|Europe I 2009
|Mobile communications in Bulgaria
|Dr Plamen Vatchkov
|State Agency for Information Technology and Communications Bulgaria
Dr Plamen Vatchkov is the Chairman of Bulgaria’s State Agency for Information Technology and Communications. He chairs the National Radio Frequency Council and the Interdepartmental Commission for Space Research and is an Associate Professor in Technical Sciences. Dr Vatchkov has served in a wide variety of executive and academic posts including: Network construction Manager of Cabletel; Director of Information Technology, Overgas Holding; Managing Director of Bulvar Electronics, Ltd; Deputy Director of the Institute for Technical Cybernetics and Robotics of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; General Director of Micro Processor Systems corporation; and as an Assistant Professor at the Technical University in Moscow. Dr Vatchkov is currently a member of the Academic Council of the International University, the Balkan Academy of Sciences, the Federation of the Scientific and Technical Unions in Bulgaria and the Union of Scientists in Bulgaria. Dr Vatchkov is a former member of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Technical Cybernetics and Robotics. He was awarded the 2007 prize of the Bulgarian Association of Information Technologies for overall personal contribution to the development of the information technologies in Bulgaria. Dr Plamen Vatchkov earned his MSc in Industrial Electronics and PhD in Technical Sciences at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute. Dr Vatchkov has specialisations in Microprocessor Devices, Management and Quality Management.
Mobile operators in Bulgaria rely on well-developed 3G networks (GSM / GPRS / EDGE / UMTS / HSDPA) to provide access to 100 per cent of the population and almost full coverage of the country’s territory. The constantly growing demand for multimedia content, and to handle business applications for field workers, is forcing mobile operators to constantly upgrade their high-speed broadband Internet access. Bulgaria’s broadband access initiative joins governmental institutions, private business and non-governmental organizations to develop the country’s broadband access networks.
During the last decade, the Internet proved that it is a remarkable communication and network infrastructure. It is increasingly adapting to the needs of its users and becoming a main driver of globalization, it has changed communication habits and has led to the rethinking of the media sector. The penetration of high-speed broadband networks and the expansion of wireless technologies will lead to the emergence of many new interactive media and informational services. Mobile and wireless communications will provide end users with continuous access. What are the users’ preferences and needs regarding future multimedia communication services? Undoubtedly, it is constant and flawless access to services, devices and networks and instant delivery of meaningful information and content. Convergence breaks down market boundaries between telecommunications, domestic electronics, media services and the Internet. Telecommunications and cable operators increasingly offer ‘quad-play’ bundles of services that include TV, Internet access, fixed and mobile telephony. New media and Internet organizations download information and other content or stream information services via mobile communications. Mobile communications continue developing in a very dynamic way. According to the secretary general of ITU, Mr Hamadoun Touré, the number of subscribers worldwide will have reached four billion by the end of the year 2008. According to ITU forecasts, by yearend 2008 the distribution of cellular phones will be greater than 61 per cent. Europe is a leader in mobile communications, with some 553.46 million subscribers, and the mobile service penetration is 111.8 per cent. GSM, a European standard, is the most widely spread mobile technology with 2.6 billion subscribers – 80.6 per cent of the total. Although the growth in GSM subscribers slowed in 2007 due to migration to third generation technology, it still increased 24 per cent – 520 million new users. The second most popular technology worldwide, with a total of 310 million subscribers – 9.3 per cent of the total – is second generation CDMA technology, used mainly in North and South America and East Asia. Almost 200 million subscribers were using third generation technologies based on the GSM standard, or 3GS, which includes UMTS, HSPA, UMTD-TDD and FOMА technologies, at yearend 2007, an increase of over 100 per cent compared to 2006. Mobile operators in many countries are investing in higher capacity – broadband – data transfer connections to provide a variety of advanced location-based services and mobile TV. Location-based services use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to determine the user’s location and provide navigation services and information about nearby services. These services have grown rapidly; they generated revenues of US$515 million in 2007 and are expected to reach US$13.3 billion by 2013. Mobile television is also growing rapidly. According to the European Commission, total revenues from mobile television, via both traditional broadcast and mobile broadband data transmission will total EUR 20 billion by 2011 and reach 500 million individuals. The mobile operators’ investment in increasingly sophisticated infrastructure and the rapid technical advances of cellular apparatuses has generated has generated a great deal of excess capacity. Mobile virtual network operators – MVNOs – do not have their own infrastructure; they buy the capacity they need to serve their own customers from traditional mobile operators with excess capacity. MVNOs are growing throughout the world. In 2007, the world’s 300 MVNOs in 37 countries generated US$38 billion in revenues; they are expected to bill US$82 billion in 2010. WiMAX networks providing broadband Internet access, voice services, IPTV and video and audio on demand had 1.7 million subscribers by yearend 2007 and generated revenues of US$1 billion. According to WiMAXCounts, WiMAX will have 127 million subscribers by yearend 2014. Currently, most WiMAX users are in the Asia-Pacific region. Regions such as Eastern Europe and Latin America are likely to utilize WiMAX to increase the penetration of broadband access in underserved areas. In developed regions such as Western Europe, WiMAX adoption is slower given the great penetration of other broadband technologies. Bulgaria’s mobile networks and services segment, for the third consecutive year, leads the market in terms of total volume and continues to develop dynamically despite intense competition and growing market saturation. Total mobile service revenues keep rising; they grew 14 per cent in 2007 and by yearend amounted to BGN 2.1 billion, or 61 per cent of the country’s telecommunication market. In the year 2007, mobile subscribers increased by 20 per cent and the number of subscribers reached 9.9 million. The subscriber growth rate is now decreasing; the high penetration of mobile services clearly indicates the market’s increasing saturation and its maturity within the product life cycle. Mobile operators rely on their well-developed 3G networks (GSM/GPRS/EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA) to provide access to 100 per cent of the population and almost full coverage of the country’s territory. The constantly growing demand for multimedia content, and to handle business applications for field workers, forces mobile operators to constantly upgrade their high-speed, broadband, Internet access. National competitiveness also depends upon the penetration of broadband access and the readiness of citizens and companies to use the available resources fully. Two years ago, Bulgaria launched a broadband access initiative that committed governmental institutions, private business and nongovernmental organizations to create a strategy and a national program for development of the country’s broadband access networks. The most widely used broadband technologies in Bulgaria are LAN and RLAN (57.3 per cent of all subscribers), followed by хDSL (25.2 per cent) and cable access (14 per cent). WiMAX, a new wireless technology, has been available in Bulgaria since yearend 2007; its market share is just 0.25 per cent, but it is growing. Internet use in Bulgaria will continue its growth with the introduction of wireless networks and the development of existing optical networks and ADSL service. Operators’ triple play offerings – IPTV, telephone service and high-speed Internet all bundled and delivered together will help drive demand for broadband as well. The availability of a variety of content suppliers and new interactive services will intensify competition and lead to more affordable, higher quality services for consumers. WiMAX usage in Bulgaria is still insignificant and the ratio of domestic to business subscribers is almost equal. The total revenue from WiMAX wireless services for the year 2007 was BGN 92 thousand – an insignificant part of the Bulgarian electronic messaging market. Nevertheless, the fact that WiMAX networks have succeeded, in a relatively short period, in attracting a reasonable number of users indicates that the use of these point-multipoint networks will grow in the long run. The future of the market for WiMAX-type networks is related to the need for both mobile services and broadband Internet access. Wireless high-speed Internet access is an attractive ‘last mile’ alternative in many situations and is a potential competitor to DSL, cable, optical or LAN broadband. Many mobile equipment manufacturers intend to support WiMAX in future mobile handsets so WiMAX may become a competitor in the mobile broadband market. Bulgarian wireless network service providers have yet to complete building their networks so they can reach more users. The plans of the wireless network service providers called for investments of BGN 46.8 million to extend their networks during 2008; that is 6.6 per cent of all investments for electronic messaging in Bulgaria for 2008. The telecommunication sector’s objective is to increase data transmission speed through 3G and WiMAX wireless technologies. Long Term Evolution (LTE) is a new standard that provides an evolutionary path for higher-speed service than GSM/EDGE or UMTS/HSxPA technologies provide. LTE and WiMAX are the next, the fourth, generation of broadband mobile systems; these Next Generation Networks (NGN) provide the access needed for new higher-speed broadband services. The new fibre optical networks (FTTH and FTTN, FTTC), will drive competition in future. The next generation wireless networks will be able to deliver high resolution content including HD TV (high definition television), interactive applications at speeds that will one day reach gigabits per second speeds. With NGNs, wireless technologies will have an ever more significant role.