5G Network Experience in Maldives

Maldives

Though 5G launches around the world are slowly gaining some pace since 2021, most of the Asian countries are still left out. Our recent trip to one of the most surreal holiday destinations in Asia resulted in an unexpected surprise. We traveled to the Maldives in January 2022. The Maldives has been one of the first countries in the world to open its borders for tourism amid the pandemic. Since 2021, rules have been relaxed for fully vaccinated travelers.

Contrary to my last travel to UAE, the travel experience to the Maldives was much more relaxed and hassle-free. We were greeted by the scenic island of Male with clear waters of the Indian ocean. The country of Maldives is formed by 20 natural atolls. Out of which, we had planned to visit at least two with four islands in total.

North Male and South Male atoll

After reaching the airport we were offered a couple of SIM options – Oreedoo and Dhiraagu. We chose Dhiraagu since it was offering a much cheaper traveler plan with 17 GB of data. Out of curiosity, I did an inquiry with the salesperson about the availability of 5G. I got to know that 5G is available in the Maldives with very limited availability. The device I used this time was my iPhone 13 mini. My model of iPhone (A2628) supported 19 5G NR bands in sub-6 spectrum, thus more possibility of getting long-range 5G signal.

After inserting the SIM into my device, it took a few seconds for the network registration. Initially, the SIM latched on the LTE network but within a minute it switched to 5G (the happiness!). The signal looked more stable and the 5G network was consistent at the airport. This availability makes Dhiraagu/Oreedoo the only operators and Maldives the only country in South Asia to have 5G availability for consumer use.

I conducted a few speed tests and noticed the average downlink speed around 170 Mbps, just a little more than what was on 4G. Uplink speed was not optimized for 5G, just like Etisalat (UAE). The network looks like non-standalone (NSA) where gNodeB communicates with EPC (4G core) instead of 5G core.

We went to our hotel located in Hulhumale’, a new artificial island in the Maldives located outside Male’ city. I noticed that the 5G signal was consistent most of the time, especially when outdoors. In the denser area of the city, it used to fall back to 4G since the signal getting blocked by buildings, given the higher frequency. The 5G speed in Hulhumale area too, was a little above 4G. For voice calls, the network was falling back to 3G using CSFB. It looked like Dhiraagu had no IMS deployment for its LTE network, which enables voice-over IP network (VoLTE). Also, it’s too early to expect VoNR from operators as well as OEMs.

We stayed on two different public islands – Dhiffushi and Maafushi, respective on the north and south side of the capital Male’. As soon as we left the Male’ island we lost the 5G signal. However, it was really admirable that LTE was available almost everywhere in the Maldives, on public islands, sandbanks, and even in the waters when we were on the speedboat.

After our return to Male’ city, we did a short tour near the city’s coastal side where the Dhiraagu headquarters were located. 5G network was again available intermittently. Due to the dense structure of the capital city, the signal was falling back to LTE when we entered inside the lanes. The 5G downlink speed was averaging around 450 Mbps, significantly more in this area compared to Hulhumale.

It was a great experience to have experience of 5G in South Asia. Though the availability is currently limited to the capital island, there are a lot of opportunities to harness the potential of this next-gen technology in remote islands. 5G can be a virtual bridge and an information expressway between 1200 coral islands of this country, enabling so many latency-sensitive and mission-critical use cases. I hope the Maldivian operators take steps in the right direction to leverage the same.

Verizon Launches ‘On Site 5G’ – a private 5G network solution

Verizon Business recently announced the launch of On Site 5G – Verizon’s first private 5G network solution in the US. It is the first commercially available private 5G network solution in the country. The solution is intended for the large enterprises and public sector customers who want to bring private and secure 5G networks in their campuses, manufacturing facilities, warehouses etc. Private 5G will enable the features like real-time edge compute, IoT data applications, and data-intensive applications.

On Site 5G networks are custom-designed and managed by Verizon, allowing large enterprises to bring Verizon’s Ultra-wide Band (UWB) capabilities to indoor and outdoor facilities where high-speed, low-latency and high-capacity is necessary. This is irrespective of whether the premises is within Verizon’s UWB coverage. The solution will allow large enterprises and public sectors to fine-tune the 5G experience as per the demand.

On Site 5G operates as a non-standalone private network that combines 5G UWB small cells with LTE packet core (EPC). That also means On Site LTE customers can upgrade to On Site 5G with ease. It will enable customers with a scalable and customizable platform to take advantage of developments in technologies such as massive IoT, AI/ML, AR/VR. Hence to improve operational efficiency and accelerate digital transformation.

Can mmWave 5G replace Wi-Fi? OpenSignal’s report says so.

For years, Wi-Fi has been the go-to choice of internet users that demand faster, reliable and uninterruptible service with consistent bandwidth. Although cellular is a popular alternative to Wi-Fi with LTE+ services getting cheaper, it still cannot be counted as a Wi-Fi replacement due to issues like bandwidth inconsistency and higher latency. However, as per the latest report from OpenSignal, with arrival of 5G mmWave, this is no longer the case. This post uses data from OpenSignal’s analysis.

Users connected to public Wi-Fi, can experience average download speeds of 21 Mbps. Public Wi-Fi already has limited availability. 5G experience may differ depending on the frequency being used to offer the service. For example, the users connected to widely available sub-6 5G may experience average download speeds of 64 Mbps. The same users, when connected to 5G mmWave with compatible hardware can experience whooping average download speeds of 640 Mbps, 10 times as high as sub-6 5G and almost 30 times as high as public Wi-Fi.

Data from OpenSignal for average download speeds of wireless interfaces

Public Wi-Fi, in its nature has its own limitations, which can explain the slower speeds experienced by users. As Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum and unmanaged frequencies, its signal often suffers due to interference by competing signals. There are often multiple Wi-Fi networks in one place competing for non-abundant frequencies. Thus, public Wi-Fi is subject to interference, effectively slowing the network speed. On the other hand, 5G uses wireless spectrum that is licensed to only one carrier. Hence, there is no chance of interference. Standards like 5 GHz Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi 6 have been introduced solve this issue. However, their availability is very limited when it comes to public Wi-Fi. Since public Wi-Fi is often a free service, service providers may not have upgraded their access points. Public Wi-Fi is often a gateway to a wired broadband connection that might be using older technology (for example, ADSL) and is often not upgraded. Due to this, the network often has limited capacity and speeds suffer in case multiple users are connected. On the other hand, a 5G carrier uses a backhaul connection to a base station that is usually upgraded by the operator to ensure the best user experience.

Sub-6 and mmWave comparison (Image source: Qualcomm)

Though 5G mmWave offers promising high speeds and lowest possible latency, its current availability of is very limited. mmWaves aka Millimeter waves are extremely high frequencies and are subject to atmospheric attenuation, which significantly affects the coverage of a single 5G mmWave base station. The operator can overcome this limitation by installing multiple 5G mmWave base stations in public places to ensure seamless coverage. The number of 5G mmWave base stations to be installed is way more than that of sub-6 5G and 4G LTE base sations. These 5G mmWave base stations form small cells. The operator may deploy many of these at malls, cafes, restaurants, parks and so on. This makes makes a small cell of 5G mmWave very similar to a public Wi-Fi network and an mmWave base station similar to a Wi-Fi access point. Thus, unlike traditional cellular networks, 5G mmWave can be a perfect replacement to public Wi-Fi, whenever available.

However, Wi-Fi will still continue to play its role at home and work locations as it is free, cheap and often without any data cap. As almost all of existing devices support Wi-Fi or old cellular technologies and lack necessary 5G hardware, Wi-Fi and 5G mmWave will continue to complement each other for first few years. Slowly but steadily, users will get onboard 5G and use it as a preferred choice over the Wi-Fi. The operators can use this opportunity to offer significantly better connectivity to users in dense urban localities where Wi-Fi speeds suffer due to interference.