Exclusive: VimpelCom launches LTE 450MHz in Armenia

20 July 2016 | Jason McGee-Abe

Capacity has exclusively learnt that VimpelCom has partnered with Huawei in successfully rolling out an LTE service on the 450MHz spectrum in Armenia.

ArmeniaThe low 450Mz frequency, well-known for its radio and military use, is able to travel much further than higher bands, reaching more rural areas as a result of its propagation. Yogesh Malik, CTO of VimpelCom, told Capacity that it means that it would not need to deploy as many base stations and enables the operator to become more “asset-light”.

The news comes one month after VimpelCom announced that it had signed a $1 billion IT deal with Ericsson to radically transform its IT infrastructure. Malik said: “We believe that the current construct of telecommunications is not going to last long and we’re at a redefining moment as an industry. This particular rollout represents almost instant on-the-edge innovation.” What's more impressive is that the project only started earlier this year.

Rural areas in many countries are deprived of broadband connections and VimpelCom is unleashing broadband potential says Malik: “It’s a strong belief of ours, if we have spectrum and can convince regulators, to move towards tech neutrality. We would like to take the newest technologies, which is LTE 450 in this case, on the block.”

Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) is still valuable, says Malik, but “you can’t add fibre to every single home”. “Our LTE 450 service would be complementary, just like Wifi complements the data traffic. At the end of the day the users satisfied data traffic controls and we become increasingly accessible everywhere.”

Yogesh Malik

The rollout in Armenia was heavily focused on enhancing the broadband customer experience, Malik tells Capacity. Low frequencies, such as 450MHz, 700MHz, 800MHz and 850MHz, are still used today but Malik says that some are not used anymore and with new knowledge and technology the main challenge now is “to educate the customer in how tech neutrality from CDMA 450 to LTE-450 is going to benefit the customer. It’s the same frequency but is being uplifted in a much-bigger way.”

Malik says VimpelCom is certainly looking to roll LTE 450MHz in more countries, revealing: “We’re working with the regulators in two other countries to roll it out, but I can’t elaborate any further at this point.” He did divulge that the infrastructure, strategy and backend systems would be ready for a quick rollout.

It’s not the first time LTE 450MHz has been rolled out. Ukko Mobile in Finland launched its LTE 450MHz network in 2014 using infrastructure, also provided by Huawei, claiming a 99.9% coverage of the country on its launch. “Norway and Finland have both done this so the potential is there,” says Malik.

Tele2 Russia recently launched LTE-450 networks in Russia, where VimpelCom is one of the Big Three operators. However when asked, Malik said that the Armenia launch was not linked to Tele2 Russia’s rollouts.

Malik has highlighted to Capacity three strategic pillars, “centered on real-time customer experience, asset-light infrastructure and virtualisation”, which the operator focuses on daily and is helping to redefine itself:

(1) Becoming closer to the customer through personalisation and productisation of their data. Improving and empowering customer lifestyles through less physical channels;

(2) Creating an environment and infrastructure that will enable real-time personalisation. “Today, many OTTs have become more real-time than the telcos who are serving the OTTs in my view,” Malik says;

(3) “Becoming asset-light is extremely critical,” he adds, by addressing physical infrastructure, like towers, and looking more heavily into network sharing, consolidation, and virtualisation. “We need to rollout new frequencies and technologies in a way that coverage can be enhanced in a very cost-effective manner, taking the innovative disruption all the way to the edge of the networks. That’s our overall strategy.”

Further benefits of LTE-450 can be envisaged when looking at M2M deployments and connections to offload traffic from other bands, but a key challenge VimpelCom may face in rolling it out in more countries is the legacy of many enterprise customers still using the 450MHz frequency.