At a media event yesterday, mobile operator Digi said that it planned to offer 4G LTE service using the 1800Mhz spectrum but did not share any specific details on deployment when asked at the press conference.
Digi was announcing that its 4G LTE coverage in Klang Valley now stands at 79%.
“..In the next few quarters, Digi will be overlaying 1800 Mhz and 2600 Mhz spectrum for LTE. This will simultaneously increase network coverage, boost capacity and significantly improve both indoor and outdoor internet experience in the Klang Valley. In tandem, Digi continues to see marked network quality improvements with lower drop call rates, higher call set-up success rates, and increased data quality – all contributing to higher growth of customer satisfaction.” Digi said in a media statement.
The Telco have since taken a u-turn and now saying that its 1800Mhz 4G LTE network have been available in Penang and Sarawak. It did not say when those network were activated or why the limited area of availability.
Currently, Digi’s 2G network is using the 1800Mhz band, 3G on 2100Mhz and 4G LTE is largely on 2600Mhz.
At the 4G LTE press conference yesterday, two spokesperson, Loh Keh Jiat, Digi’s Chief Sales Officer (CSO) and Head of Postpaid, Praveen Rajan were present to take questions from the media. Unfortunately, Digi’s CEO, Albern Murthy wasn’t able to make it at the press conference despite he attended the launch. The new Chief Network Officer (CNO) of Digi, Kesavan Sivabalan was also not available at the press conference to take questions.
In response to one of the question on Digi’s 4G LTE deployment, Loh said “For us, we start with 2600Mhz… Technically we need to do some refarming before we can open up the 1800Mhz as well (for Digi 4G LTE)”
“Of course its our plan to ensure that 4G LTE could be run on 1800Mhz and 2600Mhz” he added.
MalaysianWireless later asked a direct question on 1800Mhz 4G LTE availability and its allocation of spectrum. Loh responded “We will expand as and when… it also depends on the availability of devices, the demand…”
According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), the most widely used spectrum for LTE network deployments continues to be 1800 MHz (3GPP band 3). 158 LTE1800 networks are commercially launched in 76 countries. 1800 MHz is used in almost 44% of LTE network deployments and also has the largest user devices ecosystem. Over 42% of LTE user terminals/devices can operate in the 1800 MHz band.
Apple iPhone 5, the first iPhone to have LTE, supports 1800MHz. This was one the main reason why Maxis and Celcom Axiata have deployed 1800Mhz 4G LTE since 2013.
LTE on 1800Mhz band have been popular around the world because base stations deployed at 1800 MHz have approximately twice the coverage of those at 2600 MHz. Another cost benefit of 1800MHz has to do with its current availability of the spectrum. Maxis, Celcom Axiata and Digi each already has a total of 50Mhz spectrum in the 1800Mhz band. Re-farming this spectrum to support LTE allows them to move to 4G without having to spend too much on network upgrade.
In response to MalaysianWireless on the question of spectrum, Praveen said he is not able to disclose the specific numbers relating to the “planned 1800Mhz” and 2600Mhz Digi 4G LTE deployment.
However, later in the afternoon, MalaysianWireless reached out to the CEO of Digi and was told that the Telco is allocating 20Mhz (10Mhz x2) spectrum for the 1800Mhz 4G LTE deployment.
Digi’s 4G LTE services, largely deployed using the 2600Mhz band, are currently available in the Klang Valley, Penang, Johor Bahru, Kuantan, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau, Labuan, Kuching, Miri, Bintulu, Kampar, Langkawi and Port Dickson. Its nationwide 4G LTE population coverage currently stands at 33% and it is targeting a 45% nationwide population coverage by year end.
The Telco said that its customers are already experiencing consistent LTE experience of more than 5Mbps, 80% of the time.
Digi has a total of 11.7 million subscribers as of the end of March 2015. Internet penetration in the network is currently at 56.7% (6.6 million subscribers) with more than 65% (about 5.3k) of them are prepaid users. 44% of Digi Internet subscribers have data usage above 500MB.
Some 53.2% of Digi subscribers are smartphone users. Out of these, 19.4% are smartphone users with LTE enabled device.