In our latest look at the mobile network experience in Sri Lanka, we see significant changes in our awards table. In our previous report, Mobitel won four awards and Dialog — two, while both operators shared the ribbon for 4G Availability. However, this time the tables have turned — Dialog secures four outright wins and shares three more joint victories with Mobitel. Dialog snatched the Download Speed Experience and Video Experience awards away from Mobitel, while also forcing statistical ties for Games Experience and Voice App experience awards with this operator. We saw the status quo in the case of our other awards — Dialog retained its Upload Speed Experience and 4G Coverage Experience awards, while still remaining locked in a statistical tie with Mobitel for 4G Availability.
5G services are not yet commercially deployed in Sri Lanka — but the first commercial launches could potentially happen in 2022. Mobitel plans to deploy a pre-commercial 5G service in 2021, ahead of the planned commercial launch next year — the roll-out depends on when the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) issues spectrum-allocating licenses in the 3.5 GHz band. Mobitel anticipates investing US$100 million for its 5G deployment plans, on top of the US$15 million it plans to spend on spectrum. Meanwhile, Hutch is working with the equipment manufacturer ZTE on developing the 5G platform and performed an inaugural 5G trial in March 2021.
Widespread 5G roll-outs in Sri Lanka will benefit from strong 4G foundations as initial 5G deployments using non-standalone access (NSA) require a 4G signal. However, 4G mobile coverage is not yet ubiquitous in Sri Lanka. TRCSL identified more than 2,000 dark spots with weak signals and that 122 of 152 Grama Niladari Divisions lack mobile broadband coverage. TRCSL passed two pieces of legislation to improve mobile coverage and service quality, partly to facilitate the planned introduction of Mobile Number Portability in October 2021. Actions taken by the policymaker include defining the minimum standards for mobile phones and solving issues around the non-utilization of mobile spectrum
Mindful of the existence of areas outside of the mobile broadband footprint on the island, Sri Lankan operators are heavily investing in the development of their network infrastructure. Dialog pledged to invest US$207 million by the end of 2021 to upgrade and improve its infrastructure, to increase rural coverage and capacity — the latter to support the increased mobile data consumption seen over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The operator also performed successful Open RAN commercial field trials, which could lead to further improvements in network coverage. Mobitel claims to have invested US$126.3 million annually in the past few years on developing its infrastructure, including 4G network expansion — and that it works closely with TRCSL to deploy new towers in the rural areas of the country. Airtel Lanka will deploy 37 new cell sites in Ratnapura (the capital of Sabaragamuwa Province) as part of the Gamata Sanniwedanaya project. In our future reports, we might see how these upgrade efforts from Sri Lankan operators result in the increased coverage and availability of 4G services and, consequently, in the improved mobile network experience in Sri Lanka.
In this report, we have analyzed the mobile network experience for Sri Lanka's four operators, Airtel Dialog, Hutch and Mobitel — over the 90 days starting April 1, 2021 and ending June 29, 2021.