Turkey: Steps toward 4G

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A new deal between local telecommunications firms and the Turkish government is expected to see the introduction of a new 4G network in Turkey by 2016. This move has been hotly anticipated by telecoms operators, as they will be able to expand their services and offer new products that take advantage of the improved network speeds.

Aselsan Elektronik Sanayi & Ticaret, an Ankara-based firm that produces civilian and defence electronic systems, has partnered with Istanbul-based Netaş Telekomunikasyon and Argela, a software company owned by Türk Telekom, in a $46.8m contract with the Turkish government to build the network. The 4G system will be designed for both civilian and military use and will deliver mobile telecoms services at 100 Mbps and fixed-line communications at 1000 Mbps, compared to the current 10-40 Mbps offered by 3G.

According to Binali Yıldırım, the minister of transport, maritime affairs and communications, the deal will advance mobile technology in Turkey while injecting funds into the local economy. “Turkish telecom operators spend billions of dollars for telecoms equipment,” Yıldırım told local media in mid-February 2013 when the deal was announced. “We have to cut that spending and get them to use locally made equipment instead of imports.”

While 3G technology is a relatively new development in the country, having been introduced in 2008, it has expanded quickly. There were around 40.3m 3G subscribers in Turkey in December 2012, accounting for around 59% of total mobile users, according to a report prepared by the Information and Communications Technologies Authority of Turkey (BTK) – much higher than the European average of around 30%. The report also said there are 67.16m mobile subscribers, with 9.86m of these being mobile broadband subscribers as of the third quarter of 2012 – a growth rate of 141.7% year-on-year.

The 4G network, with its increased speed, is expected to bring better service to smartphone users in the country, who are increasingly using their handsets for internet access. According to Tayfun Acarer, president of BTK, Turkey ranks first among European countries in terms of voice calls and SMS messages, and third overall for mobile internet usage.

The increasing popularity of mobile phones and the prevalence of smartphones in particular have led local service providers to begin offering wider ranges of smartphone products and promotions. The new system will be an answer to the many mobile providers who have expressed their desire to expand into 4G services, believing these will help them to further increase their offerings and remain competitive.

In an interview with OBG, Acarer said that while Turkey was behind its European counterparts in establishing a 3G network, the delay has proved to be an advantage in that Turkey’s system uses more advanced technologies and will make the move to 4G easier.

Local service providers have recognised this and have already expressed their readiness to make the transition. At the global GSM Association’s Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona in late February, Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone, called for the creation of a 4G network in Turkey, saying the country presents a particularly important market for the company. Vodafone has already established 4G long-term evolution (LTE) services in Italy, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Germany and South Africa.

“There is no need to make a 4G test in Turkey,” Colao said. “We have already introduced 4G to six markets, including Germany. Our infrastructure in Turkey is using the latest technologies and we are in the process of acquiring a licence. We are ready to transition to 4G.”

In 2012 local operator Turkcell began launching speed tests for 4G through a limited long-term evolution (LTE) network in Istanbul. “4G networks are currently operating with speeds between 150 MB and 300 MB,” İlter Terzioğlu, the deputy director general of network operations at Turkcell, told local media. “After 2015, LTE technology is expected to reach speeds of between 600 MB and 1 GB.” Terzioğlu said Turkcell would continue to perform speed tests to deliver high-speed services to smartphone customers once a 4G network is established and licences are issued.

With the average age in Turkey at just under 30 years, and the rapid proliferation of online services, including retail, social media and e-government, local and international telecoms firms are looking forward to the opportunities that 4G will present. Demand for devices that are capable of utilising the higher speeds, such as next-generation smartphones and tablets, will allow firms to expand their product and service offerings, as well as their profit margins.

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