In an interview with TeleGeography Research, Daniel Kupsin, private investor and the new owner of Bulgarian wireless broadband operator Max Telecom, discussed some of the challenges the company is facing in relation to the forthcoming introduction of Long Term Evolution (LTE) services in the country, which is scheduled to take place by June 2014. A newcomer to the voice wireless market, Max Telecom walked away from the country’s frequency auction in December 2011 with a 2×8MHz block in the 1800MHz spectrum band and subsequently indicated that the company would begin rolling out a pilot LTE mobile broadband network in the second half of 2012 with Nokia Solutions & Networks (NSN) contracted in July 2013 to build the LTE network, overlaying its existing WiMAX system.
Mr Kupsin pointed out that Bulgaria is among the top countries in the world in terms of broadband transmission speeds, and as such users expect high speed broadband access, regardless of the type of access technology. The owner added: ‘With 4G LTE we could offer the type of high speed broadband mobile internet access that Bulgarians require. It may be that wireless mobile internet will begin to replace fixed line broadband in some homes, just as mobile phones have begun to replace fixed telephony.’ Mr Kupsin stated: ‘We see a niche, which we want to occupy, because we believe that Bulgaria, like any other country in the world (including many emerging markets), will see great benefits of 4G LTE. We are working on many exciting products – including content distribution, home automation, and financial services with potential partners, mobile advertising, and some other ideas, which I feel reluctant to disclose at this point.’
In order to meet the increased demand for mobile data, Max Telecom is planning to increase its backhaul capacity: ‘At this time we have 100Mbps to each site. The transmission will be increased to 1Gbps for our commercial launch. This will fulfil all our present and planned requirements’, he revealed. Further, he agreed that voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) is a key future trend for voice services, hinting that it could be a point of differentiation for Max Telecom: ‘VoLTE promises to provide better quality digital sound (High Definition Voice). We will offer our customers this experience, and utilise our state-of-the-art network, which will allow voice services to be provided more efficiently than is available with other technologies.’
Max Telecom is also planning to make use of recent regulation on national roaming services, published by telecoms regulator the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC) in September 2013, which is beneficial to new mobile market entrants, as it allows them to roam over the networks of more established players. ‘It simply does not make sense for Max Telecom to build yet another 2G/3G network in Bulgaria… Our approach is to develop a new technology [in order] to offer the market something new and also rent the existing technology from the other carriers’, Mr Kupsin said. However, the WiMAX technology, which was launched by Max Telecom back in 2007, might become a thing of the past, as the network provider is looking to gradually migrate its existing subscribers to the LTE platform after its introduction. According to Kupsin ‘WiMAX is a standard, which may have its small niche (like in certain B2B segments, M2M, VPN, etc). But it has been evident to Max Telecom for the past several years, that this technology has little prospect for massive commercial exploitation, as it was not incorporated into many mobile handsets.’
At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last week, Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the European Commission’s (EC’s) Digital Agenda said that the introduction of new technology had far greater benefits than improved telecommunications services. Kroes said that next generation technology is essential to boost the region’s economy, tackling youth unemployment, and generally showing the world that Europe remains at the forefront of technology innovation. However, Europe currently lags behind the US in the introduction of LTE, with only 2.9% of active mobile handsets in Western Europe having access to LTE, compared to 24.5% in the US, according to EC Digital Agenda figures dated 31 December 2013. Meanwhile, in Central and Eastern Europe the percentage is even lower, at 0.3%.