Archive for April, 2017

Kenya’s telecom regulator looks closely at Safaricom’s market dominance

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Kenya’s telecommunications market continues to undergo considerable changes resulting from increased competition, improved international connectivity and rapid developments in the mobile market. The wholesale price for broadband has fallen dramatically in recent, benefitting consumers in both the fixed and mobile segments. The incumbent fixed-line telco, Telkom Kenya, which was managed by Orange Group from 2007 until it was sold to Helios in November 2015, has struggled to make headway in the competitive market.

The broadband market has been transformed by a combination of increased investments in network upgrades among the key providers. A number of major FttP rollouts have been undertaken, which have pushed fast broadband connectivity to a greater number of subscribers. Most broadband subscribers remain on mobile networks. These are being migrated from the dominant 3G segment to LTE as this technology is built out by operators. A range of services including video streaming, e-commerce, e-learning and e-government are evolving rapidly on the back of this improved infrastructure.

Kenya’s mobile market has continued to grow steadily, supported by a mobile subscriber base of about 39 8 million by early 2017. Some market consolidation occurred following the acquisition by Airtel and Safaricom of Essar Telecom’s yuMobile business. While all network operators have invested in mobile technologies and infrastructure upgrades to support mobile data services, competition has nevertheless presented challenges to their profitability, with uneven revenue growth reported in recent years. While Orange Group was the principal casualty of competition, leading it to sell its stake in Telkom Kenya, Safaricom has seen very strong growth on the back of its popular M-PESA payment platform. This market dominance, however, has encouraged the government to consider recommendations from a report commissioned by the regulator in late 2016 that Safaricom split –off its M-PESA business.

To encourage the development of LTE services the government has pursued an open-access approach. Disputes centered on licence fees delayed the launch of LTE services by MNOs, though they continued to invest in infrastructure and technology upgrades using trial licences.

A number of MVNO licences awarded since 2014 have added to the competitive mix, with Equitel establishing a market share of about 3.8% by early 2017.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Kenya – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Digital Media – Statistics and Analyses

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The role of the NBN in the development of 5G

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

With an NBN that is failing many customers it is no wonder that more and more people are looking towards mobile as a potential alternative.

Obviously mobile communication has improved over recent years in providing excellent access to broadband; and it has also become more affordable. At the same time there is the fabulous hype about 5G and the PR and media machines of the vendors involved makes you believe that this will become a real competitor to a faltering NBN.

First of all, anybody who has started to use video-based media over mobile networks seriously – beyond Facebook, YouTube etc – will have noticed that you will very quickly run out of the download capacity that is included in your mobile phone package, and any serious video use over mobile networks will quickly run into hundreds of dollars per month.

Secondly, 5G as a viable commercial mass market alternative might be 10 and possibly even 15 years away.

For starters, there is still not a 5G standard and this is essential for vendors to provide devices for mass markets in order to deliver an affordable device. Totally new handsets are needed to facilitate the multiple tiny antennas that are required in order for the device to operate over the high frequency necessary for 5G. No mass market will be achievable without a standard for such devices.

Secondly, 5G will require access to a fibre optic backbone in order to provide the affordable high-speed services that are talked about by the vendors and the mobile operators alike. Currently some 50% of mobile towers are linked to fibre optic networks – 5G could require a hundred-fold increase in mobile base stations and most of them need to be linked to a fibre optic network.

For the service to deliver the promised quality to the end-users a fibre optic connection to the 5G base station is needed within 100 metres of where the actual 5G users are. Furthermore, as soon as one starts talking about offices, public buildings, cafes, etc the reality is that the fibre network will need to be brought into these buildings in order to provide a reliable service. 5G has significant problems penetrating walls, foliage, water, even people (which from a spectrum perspective are seen as big bubbles of water). So in order to provide 5G services in these places multiple 5G antennas are needed within rooms to enable access to the mobile services.

When comparing wireless to fibre it is also important to note that, while wireless has a very limited capacity to carry lots of data over any distance (eg 100 metres for 5G), fibre can carry enormous amounts of data over tens of kilometres. So, from a network efficiency point of view fibre-based infrastructure will always win over wireless.

Don’t let any politically-motivated fake news get in the way of these facts.

As we have said in many of our articles over the last decade, mobile infrastructure and fibre infrastructure are both essential. It is not a case of either/or. But in the end mobile services will just provide local access linked to a fibre optic infrastructure. In other words, the majority of infrastructure needed to deliver 5G will be based on an FttH – or at least FttC (Fibre to the Curb) – infrastructure.

It is obvious that for these reasons it is impossible for the industry to deliver mass market 5G services within the short and even the medium term; so a 10-year horizon for such a level of 5G penetration is far more realistic.

Surely, in relation to mobile broadband being an alternative to the NBN – as is the case at the moment –  mobile broadband will increase its position at the bottom end of the market, for those people with very basic broadband access requirements. At the most this might be sufficient for around 15% of the market.

However, at the same time the overall content requirements for ‘bandwidth-sucking’ applications will continue in areas like entertainment, as well as in education, healthcare, business, smart cities, smart grids, smart buildings and so on.

With the NBN company finally also looking at bringing fibre deeper into the network (FttC) this will potentially also benefit the development of 5G, depending on mobile operators being able to use the NBN network for that purpose. It would be rather silly if the 3 or 4 mobile operators were also forced to bring their fibres to the curb in parallel with the NBN in order to deliver 5G services. But, again, it will take a decade or more for the NBN company to upgrade the FttN infrastructure – which it is still currently rolling out – to an FttH/FttC network.

So don’t expect a rapid development of 5G services for the mass market. 5G will most likely be installed in pockets where there is a clear business case (for a premium service) and where there is plenty of fibre available to provide a fast and reliable service.

On the other hand, 5G could also be a potential saviour for the NBN company – that is, if it can get its act together to deliver FttH/FttC and to offer the use of the NBN to the mobile. But chances are that some of the mobile operators will not wait for that and will extend their own fibre backbones; if the latter is the case, the financial future of the NBN will be in even greater trouble than it already is today.

In the meantime, because of all the political infighting about the NBN, Australia will remain at the bottom of the international ladder for fixed broadband quality for many years to come (it is currently around 50th place).

Paul Budde

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Macedonia’s mobile market dominated by two MNOs

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Macedonia) has been a European Union (EU) candidate country since 2005. As part of the EU pre-accession process, the country has built closer economic ties with the Union: the EU accounts for 60% of Macedonia’s exports and about half of its imports. Closer regulatory and administrative ties with European Commission (EC) institutions have done much to develop the telecom sector and prepare the market for the competitive environment encouraged in the EU.

As part of EU integration legislation has implemented the principles of the EU’s regulatory framework for communications, established an independent regulator and set out a number of provisions to provide for a competitive telecom market, including wholesale access to the incumbent’s fixed-line network. Although the fixed telephony market has been liberalised, the incumbent MakTel continues to dominate the sector. Broadband services are widely available, with effective competition between DSL and cable platforms complemented by wireless broadband and a fast developing fibre sector. Into 2016 the number of DSL subscribers has continue to fall as customers are migrated to fibre networks.

Macedonia’s mobile market is now served by only two mobile network operators, MakTel and one.Vip, the latter being formed by the merger of the local business units of Telekom Slovenije and Telekom Austria. One.Vip in May 2016 was also merged with its sister company Blizoo, and so has been able to provide a full suite of converged services. Mobile data services are becoming increasingly important following investments in LTE network rollouts and in upgrades to LTE-A technology.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Macedonia – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Digital Media – Statistics and Analyses

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Today’s key problem is the lack of trust

Monday, April 24th, 2017

If we look at the turbulence that we are facing today in many of our western societies it becomes clear that a key underlying reason for the current chaotic situation is the lack of trust that has crept into our lives over the last decade or so – see my blog from earlier this year:  The battle for truth.

This has been mainly fuelled by a lack of positive leadership, opportunistic partisan politicians, partisan media and other people with particular vested interests, who have successfully been undermining the trust that we had in our institutions, as well as our assumptions of fairness, shared values and equal opportunity. Those who have been undermining trust have also created an environment where many people find it difficult to separate fake news from the real facts.

In itself there is nothing new in people being taken in by fake news. Over the centuries we have seen many gullible people believing in fake news from religions, rouge governments, snake oil businessmen and so on. In one way or another we all suffer from this at times. Often in turbulent times emotions take over from rationalism, and this opens up the dangerous gateway to fake news (news people like to believe on an emotional level).

While we have become far more rational since the European period of Enlightenment it is important to realise that, as AC Grayling stated at a presentation I attended recently, although western democracy and science, as well as western legal, cultural and administrative institutions, now dominate our world the majority of people have not gone through similar processes of education, understanding, questioning and insight.

On a day-to-day level people do make rational decisions, but in relation to political, social and economic ideas, emotions still dominate when they are forming ideas and opinions – they are influenced by religion, opportunists in business and in politics, lack of education and other often ingrained beliefs.

The ongoing international benefits of the Enlightenment have greatly assisted in creating a better world. Despite its many problems life is much better for most of the 7 billion people who inhabit the earth today than it was for the 3 billion people who lived here 50 years ago.

Perhaps the current decline in trust started with the oil and coal giants who, for their own good only, succeeded in producing fake scientists who proclaimed that climate change was not an issue and that it certainly had nothing to do with the industries that they represented. Our institutions were unable to respond effectively to these fake scientists and their vested interests. Possibly concerns raised by evidence of the onset of climate change made people more likely to accept the reassuring denials of the fake scientists.

The Great Financial Crisis – and the fact that those who created it got away with it with millions of people suffering because of the greed of a few – fuelled massive resentment in the people from the affected countries. Institutions that had always been trusted let the people down, further creating high levels of distrust.

While similar events have occurred in the past a major difference was that these events coincided with an undermining of the traditional media. This was a direct consequence of the rise of the online media – and perhaps in particular of the social media – which provided fake news pedlars, vested interests and others with a platform where they were able to build echo chambers, and this further fuelled the groundswell among already disenfranchised people. In many countries traditional media battled to survive by creating their own partisan echo-chamber, further aggravating the situation. The new media were so captivated by their enormous commercial success and the market power they acquired that they didn’t foresee the negative consequences of their success.

Disenfranchisement had been simmering in the background but it had never reached the mainstream. Those who were negatively affected were mainly from the lower and middle income socio-economic brackets and they had been watching their lifestyle and income being eroded since the 1980s, while the top layer of the population grew richer at their expense (loss of permanent jobs, income freezes, globalisation, higher house prices, etc).

At the same time many people were faced with, and often overwhelmed by, massive technological changes – and cultural changes, as their societies became more and more diversified with migrants and refugees.

As we have seen throughout thousands of years of history, such environments of disenfranchisement make fertile ground for demagogues and populists; and they now have the advantage of a dumbed-down press and of a social media that provides unchecked access to all kinds of false news. Any information that those disenfranchised people can get, and use to vent their frustration and anger, will do – fake or not. Anything against the establishment that could be used as ammunition for their cause is welcome.

Demagogues, with perhaps the President of the United States Donald Trump in the role of their ultimate champion, are more than happy to use fake news and fuel the deep cultural and economic concerns that reside within the disenfranchised parts of the population. This group (while actually representing only 20%-35% of the total population) has become a significant political force in recent times.

With people like Trump in charge further undermining of the truth is now well and truly underway. He has ordered that the term ‘climate change’ will no longer be used in government papers. He has also started removing a whole range of scientific data on all sorts of issues from the White House website. Via dozens of Executive Orders he is massively destabilising many of America’s trusted institutions. Some of these Orders will fail and some will become law but the damage being done in the process is immense.

The big question will be whether Americans can handle this barrage of fabricated news and lies, and the general undermining of the many proud democratic institutions of that country.

We have to be able to trust our government, media, businesses and all of the other institutions. Based on trust we can run our society and economy effectively, but without trust our modern society cannot function.

The Edelman Trust Barometer states: We have moved beyond the point of trust being simply a key factor in product purchase or selection of employment opportunity; it is now the deciding factor whether a society can function.

Intentional and repeated betrayal in particular is enormously damaging. This is pushing people further into the echo chambers of Facebook and Google, and these and other social media companies have a lot to answer for – they have been able to successfully bypass the traditional checks and balances that were used in most of the traditional media to ensure that the facts and news items we received were based on verifiable information.

And the trouble is that once trust is lost it will take enormous effort, and a lot of time, to restore it, and at the moment all the signs are pointing in the opposite direction.

The only way out is a trend that has already been set in motion – and which we discussed before – is giving more power at the grassroots levels to our cities and communities. We can already see that more and more people are resorting to the trust that exists within their own families, communities, tribes, etc.

While, for example, in Australia less than 25% of people trust the federal government, 75% do trust their local council. If we can tilt the playing field more in the direction of communities and cities we might be able to restore trust from the bottom up.

The underlying trend towards more grassroots-based developments is already unstoppable and well-recognised, with many cities and many mayors showing real leadership. As long as the Trumps of this world do not cause the massive amount of damage that they are in fact capable of the positive is that slowly but surely a new city and community based society and economy will start taking over from the dysfunctional layers in our society.

Interestingly, in the 2017 Trust Barometer businesses still scored significantly higher in the trust index than government and media. So businesses can also be a critical factor in restoring trust. There are many businesses that people mistrust, but there are many that they do trust, and leadership from this latter group is needed.

While technology (such as social media) can do great deal of damage that same technology also can bring people together in very positive ways and help people to collaborate, bypass the old defunct structures and move society forward. Technology can also facilitate the building of smart communities and smart cities, empowering them to create their own future.

While there are now understandably many calls for stricter regulation regarding the social media in relation to hate speech and fake news – Germany is in the process of passing specific legislation on this – regulations can also stifle innovations that could be used to address these problems in a better way.

So, in summary, while fake news and populism has been around for many centuries, modern communication media are now giving those peddling fake news a new and powerful platform from which they can operate. However in reality those following the populists in general still represent a significant minority in western countries.

Trust still overwhelmingly exists at grassroots levels and from our communities and cities we should be able to create a process of trust restoration. That same internet platform is also available to those who want to provide a more positive message and build the positive structures needed to manage the complex society we live in.

We therefore need to be careful not to over-regulate the internet and social media. Some of the leading companies are now finally addressing the issue within their own service and self-regulation would be the preferred option.

With pillars crumbling elsewhere in our society businesses have an important role to play in ensuring that trust remains strong. Without it businesses and economies in general will suffer greatly.

Paul Budde


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Georgia’s Mobitel secures spectrum in the 2100MHz band at auction

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Georgia continues to develop its economy in the face of considerable challenges, not least being a fractured political relationship with Russia and the continuing downturn in the Russian economy which has negatively impacted on its own growth potential. There are also difficulties related to breakaway regions which have been recognised by Russia, and in which Russian telcos are active. However, there is potential for economic growth from closer ties to Europe, while new pipelines running across the territory may lessen Georgia’s dependence on Russia for oil and gas supplies.

The slow economic growth has impacted on the country’s telecom sector. Revenue from fixed-line voice services has fallen sharply, while revenue from the mobile sector has also fallen in the wake of intense competition compounded by the fall in messaging traffic as subscribers migrate to alternative OTT services. The overall market is largely propped up by the broadband sector, where the number of subscribers continues to increase steadily. The sharp growth in the number of fibre broadband connections has impacted on the DS segment as customers are migrated from copper to fibre networks. This development reflects the significant increase in investment in infrastructure in recent years, spurred by the government’s national broadband plan.

Since 2003, telecommunications has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the Georgian economy. The share of telecommunications in the country’s GDP reached a high of 7%, though it fell to about 5.6% for 2015.

The penetration of active mobile subscribers was about 1120% by early 2017. Growth in mobile broadband is being encouraged following multi-spectrum auctions, including the award of additional spectrum in the 800MHz band in 2016 and spectrum in the 2100ooMHz band in 2017, which is being made available for LTE services. All three MNOs are investing to expand the reach and capabilities of their LTE infrastructures, which already provide more than 90% coverage.

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

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