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

COTD_11.15





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         

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!
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?