Vietnamese Mobile Network Operators in 5G Trials
Vietnam Minister of Information & Communications Nguyen Manh Hung signed a decision to license the implementation of 5G for Viettel – a military-run telecommunications company. This licence was granted to test and evaluate technical features and the ability to deploy telecommunications infrastructure using (undisclosed spec for) 5G technology. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City will be the first two cities to test Viettels 5G and the trial will last for 12 months. Users will not be charged during the test period.
The group must be responsible for investment efficiency and report results to the Ministry of Information and Communications. The ministry said that, together with the 5G trial, it would license the new 4G frequency and study the route to find the right time to turn off 2G or 3G waves.
Viettel engineers install telecom equipment. The company is ready to trial 5G technology. – VIET NAM NEWS/ANN
Meanwhile, MobiFone said they had sent a document to the Ministry of Information and Communications, asking for 5G testing in Hanoi and HCM City to evaluate technology and the marketplace before officially going live. MobiFone General Director Nguyen Dang Nguyen said they asked for permission to test 5G for the Ministry of Information and Communications from September last year. MobiFone is working with equipment suppliers to prepare for this test. It is expected that devices will come to Vietnam and will be installed in the second quarter of this year, he said.
Viet Nam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT), is also planning to test 5G in the future. VNPT and Nokia signed a co-operation agreement to research, survey and test 5G technology and Internet of Things (IoT) during the working visit in Europe of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in October last year. The project is expected to be implemented within three years and worth around US $15 million. Chairman of VNPTs member council Tran Manh Hung said the group submitted documents to the Ministry of Information and Communications to ask for 5G testing. The purpose of the 5G testing is to enable VNPT to master the technology and plan the network in the future. VNPT had also tested to prepare for the production of 5G network devices, he said.
“Vietnam should be among the first nations to launch 5G services in order to move up in global telecom rankings,” said Nguyen Manh Hung, the country’s new minister of information and communications.
Four Vietnamese telecom companies — Vietnamobile, a joint venture of Hanoi Telecom and Hongkong based Hutchison Asia Telecommunications, and three state-owned entities, Viettel, Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group, MobiFone and Vietnamobile — are expected to receive 5G testing licenses this year.
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Thailand to move ahead with 5G auctions
Thai telecoms regulator NBTC plans to move ahead with plans to auction off 5G spectrum in the 26-GHz, 28-GHz and 2.6-GHz frequency bands later this year.
The regulator has assigned a team to draft auction conditions for the auction, and has given it until February to draft the initial details, the Bangkok Post reported.
According to the report, the move is aimed at ensuring operators have access to the spectrum required for 5G services. The regulator is leaning towards conducting a hybrid auction model, with the winners decided based on both bid amount and the details of operators’ 5G rollout proposals.
The more commonly allocated 3.5-GHz band is currently held by Thaicom, but the NBTC expects to be able to meet the initial requirements of operators preparing for 5G by allocating 4,000MHz of bandwidth in the 26-GHz and 28-GHz ranges.
The 2.6-GHz band is meanwhile currently held by state owned broadcaster MCOT, but the broadcaster has agreed to return around 150MHz of bandwidth to the regulator in exchange for compensation. Meanwhile not a single private mobile operator has expressed an interest in taking part in a planned 700-MHz auction scheduled for May, leaving state-owned CAT the only interested potential bidder. The operator plans to seek a foreign partner to participate in the auction with it.
July 19, 2019 NY Times: Is Huawei a Security Threat? Vietnam Isn’t Taking Any Chances
As the world splits along U.S.-China fault lines, telecom companies in Vietnam appear to be quietly avoiding the Chinese tech giant in their 5G plans.
Viettel (owned by Vietnam government) has been developing its own software and equipment for many years, Mr. Thang told the NY Times (url below), and employs 300 engineers in research and development. It has designed and produced its own base stations, which exchange radio signals with cellphones, and its own computer systems for billing customers’ accounts, he said.
Most mobile carriers simply buy these things from outside vendors such as Ericsson or Huawei. Mr. Thang said Viettel had deployed around 1,000 self-produced 4G base stations across Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries.
But when asked whether Viettel’s aim in developing its own equipment was to help keep its networks secure, Mr. Thang first consulted in Vietnamese with a company communications officer, Le Duc Anh Tuan, who then answered in English.
The most important reason for Viettel to develop its own software, Mr. Tuan said, is so it can respond more nimbly to customers’ changing needs. Security is not the main factor, he said.
Asked why Viettel didn’t use Huawei in Vietnam but did use Chinese suppliers elsewhere, Mr. Tuan said equipment makers gave the company different deals in each country. “We have many partners,” he said, and Viettel considered each of them on its merits.
Vietnam Makes Big Bet on Homegrown 5G, Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading
Vietnam’s largest phone company was evidently not kidding last year when it announced plans to build its own 5G network. In an update last Friday, Viettel has reportedly promised to launch a 5G service in June based on its own equipment and software. It has already carried out trials, including a 5G video call last week.
Viettel’s announcement is potentially a big deal. Telecom operators do not typically build the mobile networks they use to provide services. Usually, that job goes to a diminishing number of manufacturing giants, of which the very largest are China’s Huawei, Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia. There is little precedent for what the Vietnamese service provider is attempting.
Its motivation seems partly geopolitical. International concern surrounds Huawei, the world’s biggest mobile infrastructure vendor. Critics see it as a Chinese government stooge and threat to national security, as well as a trade cheat. The Vietnamese may need little persuading: Tension between China and Vietnam has been mounting over territorial claims in the South China Sea. The two countries nearly came to nautical blows last year when Chinese authorities sent ships into Vietnamese waters. A Chinese 5G vendor is unlikely to be a popular choice in Vietnam.
Huawei avoidance is not the only explanation, though. Much like India, Vietnam is becoming newly assertive on the global technology stage as its economy continues to grow. Thanks largely to its abundance of cheap labor, it has already emerged as a tech manufacturing hub in Asia. Samsung, the South Korean electronics giant, makes about one third of its mobile phones in Vietnamese factories. Vietnamese government attention is now turning to homegrown expertise. Widely touted as an essential pillar of the future digital economy, 5G has risen swiftly up the agenda.
That Viettel should take the 5G lead is not altogether surprising. Founded in 1989, it is wholly owned by the Vietnamese state and appears to have close links to the military. Its activities have not been confined to operating telecom networks, either. Indeed, Viettel appears to have started out in construction and today boasts expertise in fields including hi-tech research and manufacturing.
It is also a bigger organization than outsiders might assume. According to its own website, it made about $10.1 billion in revenues in 2018 and now serves more than 110 million customers worldwide, following expansion into several markets in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Its workforce in 2018 included more than 70,000 employees, it says.
Even so, this makes Viettel a lot smaller than Ericsson alone. With its 5G focus, the Swedish equipment vendor had sales of $22.1 billion in 2018 and finished last September with around 96,000 employees. Each year it pumps about $4 billion into research and development. To match that, Viettel would have to commit about 40% of its total revenues to R&D, a sum that no existing vendor could manage. Struggling to remain competitive, ZTE, a smaller Chinese supplier, injected about 15% of its revenues into R&D during the first nine months of 2018. Last week it announced a share offering worth about $1.7 billion to fund additional 5G efforts.
The difference is that Viettel is not necessarily trying to compete on the global 5G stage — at least, not in the first instance. Its statements, as reported by mainstream press outlets, suggest its initial focus is on 5G development for its own service provider business. Sales to other companies are not yet an obvious consideration.
As regards internal R&D, Viettel’s interest might also lie primarily in the “core,” a sensitive, software-based part of the network responsible for traffic routing and other important functions. This would not be such a leap into the unknown because Viettel — unusually for a telco — already sells billing software to other service providers and demonstrated an internally developed 4G core product at last year’s Mobile World Congress. In August 2019, it reportedly said its aim was to produce 80% of its core network infrastructure this year. If Viettel has few worries about the more hardware-based radio access network (RAN), it could strike a 5G deal with Ericsson, Nokia or Samsung for this gear.
This will not silence the skeptics. The lack of alternatives to the big three vendors shows that designing sophisticated network systems is no cakewalk. Elsewhere, operators equally worried about reliance on a few giant kit vendors are backing more open interfaces and software tools as an alternative. Rather than develop these technologies themselves, they are turning to an emerging ecosystem of network startups and software specialists.
To what extent these tools figure in Viettel’s plans is currently unknown. Building traditional gear would be difficult and possibly counterintuitive, given the widespread telco interest in more open networks. With its financial clout and customer base, Viettel could certainly provide some impetus for technologies such as open RAN, which promises to reduce 5G costs and make kit more interoperable. Yet open RAN is still not ready for mass-market deployment in the most demanding conditions. Even its most enthusiastic telco supporters see it as a complement to the mainstream suppliers in specific circumstances — not a substitute for them.
If nothing else, Viettel’s plan is a sign of the 5G-fueled backlash against years of vendor consolidation. Countries and companies do not want to be dependent on two or three foreign players for such a critical technology. A domestic alternative would provide a kind of network security akin to the energy security that has been so important since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s. That explains why countries such as India, Russia, the US and now Vietnam are trying to foster homegrown champions. Expect others to follow.
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