Smartfren: Going 4G LTE Only

Release Date:2018-02-02  Author:Reporter: Xiong Limin  Click:

Indonesia is witnessing a rapid increase in mobile internet usage as the number of smartphone users are growing strongly. This is a huge challenge for Smartfren Telecom, which used to be a CDMA-centric operator in Indonesia. However, it forges ahead with an LTE-only strategy with a focus on network reliability and experience. This is one of our main differentiators in the market, said Christian Daigneault, CTO of Smartfren, in an interview with ZTE Technologies that took place in November 2017. Being the first operator to deploy 4G LTE-A and VoLTE, offering the widest coverage across Indonesia and completing the first Pre5G trial in Southeast Asia, Smartfren continues to lead the 4G market and has successfully carved a niche for itself in it.  

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Could you describe the mobile landscape in Indonesia and your ambitions for it?
Recently, the mobile market in Indonesia has been developing very quickly. The internet penetration has risen quickly in the last few years. It used to be all voice service with 2G, and only five years ago the networks evolved to 3G; the traditional mobile voice market is developing to data, later with 4G. Today all five mobile operators in Indonesia have deployed 4G LTE. So it is a very competitive market with five strong competitors. 
Our ambition is in the next few years to become a strong No. 2 in the market. We have a relatively small market share at this point because we came from a CDMA background. At the time we launched LTE two years ago, our frequency band was not available for many devices, and the ecosystem was quite small for TDD at 2300 MHz. This has changed and now a large ecosystem supports our frequency band and VoLTE and we’re seeing our growth going much faster. Continuing on this trend, we think in the next few years we can become a strong No. 2. 
 
From your extensive telecom experience, what philosophy do you bring to Smartfren? 
The philosophy is to build a very strong network that provides the best customer experience. I am not just talking about offering the maximum speeds, which is more a marketing gimmick, but real broadband experience. We’re really focusing on minimizing video buffering, having a very short latency, a very fast download, and having very strong service stability. This is the focus of the whole team—to improve customer experience and network stability.

What is your overall network strategy? How do you plan to differentiate yourself?
Firstly, the strategy for the last two years has been to deploy an LTE-only network. We are the only operator in Indonesia with an all LTE network which guarantees a consistent data experience. This is one of our main differentiators in the market. We plan to turn off completely CDMA network by the end of 2017, and refarm that spectrum to LTE.
Secondly, we were first to introduce voice over LTE (VoLTE) two years ago. Our VoLTE now is at a mature stage, which is better than 2G and 3G. So we can also be differentiated by better voice quality. 
Thirdly, our customers are guaranteed to have 4G coverage nationwide in Indonesia, which means that even on the highways, in most remote areas, in tier 2 and tier 3 cities we have 4G LTE whereas in many of those areas the competitor only has 2G—a good voice network but no data. 

How did you manage the migration from CDMA to LTE? 
Since more than a year we have been offering our customers good incentives to move to LTE. We offered our Andromax smartphones and MiFi devices at good price, to motivate users to move to LTE. We are gradually turning off CDMA in the market where most of the customers have already migrated, and we intend to complete the migration by the end of 2017. As soon as we shut down the CDMA network, we refarm that spectrum for LTE. And since our CDMA uses low-frequency 850 MHz band, this brings extremely good coverage for LTE. We will use the refarmed spectrum to increase the capacity and throughput of LTE. Wherever we turned off CDMA and refarmed to LTE, the customer experience has improved significantly. (Note: Smartfren’s CDMA to LTE migration has already been completed.) 

Smartfren launched 4G LTE-A service in Indonesia with ZTE. What do you think of ZTE as a partner?  
ZTE has been a very good partner for the last 11 years for Smartfren. Earlier it was our exclusive partner to build the CDMA network nationwide in Indonesia. Three years ago we upgraded our network to LTE with the help of ZTE. So ZTE continues to be our long-term partner. I would say this is a very successful collaboration. 

Smarfren and ZTE completed a Pre5G trial. What’s your take on 5G? What’s your next move?
The Pre5G trial with Massive MIMO antenna in the 2300 MHz TDD band was done early in 2017. Now we’re planning to introduce this technology especially to improve in-building coverage in the large cities. This technology is good for 3D propagation, ideal to radiate inside a highrise building to improve the indoor coverage without having to spend too much for an expensive distributed antenna system. We’re working with ZTE to deploy several Massive MIMO sites in the large cities like Jakarta. This is a step toward 5G whereas for Indonesia, 5G is going to be some years away since the spectrum has not been allocated yet. We’re building the network in such a way that it will be ready for 5G when the spectrum and regulations allow.
 
What trends do you expect in the global telecom market?
Globally, the trend is towards more internet usage and the need for extreme reliability since customers become more and more dependent on mobile connectivity for all their needs. As the new normal, the data demand will increase exponentially but the capacity for customers to pay for their increased consumption is very limited, Therefore, the presure to lower cost per GB is stronger than ever. Operator needs to look for new architecture such as Cloud Core and RAN, to commoditize the hardware and implement software functionalities as required. This is a huge transformation for telecom operators since it requires re-training and recruiting new type of engineers, similar to the change to IP a few years back. This is perhaps not a good news for large telco vendors, since the technology will be simplified to the point of having a multitude of new vendors. This will in turn raise competition in the market and help reduce cost; all players in the industry need to adapt to this new trend to meet future cost challenges.

[Keywords] Smartfren, 4G LTE

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