Kcell launches LTE and announces network sharing with Beeline

Kcell has rolled out 4G services and announced a network sharing agreement with Beeline Kazakhstan, which Kcell CEO Arti Ots tells Capacity should reach 50% coverage by the end of 2017.

The rollout, which is being carried out in partnership with Ericsson, will see Kcell’s customers gain access to LTE in in the cities of Almaty, Atyrau, Aktau, Shymkent. It will be open to all of Kcell’s 10 million subscriber base, offering speeds of up to 100Mbps on the 800MHz and 1800MHz spectrum bands.

In addition, the agreement with VimpelCom-owned Beeline will open up 4G in a further nine cities: Astana, Karaganda, Zhezkazgan, Kostanay, Oskemen, Borovoe, Pavlodar, Semey and Satpayev, covering more than 30% of the population.

Speaking exclusivity to Capacity, Kcell JSC CEO Arti Ots said he expects this to increase to around 50% 4G coverage by the end of 2017, including all major cities in the region.

“This year, we will cover around 14 out of 18 cities, so next year we will cover them all and begin to cover smaller areas. We expect 50% coverage by the end of next year, and will see how it moves forward from there.

“In the last year or so, it became extremely important that we offer 4G. Especially following the merger of Tele2 with Altel. Today more than 25% of Kcell customers are using 4G/LTE smartphones so we are delighted to be launching this 4G/LTE network.”

Kcell first launched 4G pilots through hot spots in shopping malls in February, and said more than 200,000 unique subscribers had tested the service.

The launch comes more than three years after incumbent Kazakhtelecom first launched LTE networks through subsidiary Altel. In January 2014, Kcell said it was struggling to negotiate a 4G licence in the country to compete with the incumbent.

Ots said the struggle to launch 4G had led the operator to focus on improvements on its 3G infrastructure, which was showing test speeds of up to 20Mbps earlier this year.

“When we didn’t have LTE we made a very strong statement by improving our 3G network,” he added. “Our network became extremely good and I think our customers will appreciate those improvements. But now we can move forward with 4G. As 4G phone penetration has grown, it is now the ideal time for us to introduce LTE, because it maybe wasn’t a huge disadvantage a year ago, but now it would be.

“We focussed our efforts on making the maximum amount out of 3G technology to get speeds up to 20Mbps, so it wasn’t a big handicap, except for on especially congested sites. But all in all, our customers are very happy to get 4G but we don’t feel like we lost customers despite the delay.”

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