, 5G forms part of our ambition to enhance customer satisfaction. The scale and timing of the deployment of 5G will be closely associated with the demand for such services and the availability of spectrum."
According to Delport, the first type of 5G network (non-standalone) standardisation is expected to be ratified by the end of March 2018, whereupon the device and network manufacturers will build equipment that complies therewith.
He believes the first network pilots are expected in the later part of 2018, with commercial launches in early 2019.

Vodacom intiative like Siyakha has reached 7.5 million people in its first year. Siyakha ('We are building') was launched in January 2017 and targets Vodacom's emerging prepaid segment. It aims to cut the cost to communicate for those who can least afford it, while increasing digital and social connectivity though mobile technology. 
Vodacom believes that with the increase in unique mobile users in South Africa, mobile technology is by far the most effective channel to provide educational material to prepaid customers. In terms of zero-rated content, there are four pillars: social-connectivity, health, education and jobs. The first product to launch under the socio-connectivity pillar was zero-rated access to Facebook Flex, a limited version of the social network. 
A year after its launch, Siyakha now has over 1 million customers using Facebook Flex on a regular basis and over 6 million overall subscribers. One of the big success stories of the platform is under the health category through an offering called Mum&Baby, Vodacom claims. Mabunda calls it the "jewel of Siyakha" and in a year, the platform has gained just under 1 million users.

No doubt Vodacom will continue its successes with such innovative and forward thinking initiatives.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Iraq: Efforts at Recovery

The political unrest, civil war and violence in Iraq has battered the telecommunications sector and created a very challenging environment for mobile operators.  The unstable economy combined with a decrease in consumer spending – along with the destruction of telecoms infrastructure; has resulted in declining mobile subscriber rates and revenues.

However the Iraqi telecom market made a recovery starting in 2016, and is forecast to reach 34 million subscribers by 2017, exceeding its 2014 pre-Daesh level, according to GlobalData.

The three mobile network operators which hold national licences are Zain Iraq, Asiacell and Korek Telecom.

Zain is the largest mobile phone operator in Kuwait but also has operations in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Sudan and manages a unit in Morocco. Zain Iraq is the largest mobile operator in Iraq by subscribers that amount to 13.7 million by end of 2017. The company is headquartered in Baghdad and covers 97% of the Iraqi population nationally. 3G services were first launched by Zain in 2015, followed by the other mobile operators, all using the 2100 MHz band. LTE services have been deployed in northern Iraq in the 1800 MHz band by Alcatel-Lucent and Regional Telecom.

A deal has been made with Nokia who will modernize and expand Zain Iraq's 3G and 2G networks with a special focus on the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, to support the expected increase in data and voice traffic during Zeyara/pilgrimage as millions of people converge on the region.

Zain Iraq has also been instrumental in rebuilding the network infrastructure and ensuring that the newly liberated regions of Anbar and Mosul receive the best data coverage in terms of 3G.

Korek Telecom: Korek, in which Orange has a stake, started operating in 2000, earlier than any other operator in Iraq. It has had an Iraq-wide licence since 2007 and its network is nationwide was reported as of January 2016 to employ about 2,500 people, to have deployed 3,500 towers and to be serving 7 million subscribers, giving it just over 20% of an estimated national Iraqi subscriptions base of about 34 million and showing a roughly doubled market share since 2011. Korek has some advantages, i.e. a relatively secure base in Kurdistan, where it has been reported to have a 70% share, and a good relationship with the local government, which now has an assured income from its 17% share of national oil revenue. Through further market share gains, Iraqi national growth, diversification into markets like banking and social stabilisation, as well as the lack of fixed infrastructure in Iraq, it is possible that Korek could double in size in the next five years. 

Asiacell claims nearly 12.5 million customers with a network that covers 99.06% of the Iraqi population. Asiacell was the first mobile telecommunications provider in Iraq to achieve nationwide coverage, offering its services across all of Iraq’s 19 governorates including the national capital Baghdad and all other major Iraqi cities. 

Asiacell is also claims to be the best internet provider with its 3.9G data services, offering the best network coverage in the entire of Iraq since January 2015.

Future challenges development
Despite the challenges there is high international interest in the Iraqi market with its potential to recover economically pinned on its large oil and natural gas reserves. Iraq offers much potential for telecoms infrastructure development with many under-served areas requiring better coverage and/or reconstruction. There will also be opportunities in developing both 3G and 4G deployment, with early signs that mobile data revenues are already increasing on the back of existing 3G networks.

Prior to the more recent unrest 4G LTE had been deployed in some areas of Iraq and there was also a progressive fibre optic network underway across parts of the country. While it is unknown how widespread the damage to this infrastructure has been, the country is still moving forward with the Ministry of Communications (MoC) recently launching a Fibre-to-The-Home project. This will see an initial 90,000 lines deployed across selected governates.
Overall the current security situation is severely and negatively impacting telecommunications development in Iraq. However, there are positive signs for a future of improvement, stability and reconstruction.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Overview: Indonesia Mobile Operators and 4G development

Mobile Operators in the sprawling archipelago nation of Indonesia are transitioning their networks  to meet the demands of the latest technologies and an increasingly connected population.

Indonesia, a country with nearly 410 million mobile connections, experienced rapid uptake of 4G services over the past year, with connections increasing 2.5-times and LTE penetration hitting 21 per cent.

The country’s 4G connections jumped from 34 million in Q3 2016 to 85.5 million in Q3 2017, according to data from GSMA Intelligence (GSMAi). LTE penetration in Q3 2016 stood 7.9 per cent.

To support the growth, mobile operators almost doubled the number of 4G base stations deployed in the opening six months of 2017, with 55,700 sites at end-July compared with 26,000 at end-2016.

In developed countries, the internet is everywhere. In homes, if not then readily available in schools, coffee shops and libraries. In developing countries this is not the case, if it were not for mobile phones, millions of people would be left on the losing side of the divide. As we can see in this chart, the vast of majority of people in Indonesia (and other countries) use the internet exclusively on mobile devices


The country’s mobile market was characterised for many years by the large number of players licensed by the local regulator. Seven mobile operators are competing for revenues in the Indonesian market: Telkomsel, Indosat, XL Axiata, 3 Indonesia, SmartFren, Bolt and Bakrie Telecom (BTel). Market leader Telkomsel continues to maintain a huge presence but is under increased threat from the competition.

Telkomsel has a market share of about 44% in Indonesia and is the only operator which is active in all provinces. It had 180 million users in late 2017 making it the 6th largest cellular provider in the world. It is 65% owned by the state through Telekom Indonesia, the remainder owned by Singapore Telecom.

The operator, with a 44 per cent market share, sourced network equipment for the deployment from Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and ZTE. It is using 20MHz of 1.8GHz spectrum combined with 4×4 MIMO technology in the country’s capital city Jakarta and also Medan, Bandung, Denpasar, Mataram, Pontianak, Makassar, Manado and Ambon.

Telkomsel paid Rp 1.01 trillion ($74.7 million) to secure a license for a 30-megahertz band on the 2.3 gigahertz spectrum, which will enhance its capacity to offer wireless broadband services across the country.The new license means that Telkomsel now has a total band of 77.5 MHz on the 2.3 GHz, 2.1 GHz, 1.8 GHz, 900 MHz and 800 MHz spectrums.

The operator said they have deployed at least 5,200 4G base stations in 180 cities across the country to date. It had about 12 million 4G subscribers in Q3 2017 and expects to have 15 million by the end of the year, accounting for nearly 9 per cent  of its mobile users, according to GSMA Intelligence.

According to Open Signal Telkomsel was well ahead of its rivals in 4G speed, averaging downloads of 14.6 Mbps in their tests. However 4G availability was where they fell behind their rivals. 


Indosat, Indonesia's second-largest telecommunications operator had about 82 million mobile subscribers last year, compared with Telkomsel's 180 million.  It has a good coverage on the main islands of Java, Bali, Kalimatan, Sulawesi and Sumatra, at low prices. 4G/LTE has started in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Bali and is available in about 94 cities at the end of 2016 on 900 and 1800 MHz with speeds up to 185 Mbps: 4G coverage map. In 2017 they bid for further spectrum on 2100 MHz.

XL Axiata

XL Axiata is the 3rd provider in Indonesia. According to its website they have 46.5 million subscribers.  It is owned by Axiata Ltd. and has about a 90% coverage on these islands: Java, Bali and Lombok. Furthermore, it covers cities on Sumatra, Kalimatan, Sulawesi and a very limited coverage on Papua. Where it has 3G, speeds are often faster then Telkomsel4G/LTE has started in Jakarta, Medan, Yogyakarta and is spread to other regions like Bali, Lombok, Surabaya and East Kalimatan and Sulawesi on 900 and 1800 MHz.

As at 31 October 2017, XL Axiata says it had  rolled out 4G LTE services to around 100 towns and cities in Indonesia and had more than 20 million 4G subscribers nationwide, using a network comprising 16,000 BTS. At the same date, its total number of ‘on-air’ base stations had reached nearly 100,000, of which more than 44,000 were 3G-equipped.

Tri indonesia

3 called Tri in Indonesia is now the 4th provider with approximately 21 million  subscribers  previously with the lowest coverage, but the cheapest rates. However the mobile operator controlled by Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison, has revealed that its in-deployment 4G LTE network is now available in 227 cities and districts, including 1,769 sub-districts and 7,296 villages in 25 provinces. Their coverage extends from Lhokseumawe to Manado, and includes the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Java and Bali. Commenting on the development, Tri Indonesia President Director Randeep Sing Sekhon said: 
‘Digital and multimedia services are expected to experience rapid growth this year. And in future the success of these services is reliant on [Tri rolling out] mobile internet infrastructure to support growth, as it is expected to become the main channel to carry such services’.
People wishing to sign up to the Tri 4G LTE network will need to buy a suitable 4G LTE SIM card and handset. Customers can exchange their old Tri 3G to 4G SIM card without extra charge at any 3Store.

Tri currently has a total capacity of 25 MHz -- 10 MHz in 1,800 MHz frequency and 15 MHz in 2.1 GHz frequency.

Smartfren Telecom

Smartfren owned by Indonesian PT Smartfren Telecom Tbk is a major player in the country. It had around 13 million customers in 2016 and has now migrated entirely to LTE. In 2016 Smartfren started the most widespread andfastest LTE in the country so far. It employs LTE Advanced that reaches higher speeds through carrier aggregation. But two rare frequencies are used: 850 MHz FDD (Band 5) and 2300 MHz TDD (Band 40). Already 5 million customers have been migrated to LTE. 

Smartfren's coverage is on the islands of Java and Bali, parts of Sumatra, Sulawesi, Lombok and Kalimantan. It started 4G/LTE in 25 centers so far and reaches 188 cities in 2016.

Since Smartfren phased out its 3G network, it has an impressive 4G network in terms of reach for those 2G and 3G customers to migrate to. According to Open Signal Smartfren testers were able to find an LTE signal more than 90% of the time, winning Smartfren their 4G availability award.
Bolt! owned by Internux is an Indonesian wireless broadband provider based on TD-LTE. It started in 2014 and has already 3 million customers in 2017. It uses the rare 2300 MHz TD-LTE (band 40) that is not covered by usual devices. That's why you are likely to buy new hardware for them. It only operates so far in the cities of Jakarta and Medan. Therefore it's more like a substitute for a landline ADSL-provider than a travel option.

The smallest and troubled mobile operator owes the government millions of dollars in licence and frequency rights fees. It originally launched CDMA service in 2003 in Jakarta, West Java and Banten and started to offer fixed wireless service in 2007. It had about eight million subscribers at its peak. Last year the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology revoked its fixed wireless access (FWA) and fixed licences. Huawei have recently acquired a near 17 per cent stake in Bakrie Telecom. 

Questions for the future: Can the Indonesian market sustain this number of mobile operators? Who will win the 4G and subsequent 5G race? 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Disruptive Reliance Jio on the road to 4G leadership

Continuing from our earlier post on India in October.

According to this BGR news report:
2017 was a significant year for Indian telecom during which 4G became the new norm. Usage exploded riding primarily on Reliance Jio — the 15-month old network that is already the world’s fastest-growing telco — and the effects trickled down to other operators too. Nearly 4 million TB of 4G data has been consumed by Indians this year, according to a TRAI estimate. Consumers relished swathes of data sometimes “effectively free” and sometimes at incredibly low prices, and hordes of first-time smartphone buyers were inducted into the world of mobile data. The year came to be defined by the stiff price war between incumbent telcos and disruptor Jio.
According to this tweet by Neil Shah, Counter Point:

4G LTE subscriptions: 135 Million
Data Consumption : 10GB per month / user
VoLTE calls : 626 minutes per month / user
Video Consumption: 14 hrs per month / user

A similar picture was reported by Tefficient:
These customers generated 3780 petabyte of mobile data. It's by far the biggest network in the world. The graph suggests that might be around 80% of India's total - Q3 isn't reported by the others yet. Per subscription, that is 9,6 GB per month which means that Jio might challenge the global usage leaders of the world - 3 Austria, DNA and Elisa Finland and FarEasTone and Taiwan Mobile from Taiwan.

Its interesting to note that no only are Reliance Jio's users the highest data consumers in the world, its also driving India's infrastructure building activity. According to the newspaper report below, Reliance Industries has been responsible for 45% of capex spend in India in the last 3 years.

According to GadgetsNow:
India's current mobile data subscriber penetration stands at 40 per cent which is expected to double to 80 per cent by 2022, according to Crisil's predictions. 
"LTE services have taken the leading role in the unprecedented increase of data users in the past year, in large part thanks to Jio," the report said.
The 3G4G Small cells blog has a post on small cells rollout in India here. In addition, Tareq Amin, Senior Vice President, Reliance Jio Infocomm recently spoke in the TIP summit. His talk is embedded below.

One could argue that rolling out 4G can only be considered successful if the end users can reliably make use of it. According to Opensignal blog:

As we saw in our latest State of LTE report, published in November, LTE availability in India is remarkable: users were able to connect to an LTE signal over 84% of the time, a rise of over 10 percentage points from a year earlier. This places India ahead of more established countries in the 4G landscape such as Sweden, Taiwan, Switzerland or the U.K. 
While LTE availability saw a meteoric rise, the same cannot be said of 4G speeds. In our latest State of LTE report, India occupied the lowest spot among the 77 countries we examined, with average download speeds of 6.1 Mbps, over 10 Mbps lower than the global average. 
A key reason for the strikingly low speeds is the rapid increase in 4G users across all the networks. As 4G adoption rose, and more and more consumers subscribed to 4G services, the networks experienced congestion, resulting in a decrease in average download speeds across the board. 4G users on the networks of Idea, Vodafone and Airtel all witnessed a drop in average 4G download speeds over the course of 2017. 
Meanwhile Jio trended the opposite direction in 4G speed. In our April report Jio had the slowest 4G speed in our India tests, but as soon as Jio’s freebie plan ended in April 2017, we recorded an astonishing 50% increase in their speed (from 3.9 Mbps to 5.8 Mbps) over the course of six months, which still placed Jio at the lowest end of the speed spectrum but with a significantly narrower gap.

When it comes to mobile internet speeds, where 3G and 4G LTE are considered together, India comes in the 109th place in the world according to data collected by Ookla.
Doug Suttles, co-founder and general manager at Ookla said, “Both mobile and fixed broadband internet in India are getting faster, that’s good news for all Indian consumers no matter which operator or plan they use to access the internet. India still has a long way to go to catch up with countries that have top speeds around the world, however, we at Ookla are highly optimistic about the capacity for growth that is available in the Indian market and looks forward to watching how the market grows in this coming new year.”

2018 may probably be the year India gradually transitions from being a developing 4G country to become a full-grown 4G power.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Turkey: 4G Trials and Tribulations

Image result for mobile network operators Turkey

Turkey has had its fair share of drama regarding mobile networks and technology. For example fourth-generation (4G) mobile data network didn't arrive in Turkey until April 2016 thats nearly eight years after arriving in Scandinavia and South Korea.Turkish mobile phone users had to wait for bureaucratic issues and uncertain market conditions to clear up before they could use faster data connections. Moreover in 2015 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that his country does not need to upgrade to the 4G system. Instead, Erdogan said, Turkey should leap forward to the more advanced 5G network in two years. This was a rather bizarre statement considering 5G technology does not exist and will not for a few more years. 

One expert, a senior engineer and product manager at Turkey’s leading mobile phone company, Turkcell, talked to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. He said that the most optimistic estimate for 5G’s first use around the world would be 2020. “The hope is to use 5G at the Tokyo Olympics,” the expert said, adding that Erdogan’s estimate of two years “does not appear to be technically possible.” The lack of a 4G network would slow down every facet of the Turkish economy — business, industry, transportation, communication and government — and undermine Erdogan’s ambition to turn his country into one of the top 10 global economies by the next decade.

So why this delay in bulding 4G? According to Fusun Sarp Nebil, one of Turkey’s leading telecommunications experts, Turkey's adoption of 4G is not the first time that Turkey has been late to adopt an innovation in telecommunications.

“Turkey always follows technology belatedly. It took [four years] before ADSL Internet came to Turkey,” while “3G [mobile networks] arrived nine years after it did in the rest of the world.”

Central and local governments’ delays and inadequacy explain why the development of wireless and landline Internet is moving at a snail’s pace in Turkey. For Nebil, a major problem is the extremely high tax burden on consumers. The Finance Ministry recently admitted that an exorbitant 60% of what Turkish consumers pay on their mobile phone bills goes to taxes. That is, for every 40 Turkish liras ($15) of minutes and data that customers pay their mobile service providers, they pay 60 Turkish liras ($23) to the Turkish government. (By comparison, US customers pay about 17% in federal, state and local taxes.)

However Turkey has now launched its self-declared '4.5G' network. Turkish mobile operators have engaged in even more impressive marketing stunts to sell new phones and data plans. The market leader Turkcell appeals to popular and patriotic sentiments with its “bagliyiz biz” (we are tied / connected / loyal to each other) campaign. Vodafone, with its “4 bucak g” (4 corners g) campaign, showcases folk dancers from the four corners of Turkey performing their own regional dances as well as those of other areas. Former telecom monopoly Turk Telekom (previously Avea) takes a different route and uses Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo to emphasize its 4G network’s speed.

Currently Turkcell is the leading mobile phone operator of Turkey,based in Istanbul. In February 1994, Turkcell started Turkey’s first GSM network. In Q3 2012, it had a market share of 52,4%. Its competitors were Vodafone with a market share of 27,9% and Avea with a market share of 19,7%. The introduction of this '4.5G' infrastructure and an increased smartphone ownership, mobile-based internet and data services in Turkey have grown, this, in turn, has boosted revenues for the country's mobile operators. 

As of June 2017, Turkey had some 76.6 million mobile subscribers, including machine-to-machine communication (M2M) subscribers, which corresponded to 96 percent a penetration rate.

Since April 2016, there was a quick transition from 3G to 4.5G subscriptions and at the end of June 2017, the number of 3G subscribers dropped to 13.2 million, while the number of 4.5G subscribers reached 59.8 million. So much so, internet and data accounted for 71.1 percent of Turkcell's, 61.2 percent of Vodafone's and 51.4 Türk Telekom's total revenues in the second quarter of this year.Online music and video streaming services, internet TV, and social media applications have mainly driven the growth in mobile data usage.

However Subscription plans also do not come cheap. Modest plans with 2 gigabytes (GB) of data, 1,000 text messages and 1,000 minutes of phone calls vary between 35-50 Turkish lira ($12 to $17). But some plans with 15 GB of data can reach as high as 159 Turkish lira ($55), including taxes and other fees. For a country where the net minimum wage is 1,300 Turkish lira ($457), even the cheapest data plan seems like a luxury. To boost consumer demand and usage, Turkey must create a mature 4G network and, more importantly, a robust Internet infrastructure.

As a result Kozan Demircan, one of the country’s leading technology experts, calls the new '4.5G' an “April Fool’s joke” because Turkey simply does not have the fiber optic network to support the promised connection speeds. High levels of fiber optic penetration (an area in which Turkey comes up short) enable high-quality connections between personal computers, mobile devices and cell towers. 

As another expert told Al-Monitor a few months ago, Portugal — with a total area of 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) — boasts a fiber optic network of 545,000 kilometers (338,000 miles). But Turkey, with nearly eight times the area of Portugal, only has 250,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable (a figure that was already 150,000 kilometers in 2005), when it should have over 4.5 million kilometers of fiber optic cable to catch up with Portugal.

These shortcomings slow connection speeds. Demircan points out that “whereas the targeted speed with 4.5G is around 330 to 400 megabits per second [Mbps], average connection speeds are 30-40 Mbps.” Although those figures are a respectable improvement over actual speeds of 14 Mbps on the 3G network, even those limited speeds are not available to Turks who live in major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara. (According to Akamai Technologies, a global content delivery company, Turkey’s average Internet connection speed was 6.2 Mbps in the third quarter of 2015.) As Demircan warns, there is a positive relationship between high broadband Internet penetration and its contribution to high levels of national income.

So why does Turkey not dedicate itself to a truly viable and progressive 4G that would help to grow its economy?

One major problem is the Turkish state’s inability to open up the market to competition. In particular, Turk Telekom, which owns most of the fiber optic network thanks to its former status as Turkey’s telecom monopoly, does not want to share its property with service providers. Also Turkish municipalities continue to charge exorbitant fees whenever service providers attempt to lay new fiber optic cables.

A bigger challenge is the allegation that the Turkish state and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) view high-speed Internet with suspicion. One Turkish Internet expert and former government employee told Al-Monitor alleges that Gezi protests of 2013 and the Gulen-AKP fallout in early 2014, the state — especially the national security apparatus — has become wary of very high Internet connections. “You cannot upload high-quality videos or extended audio files on the 3G,” said the expert. So there is not much enthusiasm to improve conditions through the 4G network.

Due to the delays and problems in 4G there is unfortunately a real possibility that Turkey will also be late in adopting 5G and that means falling further behind in economic development. Hopefully this can still be remedied. 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

South Africa: Progress and Problems

South Africa’s mobile networks are all growing their subscriber numbers, with Telkom the latest network to reveal its most recent figures.

Telkom’s interim results for the six months ended 30 September 2017 show it had 4.3 million active mobile subscribers.

This comprises 3 million prepaid and 1.3 million post-paid users.
The table below details the latest available subscriber numbers for South Africa’s mobile networks.

Vodacom40.0 million
MTN30.9 million
Cell C“Over 16 million”
Telkom4.3 million

According to Telkom their operating revenue was down by 0.6% compared to last year, reaching R20.1 billion.

“The first half of the year was characterized by a tough economic environment and increased competition. Even though South Africa exited the technical recession in the second quarter of the year, business confidence remains very low.”

 Despite the tough conditions, Telkom’s mobile division showed strong growth.
“The mobile business growth trajectory continued in the period with strong growth in active customers and stable ARPUs, resulting in an increase of 43.2% in mobile service revenue,” said Telkom.
“The strong mobile growth which boosted the group’s performance was underpinned by an expansion of our network, distribution, and the launch of innovative products which were well received by our customers.”
“We are pleased that our mobile business received the MyBroadband Best Mobile Broadband Provider of the year award, in the best value for money category.”

Market leader Vodacom’s priority must be defending its market share in an increasingly competitive environment. According to Equities analyst Irnest Kaplan  they must offer consumers more value, beyond simply “selling megabytes”. So-called over-the-top players — companies like Facebook and Google — are profiting from the data pipes Vodacom sells; the company needs to develop value-added services of its own, such as quality content, that subscribers are prepared to pay for. Without this, there’s the risk that consumers will simply shop around for the cheapest data rates

He said Vodacom, and the other mobile operators, are in a powerful position in that consumers carry their products in their pocket all day.

 “They should do more to leverage that. It’s hard for them because they are operators and not app developers, but people carry their products all the time, they know where you are all the time — there must be amazing apps they can offer.” Source

Moreoever all the South African operators face issued due to the  impasse over new spectrum allocation. Vodacom may be forced to cut spending in rural areas to densify its network in the more populated urban centres because of this “spectrum crunch”.

This issue needs to be sorted as soon as possible. Technology is the driver of economic growth. Spectrum is vital for the roll-out of new technologies and innovation, which will drive economic growth, create jobs and allow South Africa to take advantage of the Internet of things and the other technologies.

Meanwhile Ericsson and MTN will start a 5G trial in South Africa during the first quarter of 2018.

The companies signed a memorandum of understanding at AfricaCom 2017 to collaborate on the rollout of 5G technologies in South Africa.

MTN will trial a range of 5G use cases and applications as a proof-of-concept for South Africa in its laboratory, which will lead to commercial deployment in the future.
The companies said they will collaborate to identify 5G use cases in industries such as mining, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and utilities.

“5G gives us the opportunity to rethink our business and address previously-untapped value chains” 
said Giovanni Chiarelli, CTIO at MTN South Africa.Source