Realizing Vietnam's 4G ambition

Kurian Manjakkal / CBNL

OpenSignal, a global mobile application provider, recently revealed that the average mobile broadband speed in Vietnam is 3.81Mbps, lagging far behind the Asian average which Ookla stated last year was 10.9Mpbs. This, coupled with a predicted rise in the number of smartphone users from 20.7 million in 2015 to 35.2 million in 2020, has resulted in mobile operators coming under growing pressure to increase mobile network capacity. Doing so will not only meet growing consumer demand, but enable Vietnam to fully harness the benefits of the mobile revolution, which is proven to directly and indirectly increase GDP.

In order to evolve their mobile services, Vietnam’s operators are looking to launch 4G, which can reach 10x higher mobile speeds than existing 3G deployments. By deploying 4G, key services like rich content social media, high definition calls and video streaming are all made possible.

Following Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Technology’s announcement that it will grant 4G licenses later this year, coupled with Mobifone’s launch of the north-south backbone transmission line (considered a step towards 4G deployment), it is clear that momentum is building.

Yet despite the clear economic advantages and appetite for 4G, there are barriers to adoption. As Vietnam currently has a low average revenue per user (ARPU), operators may struggle to make the future business case for investment in higher capacity networks. For large portions of the network, particularly backhaul, cost efficiency is therefore paramount. With fiber backhaul often very slow to build out, and too expensive to make a universally attractive business case, it is wireless backhaul that will enable operators to realize their 4G ambitions.

Backhauling next generation networks

For 3G wireless backhaul, Vietnamese operators traditionally relied on unlicensed spectrum. However, as mobile traffic increases, these frequencies have become congested, increasing risk of an unreliable quality of service (QoS) and slower data rates.

This lack of bandwidth in sub 6-GHz spectrum has prompted operators to look to higher frequency licensed spectrum, which offers the increased backhaul capacity and guaranteed QoS that 4G requires. Until recently, the operators’ only option to access licensed spectrum has via been point-to-point (PTP) technology, the high cost of which has created a financial barrier to adoption. Fortunately, the latest ultra-efficient wireless technology has created a vastly more attractive business case to unlock the licensed 10.5, 26 and 28-GHz frequencies in Vietnam, releasing the high capacity bandwidth that can deliver 4G.

Technologies include licensed point-to-multipoint (PMP), which through reductions in equipment and more efficient use of spectrum can offer a more financially viable route to the benefits of licensed spectrum. This was recently established in a report by analyst firm Real Wireless, who revealed that the total cost of ownership for licensed PMP was 50 percent less that of PTP. This cost efficiency is achieved through PMP’s ability to backhaul multiple mobile cell sites from a single radio unit, enabling equipment, spectrum and site rental costs to be amortized across a number of links.

Momentum for licensed PMP is surging both globally and throughout Asia, with Indonesia and the Philippines recently joining 46 other countries in adopting the technology for high capacity networks. Some of the world’s densest cities such as New York, London, Lagos and Manila have also benefited from PMP as operators quickly roll out premium broadband and 4G backhaul.

Building the 4G future

With demand for higher capacity services increasing, operators must look to leverage the new backhaul technologies that can drive the 4G revolution in Vietnam. By unlocking the new and more profitable high frequency business models on offer, operators have the capacity to launch a multitude of high bandwidth mobile services, whilst making significant cost savings. Only by utilizing this new wave of wireless technology will Vietnam deliver 4G to the doorsteps of people and businesses across the country, opening up a wealth of long-term socio-economic benefits.

Kurian Manjakkal is vice president for APAC at CBNL