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Speed takes centre stage at Mobile World Congress 2018

General view taken of the Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile fair, held this year in Barcelona from February 26 to March 1. Pau Barrena/AFP
General view taken of the Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile fair, held this year in Barcelona from February 26 to March 1. Pau Barrena/AFP

Speed takes centre stage at Mobile World Congress 2018

Blazingly fast download speeds were on everyone’s mind at the annual telecoms industry gathering in Barcelona.

Mobile World Congress 2018, the world’s largest gathering for the telecoms industry held in Barcelona, Spain, last week impressed visitors with the usual bevy of gadgets, product launches and sneak peeks at innovative technologies.

It also put Cambodian telecom operator Cellcard on the world stage, with Ian Watson, the company’s CEO, taking the podium to accept an award as the Cambodian mobile network with the fastest download speeds.

The award was based on OpenSignal’s latest “State of Mobile Networks” report, which measured the three main Cambodian telecom networks and ranked them in six metrics: 4G download speed, 3G download speed, overall download speed, 4G latency, 3G latency and 4G availability.

Cellcard “cemented its lead” in Cambodia by winning outright in four categories: 4G download speed, 3G download speed, overall network speed and 3G latency. Smart Axiata won the category of 4G latency, while 4G availability was declared a three-way tie between Cellcard, Smart and Metfone.

The results improved on the previous “State of Mobile Networks” report issued last August in which Cellcard won the 4G download speed and overall network speed categories, but tied in the remaining four categories.

Watson attributed the improvements to a strategic investment in network infrastructure that has increased network traffic.

“Our strategy to invest heavily in our network upgrades in 2017 is starting to pay off. Mobile data traffic has gone up more than 400 percent and the average mobile data usage has risen to 400 MB a day,” he said.

Since January 2017 Cellcard has extended its coverage footprint to more than 2,500 4G sites and swapped out 2G technology for the latest single RAN 2G/3G/4G technology nationwide.

Jonjon Naval, Cellcard’s chief technology officer, said his team’s tests have showed 4G download speeds hitting 40-plus Mbps.

“We have deployed an LTE Advanced platform using Carrier Aggregation – 2CA and 3CA – that can hit a maximum speed of 300 Mbps in key cities including Phnom Penh and Siem Reap,” he said. “In high traffic areas and hotspots, we have also deployed 4X4MIMO that can hit a maximum speed of 400 Mbps per sector.”

In addition, the company has enabled 3CC Carrier strategy for its 3G network and deployed in the 900 MHz spectrum range for better indoor penetration.

“In some areas we are achieving amazingly high speeds, but our main focus is on ensuring consistency of network across wider regions,” he added.

While Cellcard dominated the latest speed ratings, Smart has also been investing in network upgrades and boosted its performance since the last report.

“Smart Axiata is starting to close the huge speed gap we saw six months ago between itself and Cellcard,” the OpenSignal report said. “Smart’s tested 4G speed skyrocketed from 10.2 Mbps to 16.6 Mbps since our last report – likely the result of LTE-Advanced upgrades Smart announced in August.”

It was no surprise that speed was a central theme at this year’s Mobile World Congress, with smartphone makers unveiling new models with chipsets and features that thrive in 4G space. Samsung, Sony and Asus launched new phones during the event, while LG rebranded one of its old flagship phones.

HMD Global, the Finnish company that now makes Nokia-branded phones, unveiled five new phones in Barcelona, with three pegged to join Google’s Android One program. The program, launched in 2014, is a hardware and software standard designed to help push affordable, secure and up-to-date smartphones in developing markets.

“Android One is our flagship partner programme, and this comprehensive line-up of new Nokia smartphones represents our biggest partnership to date. Now, users around the world can find the perfect device to fit their needs and know they’re getting a high-quality hardware and software experience that’s smart, secure, and simply amazing,” Jamie Rosenberg, Google’s vice president of business and operations for Android and Google Play, said in a statement.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Cellcard employee is seen at the company’s sales office in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

But while HMD Global is looking to the future, it also has an eye on the past. One of the models it unveiled was the resurrected Nokia 8110, the iconic spring-loaded slider phone that starred in The Matrix. But even this retro 1990s handset has been modified for today’s internet and upgraded with 4G capability.

However, the show-stealer at this year’s Congress was futuristic 5G technology and the vast possibilities it presents for an increasingly connected world. While not yet available, 5G will allow connection speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G and with lower latency, which makes it well-suited for time-critical operations such as remote surgery and autonomous vehicles.

While Cambodia is unlikely to see a full 5G wireless network deployed before 2020, the country’s telecom operators have acknowledged the growing appetite for data speed.

Rithy Thul, founder of co-working space SmallWorld Cambodia, said that while existing 3G and 4G networks were sufficient for today’s smartphone users, a 5G network would give them much easier access to the increasingly heavy data and media content found on the Internet.

“Although, Cambodians are satisfied with today’s internet speeds, users already require higher [data] capacity,” he said. “Once network speed upgrades are available, users will require new smartphones and the fastest ISPs to utilise [the much higher download speeds].”

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