Saturday, 19 January 2019

UK MNO Mobile Spectrum Holdings

Picture Source: Keith Dyer

In a recent consultation document on 'Award of the 700 MHz and 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum bands' that the UK regulator Ofcom has published (link), there is a nice summary picture (pg. 62 or pg. no. 60) of all the current spectrum holding by the big 4 MNOs.

Looking at this, one can conclude that all the UK operators have spectrum to launch basic 5G services whenever they are ready.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Verizon offering $1 Million for Killer 5G Application

Source: Diana Goovaerts

At CES 2019, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg announced a US $1 million bounty for transformative 5G applications, as he touted the potential of next generation networks to drive change. According to Mobile World Live:

In a keynote address, Vestberg said the operator will launch a Built on 5G Challenge in the first half of this year, luring innovators with awards of up to $1 million in seed money and access to Verizon’s 5G labs to develop new use cases.

The announcement came as Vestberg talked up the potential of 5G, noting it will represent a “quantum leap compared to 4G” and power an “enormous transformation” in the way companies do business.

Specifically, the CEO pointed to eight key characteristics of the next generation technology he said will spur a new era of innovation, including: faster peak data rates; increased traffic volume; mobility; connected devices; energy efficiency; faster service deployment;

Official website of the challenge:

According to the website, The Built on 5G Challenge is a nationwide search for the biggest and brightest ideas that will bring the true power of 5G to life. The Challenge will launch in Spring 2019. Sign up for updates and be first to learn when it officially opens. The winning innovators will be awarded up to a total of $1 million, gain access to our 5G Labs and more.

Official Verizon video from CES and the launch of challenge below

To learn more about what 5G exactly means, visit the 5G videos section on 3G4G homepage here.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Thailand: Onward to 5G

Thailand has a highly developed mobile market and has experienced strong growth over the last six years driven by increasing numbers of 4G mobile subscribers.However, growth has slowed over the past few years due to the heightened level of maturity. Very slow growth is predicted over the next four years to 2023 with annual growth rates further easing. The market will be constrained from higher growth due to a saturated mobile subscriber market and strong local competition. 

There are 3 main Mobile Network Operators in Thailand, which hold about 97% market share.  In addition to the large 3, there are several smaller MVNO networks.


AIS has the largest 2G/3G network with a 50% customer share. It's part of the SingTel Corp. that also owns e.g. Optus in Australia and SingTel in Singapore. Surprisingly, AIS was the last major provider to start 4G/LTE in 2016 on the 1800 and 2100 MHz band, partly marketed as "4.5G" or LTE Advanced. It now covers 80% of the population in 2017.

The operator has 3G/DC-HSPA on 900 and 2100 MHz (and roaming on TOT 2100 MHz) and started in 2016 with 4G/LTE Advanced called "4.5G" on 1800 and 2100 MHz (bands 1 and 3).

AIS was ranked in second place on which operator has the best 3G and 4G speeds, availability and latency, with 89.22 percent availability by Open Signal.

The market leader has been granted approval by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission of Thailand to trial 5G on the 26GHz band. They were to conducting testing at the end of 2018. Market leader AIS will conduct the tests in partnership with Nokia. 

dtac is Thailand's 3rd largest network by the number of users. It's partly owned by Telenor group from Norway and is the network that owns the biggest wireless bandwidth in the country

They started 4G/LTE in 2014 on 2100 MHz (B1) in Bangkok only and has been expanded in 2015 to Phuket and Pattaya and another 40 cities nationwide: 4G coverage map. In 2015 4G/LTE was started in the metro Bangkok area mostly on the additional 1800 MHz (B3) frequency which is much more common internationally. In June, 2018 DTAC started offering 4G+ on the 2300 MHz frequency through a deal with Telecommunication of Thailand (ToT). This operator has still to apply to run 5G trials. 

TrueMove is Thailand's 2nd largest network and the most heavily advertised. TrueMove is part of the larger True Corp. conglomerates, owned by CP Group which is the biggest retailer owning all 7-Eleven and Tesco stores in Thailand.

They were the first provider in to bring 4G/LTE on the rare 2100 MHz to Thailand. Its 4G/LTE coverage is the best so far in the country according to Open Signal and comprises 80% rising to 96% by the end of 2016. In 2015 the much more usual 1800 MHz band was added for 4G/LTE as well as 850 and 900 MHz in 2016.

TrueMove will be undertaking 5G tests in partnership with Huawei. 

My is a MVNO operated by CAT Telecom Public Company Ltd., the state-owned company that runs Thailand’s international telecommunications infrastructure, including its international gateways, satellite, and submarine cable network connections. 

It's the 4th largest mobile network operator in Thailand and owns spectrum on the 850 Mhz frequency, rents it out to True Move. In return it can use 20% of the bandwidth for their own My by CAT operation.

My has only 3G/HSPA+ on 850 Mhz (= B5) without fall-back to 2G. As My uses the same 850 MHz network as True Move, their 3G coverage is the same. By 2014 it had a coverage of approximately 97% of population and consisted of around 14,000 BTS. But as there are way less users on CAT's 20% share as they have roughly a market share including MVNOs of 1-2% so far.

4G certainly changed people's lifestyles, but 5G is expected to have a bigger socioeconomic impact, transforming industries ranging from agriculture and manufacturing to healthcare and utilities. Regarding 5G: Thailand has to overcome some major obstacles in order to successfully transition to the next generation technology. For example the financial burden shouldered by telecom operators, including a combined cost of 270 billion baht for the previous 3G and 4G licences; how more spectrum bandwidth has to be allocated; and the telecom regulator's authority, as only an acting board now manages the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). 

The NBTC is encouraging all 5.2 million 2G subscribers to transfer to 3G and 4G systems. The telecom regulator is set to shut down the existing 2G network by October 2019 to give mobile operators more efficient network capacity this will help pave the way to 5G wireless broadband service by 2020. 

Because of 5G's improved speed, latency and connections, mobile operators must hold additional spectrum bandwidth of at least 100MHz (100x2) for upload and download for each service provider. Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the NBTC, said he is seriously concerned about "insufficient spectrum holding" by each operator, which would affect 5G ecosystem adoption. 

After the most recent spectrum auction, AIS holds the most spectrum bandwidth, with a combined 60x2MHz, followed by True Move at 55x2MHz and DTAC at 50x2MHz. The NBTC is on the verge of recalling unused or not fully used spectrum ranges from holders to auction them off to serve 5G.

Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute, states there are three critical factors needed for the domestic telecom industry to ensure real public benefits in 5G adoption. 

The three factors are real liberalisation of the telecom industry, good regulations and a spectrum allocation roadmap. 

Liberalisation, would be allowing foreign stakeholders to hold more than a 50% stake in a company, will create healthier competition and eliminate chronic problems fostered by state-owned enterprises such as corruption and limited procurement transparency. While good policy design and regulations will help eliminate unfair competition among players and reduce high operating costs in some cases, according to Mr Somkiat.

However Mr Somkiat disagreed with the idea of providing assistance for AIS and True Move, the two winners of the 900MHz licence auction. He said they did not deserve state assistance because they bid up the prices by themselves. He also stated AIS and True Move operate mobile services with profit from operations and have the capability to pay the remaining sum of their 900MHz licences due in the next two years.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Telefónica's AI based assistant, Aura, is serving more than 1.5 million customers per month in Brazil

In an earlier post, I talked about Telefónica's launch of Aura at MWC 2018. Aura is an artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant that is designed to transform the way customers interact with Telefónica and manage their digital life with the company. They first release of Aura was made available in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.  Aura is available on customer devices via a mobile application and also via other third-party channels including Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

Anyone interested in details of Aura can check out the official page here.

In a recent news by Vivo (brand of Telefónica) Brazil, Aura is already serving more than 1.5 million customers per month. Accroding to the press release (translated via Google translate):

About to complete its first year of life, Aura, artificial intelligence of Vivo, already serves more than 1.5 million customers per month, responding in a personalized way on services, data consumption, account, recharge, among other questions of the subscribers. And since its launch in February 2018, Aura has already made approximately 20 million calls. 

The Aura retention rate is higher than 80%, that is, eight out of 10 customers are satisfied with the response given by Aura and do not need other information. Aura is available in different service channels, among them Facebook Messenger, My Vivo Mobile, Meu Vivo Fixo and Meu Vivo Empresas, and the Vivo site, among others.

Since the end of 2018, Aura also serves the call center - hourly, in a pilot project in a DDD of the State of São Paulo. And, to further improve the quality of service provided by Aura, Vivo inaugurated its Bots Training Center last year. The new area looks at whether Aura correctly understands customer doubts and generates inputs to correct and train the bot, and assess whether Aura's response really clarifies the customer's question, thereby ensuring continuous improvement of the customer experience. users. 

There is also an official YouTube video demonstrating Aura but it doesn't say much. There is an unofficial one that demonstrates how Aura works.

Just a matter of time before majority of customer services are handled by bots and AI assistants.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Deutsche Telekom - Another German Operator investing in AI & Analytics

Earlier we wrote about Telefónica Deutschland working with Big Data & AI, so today we are looking at another German operator working with Artificial Intelligence and Analytics.

From a news item on their website last year:

Instead of buying "off-the-shelf" AI systems and robots, which can be expensive, Deutsche Telekom is developing its own AI solutions – via its developer teams, and with the support of partners. And it is testing AI-based software, computers, voice control functions and chatbots, with a view to making customer service more efficient, for consumers and corporate customers alike.

Standard queries from corporate customers can easily call for a thousand manual actions in various software systems – actions such as entering bookings and process commands, and initiating orders. By developing its own smart software for such tasks, the company can thus save considerable time and expense – and nerves!

Chatbots can make customer service more effective and efficient. They can handle routine tasks, and they can be available around the clock. Deutsche Telekom has a range of different digital assistants, most of which are recognizable as such to customers. While they will not be able to replace real human service agents in addressing complex concerns, AI systems will increasingly be able to relieve human agents of standard tasks – and thus give human agents more time for the tasks that only they can do. With this perspective, AI systems are being designed to be able to solve specific customer problems. Virtual assistants such as Tinka, Sophie and Vanda will soon be able to "learn" from chat logs and from real conversations between service agents and customers. They will be able to glean the best solutions and approaches, to remember what they have learned and to apply a growing fund of knowledge. They are also being designed to communicate with customers in ways that sound and feel "human." Significantly, in the interest of coordinating its efforts in this area, Deutsche Telekom has launched an overarching AI program, eLIZA, for the purpose of linking all AI solutions within the Deutsche Telekom Group.

In the recent news, Deutsche Telekom announced that it has been using artificial intelligence for fiber-optic roll-out:

Deutsche Telekom is breaking new ground in its fiber-optic roll-out: It has become the first network operator in Europe to plan a pilot project using artificial intelligence. Thanks to faster and optimized route planning, the roll-out can cover more ground, faster. And customers will feel the benefits.

"The shortest route to the customer is not always the most economical. By using artificial intelligence in the planning phase we can speed up our fiber-optic roll-out. This enables us to offer our customers broadband lines faster and, above all, more efficiently," says Walter Goldenits, head of Technology at Telekom Deutschland. It is often more economical to lay a few extra feet of cable. That is what the new software-based technology evaluates using digitally-collected environmental data. Where would cobblestones have to be dug up and laid again? Where is there a risk of damaging tree roots? 

A measuring vehicle was sent out in Bornheim (near Bonn) this summer, equipped with 360° cameras and laser scanners as part of Deutsche Telekom's FTTH (Fiber-to-the-home) project. It collected detailed environmental data using GPS technology. Depending on the terrain, the vehicle can cover 50 to 80 kilometres per day. All told, it collects approximately 5 GB of surface data per kilometer.

The effort and thus costs involved in laying cable depend on the existing structure. First, civil engineers open the ground and lay the conduits and fiber-optic cables. Then they have to restore the surface to its previous condition. Of course, the process takes longer with large paving stones than with dirt roads.
The neural network used for this recognizes a total of approximately 30 different categories through deep learning algorithms. This includes trees, street lights, asphalt and cobblestones. Right down to the smallest detail: Do the pavements feature large pavement slabs or small cobblestones? Are the trees deciduous or coniferous? The trees' root structure also has a decisive impact on civil engineering decisions.

Once the data has been collected, a specially-trained artificial intelligence is used to make all vehicles and individuals unidentifiable. The automated preparation phase then follows in a number of stages. The existing infrastructure is assessed to determine the optimal route. A Deutsche Telekom planner then double-checks and approves it.

Telefónica Deutschland leveraging DT's high-performance fiber-optic cable network to connect at least 5,000 mobile base stations to support 3G and LTE networks and prepare for 5G. According to Broadband World News it was unclear whether its AI use will apply to the work slated for Telefónica Deutschland.

Related News:

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Vietnam on route to 5G

Vietnam is a fascinating country. Not just because of the stunning sights, sizzling beaches and sumptuous food for which the Rough Guides refer to it as magical, but also because of the mobile users.

According to Appota Group's Vietnam mobile app report:
Vietnam has a significant amount of young and middle-class consumer, along with high digital media consumption, as well as mobile gaming habit. Any enterprises who wish to tap into Vietnam should develop mobile-friendly websites, videos, pictures, apps, etc.  
  • 72% of the Vietnamese people own Smartphone. 
  • 68% of the Vietnamese come online via smartphone more often than computer 
  • 25% of the Vietnamese are frequent mobile internet users, engage in all online mobile-related activities. 
  • Many Vietnamese people own more than two Internet-connected devices, as the national average is 1.7%. 
  • 69% of The Vietnamese watch video and listening to music on their phone every day. 
The Vietnamese are willing to try new apps, but at the same time, they have the highest uninstall rate among APAC markets.
  • The Vietnamese people install five new apps every month on average resulting in a difficult challenge for publishers to retain user. 
  • Three apps are uninstalled every month on average by Vietnamese people.

There are 4 major GSM network operators in Vietnam: Viettel, Vinaphone, Mobifone and Vietnamobile.

Coverage and speeds are quite good for SE Asian standards: 2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz. Viettel and Vinaphone introduced DC-HSPA in 2014, 4G/LTE is just being launched on 1800 and 2600 MHz (bands 3 and 7) after Viettel, Vinaphone, Mobifone and Gmobile received licenses in 2016, Vietnamobile in 2017. The three state-owned operators aim to increase 4G/LTE coverage to 95% each in 2019.

These four operators are tipped to receive licences to test 5G in January 2019. According to Nguyen Manh Hung, the country’s minister of Information and Communications:

“Vietnam should be among the first nations to launch 5G services in order to move up in global telecom rankings.” 
The country is pursuing a unique model of competition involving different state-owned operators to grow telecommunication networks.

Viettel is owned by the Ministry of Defence and thus the Vietnamese army. It's the market leader in Vietnam with about 40% (66 million subscribers) of all customers on its network.

It has the best coverage in remote places even on 3G. 4G/LTE was officially launched in April 2017 on 1800 MHz (B3) over 25,000 base stations in almost 95% of the country giving it the best 4G/LTE coverage in the country for now.

As prices don't differ so much between the 3 major operators, Viettel is usually the first choice when venturing into to rural areas.

Vittel plans to launch ultrafast 5G networks in 2021, a move expected to promote self-driving car systems and other cutting-edge services that depend on nearly instantaneous data communication. They have been working on 5G plans since 2015, and set up a research group for 5G technology and have mastered the software, core technology for 5G equipment, hardware design for high-frequency transmission and others. They intend to start making investments in infrastructure early next year and introduce the service first in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Viettel already has the biggest telecom infrastructure, so the deployment will be quick.

For 5G, providers are ready with networks. The question is whether users are willing to use 5G and about the readiness of end-user equipment. When the market and end-user equipment are available, 5G deployment is very easy.

Vinaphone is the second operator in Vietnam. It's owned by the government through the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT). It has a market share of 30% and is the local partner of Vodafone. It gives a good coverage and speed throughout the country. 4G/LTE has been started on Phu Quoc island in 2016 and is now rolled out nationwide.

Vinaphone has installed more than 21,000 4G base transceiver stations (BTS) nationwide. This number will reach over 30,000 by 2019 to cover 4G VinaPhone service to 95% of Vietnamese population.

According to chairman Tran Manh Hung, Vinaphone are seeking permission from the Ministry of Information and Communications to beta test 5G. He said the test would help them master the technology and prepare to produce 5G equipment, adding Vinaphone is ready to provide 5G services as soon as it gets the ministry green light. Vinaphone has also partnered with Nokia on 5G development. 

Mobifone is the 3rd provider in the country with a 18% market share. It's in the process of privatisation. Speeds and coverage may be good in the centers and around the coast, but can be patchy.

Mobifone's 4G started in 2016 in Hanoi, Da Nang and HCMC on 1800 and 2600 MHz (B3,7) and is open for prepaid without surcharge.Earlier this year signed they an agreement with Samsung Electronics for engineering and commercial cooperation on 4G and 5G networks.

Vietnamobile is the smallest of the 4 providers and the only one that is privately owned. It gives out the best prices in Vietnam and has a market share of around 10%.

In 2011 they started with 3G services in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Hanoi, but since then 3G coverage has been expanded to Ba Ria-Vung Tau, An Giang, Khanh Hoa, Binh Thuan, Dong Thap, Long An, Dong Nai, Thai Nguyen and Binh Duong. In 2017 it covers 90% of the population in all 63 cities and provinces by 3G, but overage is still lower as on the state-owned providers. 4G/LTE is going to start and is already advertised in 2018 started as they were awarded a licence to provide 4G/LTE services in 2017.

Vietnam’s telecom market was estimated at more than $16 billion in 2016, with the three state-owned providers, Viettel, MobiFone, and Vinaphone, accounting for 95 percent of the market.

While MobiFone and Vinaphone are on the list of state-owned companies slated for privatization by 2020, Viettel will remain in government hands.

Vietnam has a unique model of competition; state-owned enterprises have driven a high level of mobile access including in rural areas. The launch of LTE networks and then 5G technology will drive up even more demand for higher-speed broadband.

The following report from Appota makes an interesting reading

Sunday, 2 December 2018

All three mobile network operators in South Korea launched 5G on Dec 1, 2018

Last week we mentioned that all three South Korean operators will be launching 5G jointly in March 2019. In the meantime a decision was made and 5G was launched on Dec 1, 2018. We hope to get more details in the coming few weeks but we added few videos and pictures on this on our tweets. They are embedded below.

The following is also a video from the 5G launch by SK Telecom

Friday, 30 November 2018

5G plans by UK Operators - Nov 2018

Vodafone: 1000 live 5G sites by 2020
  • Back in June, Vodafone announced 7 cities will be part of 5G trials starting in July.
  • In October, Vodafone announced that they have became the first company in the UK to carry full 5G over a commercial network. Live mobile data traffic was being streamed to and from the Internet exclusively over 5G from a site in Salford, Greater Manchester, connected to Vodafone’s nationwide converged fibre network.
  • Vodafone further said as a part of the same announcement that their network engineers were already achieving high-speed Internet connectivity and low latency from the Salford site using Active Antenna (Massive MIMO) technology. This effectively provides multiple-data ‘channels’ from a single antenna, coupled with the 3.4GHz 5G spectrum. Vodafone secured the largest block of this 5G spectrum at this year’s auction.
  • In September, Vodafone made UK’s first holographic call using 5G.
  • Vodafone is planning commercial network and 1,000 5G sites by 2020

The video of the first live holographic call is below:

EE/BT: 1,500 sites, 16 cities with 5G in 2019

  • EE, part of BT Group, has nine live 5G trial sites across East London.
  • Some of the learning as part of this announcement included the fact that rooftop sites often need significant strengthening to carry the new 50 kg 5G antennas – and some sites house three of these (3 sectors)
  • EE launching 5G within 16 UK cities in 2019, roughly 1,500 sites
  • EE is upgrading transmission to 10Gbps links at each 5G site
  • 5G Smartphones to be introduced alongside 5G Home router for 5G broadband
  • EE also building next generation 5G core network, with virtualised network functions on a cloud native infrastructure
  • BT Sport showcased first live trial of remote production broadcast live over EE’s 5G network

‘3’ UK Committed to Invest Over £2bn into 5G

  • According to Three press release: It’s committed spend to date covers the acquisition of the UK’s leading 5G spectrum position, new 5G radio equipment and cell site upgrades, high-capacity dark fibre network, the world’s first end-to-end cloud-based core network, and new digital systems that will enhance user experience
  • The first commercial quantities of 5G smartphone and home broadband devices are expected to be available by H2 2019. 
  • According to CCS Insight, Three now owns about 24 percent of all spectrum suitable for 4G and 5G services. This, it says, places it ahead of BT (21 percent), Vodafone (19 percent) and O2 (15 percent). The remaining 20 percent, which consists of 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz airwaves, is earmarked for sale by Ofcom in late 2019.
  • Customers of Three already use 7.6GB of data per month, more than three times the industry average. Based on projections from Ofcom, Dave Dyson, CEO, sees a scenario in which this usage surges to 90GB per month in 2025. Note that this prediction has increased from 56 GB per month in 2025 as we earlier reported.

O2: Massive MIMO Pilot to prepare for 5G

  • O2 has the least amount of announcements and information on 5G. In a recent press release, it announced that it has launched a pilot to boost London network ahead of 5G.
  • The pilot is effectively saying that O2 is working with Nokia on two Massive MIMO trials in Kings Cross and Marble Arch (in London), aimed at enhancing connectivity for O2 customers and paving the way for the future deployment of 5G across the capital.
  • The pilot is in the newly acquired 2.3 GHz spectrum.
  • The pilot will lay the foundation for the next-generation of mobile connectivity– 5G.
  • On the positive side, Ofcom confirmed that O2 had delivered against its commitment to provide 98% indoor 4G coverage and 90% geographical landmass mass coverage across the UK.