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Zimbabwe’s telcos agree to mobile and fixed network infrastructure sharing 28 Jul 2016

Zimbabwe’s economy has seen a downturn since the fractious elections of July 2013, resulting in a significant fall in GDP growth. The contribution to GDP from the telecom sector has fallen steadily as a result. Sector revenue has come under pressure from a number of recent regulatory measures and taxes imposed by the cash-strapped government. Nevertheless, the telecom sector shows some promise, particularly from the mobile sector where mobile penetration has increased rapidly, approaching 110% by mid-2016. The three mobile network operators Econet Wireless, NetOne and Telecel Zimbabwe continue to invest in network upgrades to support data services and their fast-expanding m-commerce and m-banking facilities. Telecel was recently acquired by the government from VimpelCom, and the financial demands required for investment has jeopardised resources potentially available to the incumbent telco TelOne, (formerly PTC), which still holds a de-facto monopoly on fixed-line services in the country. Plans to privatise up to 60% of TelOne and NetOne, either through an IPO or a strategic partnership with a foreign investor, remain on hold.

Limitations in international bandwidth for the landlocked country for many years held back development of the internet and broadband sectors, but this has changed since fibre optic links to several submarine cables have been established via neighbouring territories. The expansion of 3G mobile broadband services across the country, and the more recent efforts to provide LTE services, have meant that more than half of the population now has access to the internet. The first commercial LTE services were launched in 2013, while investment in LTE technologies, for which the regulator has assigned spectrum in the 700MHz band, continues. By the end of 2015 mobile internet connections made up 95.6% of all internet connections. The number of LTE connections grew 374% in the year, reflecting the efforts made by Econet and NetOne in rolling out LTE base stations. Internet penetration increased to 48% by the end of 2015.

Growth in Zimbabwe’s mobile market has been hampered by the poor economic climate, exacerbated by recent regulatory measures affecting tariffs and taxes. These burdens have placed greater pressure on network operator revenue, which has jeopardised their ability to invest in necessary network upgrades. Annual revenue has fallen steadily during the last three years, with a near 18% fall in 2015 alone. NetOne and Econet have both invested in LTE services. The sale of the financially troubled Telecel Zimbabwe was completed in mid-2016, with the government now owing the company through its ISP Zarnet.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Zimbabwe - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses

Progress towards addressing capacity issues in Samoa 27 Jul 2016

The geography of the Pacific region has made internet connectivity a serious problem for the many islands dispersed over vast oceanic spaces. Submarine fibre-optic networks are expensive to build and maintain, with capital costs that are prohibitive for the smaller island communities. Some countries have to rely solely on geostationary satellites. As a result, bandwidth is limited and broadband prices are extremely high.

However Samoa is beginning to address its international capacity issues with a major public-private project underway. Facilitated by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (WB) and the Samoan government, it will see high-speed telecom improvements in Samoa via a fibre optic submarine cable which will connect Samoa (Upolu and Savai’i) with the Southern Cross Cable Network in Fiji (Suva). The Tui Samoa cable, as it known, will be co-financed by the ADB, the WB, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) as well as the Samoa Submarine Cable Company (SSCC) which also incorporates other smaller investors. The project is expected to cost around US$49 million and should be available by the end of 2017.

The Tui Samoa cable will not only provide reliable, faster and more affordable internet access - but also important economic and social benefits to Samoa. Improved internet services will create job opportunities, better access to e-health services from Australia and New Zealand as well as improvements to education delivery.

There are two other cables planned which will also serve Samoa. These include the construction of the MOANA Cable System which is forecast to be completed in 2018. It will link New Zealand to Hawaii, as well as serving Samoa and American Samoa. It is to be built by Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks and BlueSky Pacific Group.

New Zealand’s Hawaiki Cable Ltd is also planning to build a 14,000km submarine cable system (25Tb/s design capacity), linking Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and the US West Coast. The system would have branching units to several Pacific islands including New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, and American Samoa. In April 2016 it was reported that the project would proceed as it had obtained the necessary funding.

Samoa has one of the highest rates of mobile phone coverage in the Pacific region. Samoa has over 100% mobile penetration (including multi-SIM ownership) and almost full mobile network coverage based on a mix of 2G and 3G technologies. While Papua New Guinea and Fiji will be the two major markets for 4G technology in the South Pacific region going forward; there is also progress towards 4G LTE in Samoa with Digicel Samoa officially launching its network in mid 2016.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Samoa - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses

Telecom services improving for Kiribati 26 Jul 2016

Kiribati presents a challenging geography for telecommunications network deployments. Traditional network architecture is unsuitable for Kiribati, as the islands are only connected to each other and to the rest of the world via satellite. Some of the inhabited islands still require access to satellite networks and generally speaking fibre-optic infrastructure is unsuitable and too expensive.

The Pacific region as a whole is heavily reliant on mobile technologies for its communication services and Kiribati is no exception. In 2015 Kiribati began to receive the benefit of a renewed interest in its telecoms infrastructure due to the sale of the only telecoms operator, the state-owned Telecommunication Services Kiribati Limited (TSKL) to Amalgamated Telecom Holdings (ATH) from Fiji.

The newly formed Amalgamated Telecom Holdings Kiribati Limited (ATHKL) quickly announced it would be performing the first phase of its improvements in Kiribati with 3G and 4G network upgrades deployed in some areas. In addition it upgraded networks to Internet Protocol (IP) and began exploring the option of a low latency affordable internet solution for Kiribati.

Most encouraging to the citizens of Kiribati, considered one of the poorest Islands in the region; ATHKL began offering new affordable handsets as well as attractive pricing plans.

Kiribati may also benefit from the introduction of competition in the mobile sector in the near future. In September 2015 the Government of Kiribati and the Communications Commission of Kiribati (CCK) launched a tender for a second mobile license which would be offered under a 15-year renewable term.

These are all positive developments for a country which faces serious issues relating to over-population, poverty and the very real threat of rising sea levels.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Kiribati - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses

The next development in wireless broadband 25 Jul 2016

In the USA the FCC has started the discussion on the next level of telecoms in the wireless market, aimed at making spectrum in bands above 24GHz available for flexible-use of wireless services,  including next-generation, or 5G networks and technologies.

New technologies such as massive-MIMO are going to make it possible to deliver ‘fibre-like’ speeds over short distance wireless networks operating in the 24+GHz bands. This will make the technology especially useful for high-speed broadband services in densely populated areas.

Because this spectrum is only useful over relatively short distances, the base stations will need to have fibre optic network connections. Most mobile base stations are already connected to fibre, and fibre-connected buildings are ideally suited for the many more base stations needed for these new wireless technologies.

It is expected that these new services will be able to provide high-speed broadband at very competitive prices.

While there are calls to also make this spectrum available for unlicensed services the mobile industry will push hard for their use of the spectrum, and they will again be willing to pay billions of dollars for it. And governments will be very tempted to simply take that money. However it is expected that some capacity will be available for unlicensed services.

A question that remains unanswered is how wireless networks will handle capacity.

Currently 4G networks offer excellent broadband services and, as long as the usage is limited, the prices are competitive. However, as soon as the mobile networks are being used for entertainment services such as Netflix the affordability drops significantly. Looking ahead, more and more of these entertainment services will be delivered over broadband and more and more people will move from traditional TV to these broadband-based services. At the same time the quality is moving from HDTV to 4K and it remains unlikely that these services can be supported by wireless networks at affordable prices.

However, if fixed networks operators are not providing FttH infrastructure, and are thus not going to be able to deliver the broadband quality that people demand, the wireless industry will look for new opportunities and will push the boundaries further and further.

Progress has been made here also. Already off-the-shelf point-to-point wireless links operating in the 70-80GHz bands can provide as much as 6/6Gb/s over distances of 1500-2500 meters, and at those frequencies the beams are exceedingly narrow so many links can be placed on the same rooftop.

Furthermore, this is not simply about FttH networks. Most cities still don’t have a city-wide fibre-based backbone structure that is, for example, able to service their increasing number of apartment buildings. Here we see companies such as netBlazr in Boston providing a high-speed wireless backbone system to beam capacity to the roofs of these building and then linking this to existing internal Cat5 and Cat6 cabling for internal distribution.

Based on this configuration they are able to provide 300/300Mb/s service to residential apartment or condo dwellers (for $59/month) and with new technology developments they are currently upgrading selected buildings to 500/500Mb/s (at the same price).

In the case of Blazr most of this wireless infrastructure is using the 200MHz-wide band of spectrum at 24GHz which is licence-exempt in the US (and many other countries).  With readily available radios they can get 1/1Gb/s of capacity over a 24GHz link and the beams are directional enough (3 degree beamwidth) that we can locate many separate links on the same rooftop, interconnecting a building with many other buildings.

Their usage costs are only a small percentage of their operating costs (<3%).  When several hundred customers have been aggregated with 300/300Mb/s service, peak traffic (typically 9-11pm) averages 1.2Mb/s per customer.  Many of their customers are younger and are cord-cutters.

Paul Budde

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The telecommunication market on its way to 2017 22 Jul 2016

The telecommunications market continues its transformation into the industry underpinning the digital, sharing and interconnected economy. This transformation is mainly driven by the ongoing innovations and technological developments that are taking place. More often than not the industry itself is struggling to keep up with these rapid changes.

The convergence that we have been talking about for more than 20 years is now happening, but driven by disruption rather than well-considered strategies and marketing campaigns.

The internet companies have been able to embed many of the traditional telecoms services into their offerings, often at little or no cost to their customers. Telecommunications is a way for them to offer a range of other internet services and it is from these that they make their money.

As a consequence, the underlying infrastructure is increasingly becoming a national utility and it will soon be treated as such from a regulatory perspective. The New Zealand government has already foreshadowed such changes for its regulatory regime.

This, of course, is putting enormous pressure on the traditional industry. Overall the growth in this segment of the telco industry is stagnating, and often the only way to maintain profitability is through cost-cutting. On the positive side, innovations and technological developments allow these companies to be more cost-competitive. While there is still a very large cost gap between the internet companies and the traditional telcos, the telcos are certainly getting better at becoming more efficient and effective. Another outcome of these pressures is the ongoing consolidation of the industry, a process that will continue in 2017.

Although their revenue might not be growing all that much, usage of their services is, and this allows them to maintain their pricing by offering more services for the same money. Here again, significant improvements in software and network efficiencies allow them to do so.

The fixed telecoms market

The fixed telecoms market in Australia is facing some serious problems, as evidenced by the many network outages that Telstra has been facing. The fact that failures keep recurring is a clear indication that the problem is complex. Our analysis of the situation is that since the announcement of the NBN in 2009, Telstra has (understandingly) been under-investing in its landline infrastructure, as the plan was for NBN Co to take over its infrastructure and replace it with FttH. Subsequent changes in the plan, along with ongoing delays, have meant that the massive increase in traffic has still had to go over the old Telstra network, a network that has not been upgraded to a point where it can cope with such high increases in traffic.

In 2005 Australia occupied an already questionably low 25th position on the international country ladder in relation to broadband quality, and, depending on how one measures quality, it has now dropped to somewhere between the 50th and 60th position of this list. It is not too difficult to conclude that the infrastructure and the services that are being delivered over it are failing to handle the increase in user demand. This is why there are ongoing network outages, most likely linked to congestions and network capacity issues at certain parts of the network. Over the last five years many ADSL services have gone backward in quality as this old technology cannot cope with user demand.

This is also a bad omen for the FttN network that has, in the meantime, replaced the FttH plan. This second-rate network, still based to a large extent on the old copper-based network, has its own capacity problems, which will become more evident over the next five years – by which time we will again have to start looking at an upgrade – this time to a full-blown FttH network. The report discusses many of these issues in more detail.

A worrying factor here is that the NBN is a monopoly and it is unclear how they will financially manage a move from FttN to FttH. It will also most likely require a massive write-off of its (by that time) $60 billion investment. A much better solution would be to stop rolling out FttN and start looking at Fttdp (fibre to the front doors of the premises). This is further explained and discussed in the report.

The mobile market

Mobile keeps on moving ahead and here the story for Australia is significantly better. The country is right at the top of the international ladder in relation to the quality and the coverage of its mobile (broadband) network. Prices are above the international average, but so are the services. While mobile and fixed will always exist in parallel, there is no doubt that with a faltering fixed network and an excellent mobile network, mobile will give fixed a run for its money.

However the reality for the success of mobile broadband is that the network will rely more and more on fibre. In the end most mobile stations will have to be connected to a fibre optic network in order to cope with the volume of traffic. 5G will create an even denser mobile tower infrastructure than the one that is already in place, with mobile stations starting to appear on many city building and many street corners (connected to often private city fibre networks). In the end the mobile network will be a fibre network with a fairly short wireless access signal to the end-users.

Mobile technologies are not hampered by telecom monopolies and here also technology is moving ahead quickly. For example, massive-MIMO technology is evolving rapidly and is ideally suited for the 24, 60, 70 and 80 GHz spectrum bands that will become available for commercial services over coming years; such technologies are well-suited for very high broadband services in densely populated areas.

Because of the confusing fixed line situation in Australia it could well be that in many parts of its cities true fast broadband will be delivered over deep fibre with these new last-mile wireless technologies.

Digital, sharing, interconnected economy

As stated at the beginning, telecoms is now all about the digital, sharing and interconnected economy and the infrastructure for this is a combination of ICT. This development requires a full integration of high-speed broadband telecom networks, cloud computing data analytics and data centres. As a result we see what had previously been separate industry sectors merging into one. We see data centre companies building fibre infrastructure; cloud computing merging with data centres; and indeed several companies including all of these services within their offerings.

This is also where IoT and M2M are important – linking sensor, devices and other elements to the telecoms network. These developments are opening up the way to smart cities and communities, smart grids, smart farms, smart factories, smart homes and buildings …. the list goes on.

Key to the successful outcome of these new developments is data analytics. This is needed to operate our increasingly complex society and economy more efficiently and effectively; and it is critical in the delivery of the services that are creating better lifestyle opportunities for all.

These developments also pose their own risks. As societies and economies become more dependent on them it makes us more vulnerable, especially if the underlying ICT infrastructure is not sufficiently robust. Issues such as cybercrime and cyberwar are also becoming more worrying, and, in a society moving increasingly towards populist politics, misuse of data for reasons linked to racism, hatred, violence are becoming real – especially as those who are promoting it have access to telecoms and the internet that is equal to those whose aim it is to use these technologies for the betterment of society.

So there is a responsibility for the industry to take these issues into account.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Australia - Telecoms Market Analyses - Top Trends Moving into 2017

Fibre optic technologies for the next 50 years 21 Jul 2016

It might be hard to imagine but we were already talking about fibre to the home networks back in the 1970s and 1980s. This was in the early days of interactive TV and pay TV and fibre optics were already at that time seen as the next level of telecoms infrastructure needed for such services. The first residential fibre pilot networks were built in Berlin and Nagasaki. One of the most ambitious projects was in Columbus Ohio, but in the end they decided to continue with their HFC network.

What this shows is that, while the timing was wrong, the FttH vision of that time was a valid one. And the implementation of that vision is finally happening.

It is important to realise is that here we are talking about infrastructure and not about the services that are being carried over it; 40 years ago it was also video-based entertainment that was driving the vision of FttH. However it required Netflix and its streaming brothers and sisters to push this over the line.

So now, 40 years on, it might be worthwhile to start looking at what will be in store for us in another 40 years’ time. And, no, there is nothing revolutionary on the horizon in relation to fixed telecoms infrastructure – nothing similar to, for example, the total replacement of copper and HFC by fibre networks. Wireless will see more developments, but natural science predicts that there will always be the capacity problem in relation to spectrum, and it is therefore not suitable for mass-market high-quality video (which over that time will certainly have moved further towards 4K and 8K).

All predictions indicate that it will be further improvements in fibre technology, rather than something totally new, which will drive change here. Change will be driven by developments in new types of fibre that are more cost-effective, as we can already see with fibre optic networks that were installed 20 years ago. It is no longer economical to maintain these networks. Several submarine cables are having to deal with this. Here we have seen that 20+ year old 2.5Gbit/s networks can now be upgraded to 40Gbit/s and even 100+Gbit/s networks.

Looking to the future, one of these new fibre technologies is known as photonic-crystal fibre and this is what Wikipedia has to say about it ……

Photonic-crystal fibre (PCF) is a new class of optical fibre based on the properties of photonic crystals. Because of its ability to confine light in hollow cores or with confinement characteristics not possible in conventional optical fibre, PCF is now finding applications in fibre-optic communications, fibre lasers, nonlinear devices, high-power transmission, highly sensitive gas sensors, and other areas.

More specific categories of PCF include photonic-bandgap fibre (PCFs that confine light by band gap effects; holey fibre (PCFs using air holes in their cross-sections); hole-assisted fibre (PCFs guiding light by a conventional higher-index core modified by the presence of air holes); and Bragg fibre (photonic-bandgap fibre formed by concentric rings of multi-layer film). Photonic crystal fibres may be considered a subgroup of a more general class of micro-structured optical fibres, where light is guided by structural modifications, and not only by refractive index differences.

Current estimates are that with these new technologies fibre optic cable will remain viable for at least the next 50 years. This brings us to a timeframe equal to the one when we first started to talk about a commercial FttH vision. Obviously it is hard to make predictions about things that we have not yet envisaged, even in science fiction scenarios. The next level could quite possibly be based on neurological-based communication based on our brainwaves. Who knows?

Paul Budde

Djibouti Telecom joins DAR submarine cable consortium 20 Jul 2016

Djibouti is one of the last countries in the world allowing its national telco, Djibouti Telecom (DT) a monopoly on all telecom services, including fixed lines, mobile, internet and broadband. The lack of competition has meant that the market has not lived up to its potential, although the country has a service-based economy consistently growing at 5 to 6% per year and is one of the best connected for fibre optic international cables the region. Though broadband services in Djibouti remain very expensive, continuing to hold back the full growth potential of the sector, new link to subsea cables will increase bandwidth and encourage a reduction in access prices. Growth in the mobile and internet markets is accelerating in line with DT’s investment in its mobile network. Nevertheless, competition and foreign investment are both required for the telecoms market to show solid development in coming years. In preparation for this, DT itself is forging international alliances.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Djibouti - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses

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