T-Mobile Netherlands gets network ready for 'Unlimited'

Tuesday 28 February 2017 | 14:39 CET | Background

T-Mobile Netherlands is stepping up its partnership with Huawei and adopting the vendor's Active Antenna Units with 4x4 MIMO. T-Mobile is preparing for an expected sharp rise in data traffic following the launch of its unlimited data plans, CTO Rachid El Hattachi told Telecompaper in an interview. 

The two companies have a managed service agreement for developing the mobile network. The new antennas will be selectively placed in T-Mobile's SingleRAN network built since it acquired additional auction in 2012. This is expected to double the capacity of the 4G network in 2017. 

The network expansion follows the operator's launch in January of the Go Unlimited plans, offering unlimited data for EUR 35 per month. El Hattachi declined to provide any customer numbers for the new plans, but said they had been well-received and were attracting new customers. 

SingleRAN network

T-Mobile started building its SingleRAN after the spectrum auction in December 2012. All sites use equipment able to handle 2G, 3G and 4G traffic over the same platform. Many of the upgrades could be done with software updates, without having to send out engineers.  

In addition, T-Mobile is investing in its core network and the transport network, plus fibre-to-the-site, in order to ensure sufficient capacity. The fibre-to-the-site roll-out is still underway and is expected to continue for some years. T-Mobile's LTE network first started with 1,800 MHz spectrum and it later added 10 MHz in the 900 MHz band to expand coverage. The dual-carrier system covers the entire country. 

Unlimited strategy

After several years of upgrade, T-Mobile's network was named the best in Europe in a benchmark test by P3 Communications. In measurements conducted in late 2015 and early 2016, the four Dutch mobile networks achieved the highest scores across all comparable networks in Europe and the US. 

The network upgrade prepared the groundwork for the launch of new offerings from T-Mobile, which has borrowed from its sister company in the US. In January T-Mobile launched five basic mobile plans. The flagship offer 'Go Unlimited' is available to consumers and small businesses and offers for EUR 35 per month unlimited calls, SMS and data in the Netherlands and while roaming in the rest of the EU.

T-Mobile expects the new offer will help grow its ARPU. Most Dutch customers spend around EUR 20-25 per month on mobile services, and the promise of unlimited data with no overage fees is expected to entice them to upgrade to the Go Unlimited plan. The expected growth in data traffic from the new offer means T-Mobile needs to continue to invest in more capacity, El Hattachi said. 

The next step is adding spectrum in the 2,100 MHz band to the 4G network. Around 1,500 such sites have already been activated in the last 2-3 months. T-Mobile is starting with one of its four carriers and later this year will add another 5 MHz. The refarming of the 3G spectrum is possible due to fewer customers using 3G-only phones.  

In the course of 2017, T-Mobile also plans to deploy the 20 MHz TDD spectrum it holds in the 2.6 GHz band to expand capacity further. In busy areas, network coverage will be further enhanced with LTE small cells.

Active antennas

Huawei's AAUs will be deployed at sites with the most traffic. The extra capacity can be used at peak traffic times, as well as to improve the general customer experience, providing all customers in a busy area with a higher average speed. This will benefit even customers without smartphones supporting tri-carrier aggregation. 

Managed Services contract

T-Mobile has worked with Huawei already for several years. Huawei provides the SingleRAN equipment in the radio network, as well as components of the core network. A few years ago it also took over daily management of the Network Operations Center. This cooperation will be extended and expanded, as part of T-Mobile's efforts to become a ‘lean operator, with the complete outsourcing of network build. As part of the managed services contract, T-Mobile employees will move to Huawei.  

T-Mobile Netherlands CEO Soren Abildgaard and Huawei Netherlands CEO Wonder Wang signed the agreement at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Wang said it was a successful partnership that had led to the best network. 

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