A1 Telekom Austria Group’s Belarusian mobile subsidiary VELCOM has announced the launch of 4G LTE services in the cities of Minsk and Gomel, and parts of the Minsk region, using the common infrastructure of national LTE access provider BeCloud Technologies (beCloud). Coming more than three years after rivals MTS Belarus and Belarusian Telecommunications Network (BeST, life:)) launched 4G in the Republic via beCloud’s 1800MHz/2600MHz network, VELCOM has announced that it is now able to provide its customers access to advanced mobile internet speeds via 530 beCloud base stations operating at 1800MHz. LTE services are supported by VELCOM’s own 3G network which currently comprises 3,750 base stations, providing coverage of more than 97% of the territory of Belarus. Further, it plans to augment its W-CDMA infrastructure with 1,800 base stations operating at 2100MHz in the near future, providing a capacity increase of around 30%.
Commenting on the 4G LTE launch, Helmut Douz, General Director, VELCOM, said: ‘We are acting in accordance with the requirements set by the regulator for the Belarusian telecom market, and we are deploying a 4G network on the network of the infrastructure operator beCloud, in order to provide our subscribers with the opportunity to use both technologies – 4G, which is prevalent mainly in large cities, and 3G from VELCOM working steadily throughout Belarus.’
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, having been given the go ahead to introduce 4G tariff plans in May 2016 by the Ministry of Communications and Informatisation (Minsvyazi), VELCOM opted not to follow rivals MTS and BeST in using beCloud. Instead, in November 2016 it claimed to be ready to launch its own 4G LTE network and to that end, was seeking the requisite permissions to do so. Deputy General Director for Marketing, Sales and Customer Service, Robert Dashyan, was quoted at the time as saying that the company was fully prepared to unveil its own 4G service, having readied its 2,500-strong network of base stations to do so. ‘We just need to get a licence,’ he said, noting that under local rules the mobile operator cannot arbitrarily reallocate its existing frequencies in order to use a new technology such as LTE. Nevertheless, Dashyan confirmed that a launch could theoretically take place at any point, adding that VELCOM needed only to ‘download the software for the equipment’ as its commitment to adopting a technological neutral approach on its network means it can activate 2G, 3G or 4G on any of its existing frequencies. No such launch has, however, taken place and instead the MNO appears to have thrown its lot in with its rivals in backing beCloud’s option.