May 2016, Ooredoo Myanmar got “first dibs” on 4G.
Qatar based operator announced in front of the press the launch of its LTE network. We all know the story. Telenor will follow 2 months later and MPT 6 months later.
Like its competitors, Ooredoo does not have spectrum for it and refarmed its 2100Mhz, squeezing a little bit 3G to make room for 4G. Based on our review, we can assume they allocate 2x5Mhz for 4G which gives them a maximum speed of 25-30mbps. Theoretical.
Unlike its competitors, Ooredoo has decided to make it for real. Telenor only launched 4G in Nay Pi Taw. MPT in Yangon but only in specific close locations. Ooredoo plan is much more ambitious. In 2016, Ooredoo is already covering 90% of Yangon, Nay Pi Taw, Mandalay and Bagan.
If you are interested to look at the exact coverage, you can access Ooredoo coverage map here. Untick UMTS900, tick LTE2100 and track the blue spots.
The stake for Ooredoo is high. Ooredoo is struggling to gain market share. Telenor is demonstrating solid growth with 17M subscribers and 37% market share whereas the state owned operator MPT is still ahead with 20M and 44% market share. Ooredoo lags behind with 9M subscribers. Ooredoo strategy is data. Since its launch and the bold decision to not launch a 2G network and to focus solely on 3G, it has made clear its intention to be the top of mind brand for millenials and anyone living the digital lifestyle.
Our expert team decided to test Ooredoo 4G service in Myanmar Plaza and here is the result.
Ooredoo advertisement in Myanmar Plaza is everywhere. Even with MPT ongoing 4G launch, Ooredoo completely OWNS the place. You cannot miss their colorful banners inside, outside, we are rapidly overwhelmed by Ooredoo 4G Plus. That is an impressive campaign but is the service up to the marketing efforts?
If you are a fellow reader, you already know that we raised concerns regarding these 4G initiatives in Myanmar that sound like big marketing events with no real technology breakthrough.
If you want to understand why, just take a look to our MPT 4G review here.
So coming back to our tests…
We bought a brand new 4G SIM from Ooredoo. And we topped up a few thousand kyats for a data package (the 4G packages are Ooredoo standard Internet plans).
Comfortably sitting at the mall upper floor (just a hint for Ooredoo RAN team), we started our benchmark.
Coverage in the building is decent according to our radio tool. Not as great as Telenor though. Which is a surprise considering Telenor advertising is completely absent in the mall.
We ran it over and over and the results always come up around 1-2mbps for download and upload really struggling to get 1mbps. It goes without saying that this is a mall and we can understand that the cells are pretty busy especially a saturday afternoon when the place gets crowded. Still, we find it incredible to see such poor performance for what it suppose to be the operator flagship mall.
When we see the marketing investment in the building, when we remember that Ooredoo has its own office in the corporate building right next to the mall, it is really hard for us to understand how it can let such poor performance happens without doing anything about it. This is a complete waste of marketing money and a very poor brand perception for an operator that pretends to be the digital leader in Myanmar.
We also ran a few pingtests to test latency on the radio access network (RAN). One of the big advantages of 4G is low latency. In 3G, you can expect 30-50ms between your cellphone and the nearest base station. In LTE, it is reduced to 10ms. Here again we were not impressed by the latency. More likely because the cell is congested and unable to process every packet as quickly as possible.
Customer experience is as bad as the tests. Browsing is slow, hectic, sometimes a few pieces load and then nothing. Then it comes back for some time and then goes away. Very unpleasant experience so far.
We really want to give Ooredoo the benefit of the doubt…
Our team cannot believe their service is so bad so we decide to continue the tests elsewhere. We took a drive around Bahan, first squatting around Shwegondaing road for some new results…
Once again, Telenor has a much better signal than Ooredoo. It is really not our intention to praise the norwegian operator but the results are definitely on its favor.
Latency is good but speedtest is horrible. We also decided to force the service to fallback in 3G HSPA+ to compare Ooredoo LTE vs Ooredoo 3G HSPA+ and the results were nearly similar. Even worst: during 30mn, we were absolutely unable to browse with Ooredoo 4G whereas the 3G network of the operator was working properly (to put it nicely…).
We kept on our roadtrip roaming cell after cell to find good speed. Finally around Singapore embassy, the results were much better.
Speed was great, latency low and the browsing experience was entirely satisfactory. We wish we would have this QoS / QoE all the way.
We continued our trip to Market Place and once again got pleasant results.
This is good. Not great. We are not being picky but this is more or less what to expect from a good 3G HSPA+ network loaded with customers. This is light year away from what our team expect from a 4G LTE network. But this is understandable with no dedicated spectrum.
Still, we are victims of an immense and organized scam.
At Myanmar Plaza, we were swamped with a tsunami of advertising about a so-called 4G Plus network that simply does not exist.
It goes without saying that we did not roam across the city to pursue these tests any longer. The objective of this review is not to provide a complete picture on Ooredoo 4G network performance. This is the job of Ooredoo RAN team (Hi guys, you have a lot on your plate…). It is very possible that in other areas, the network performance is much better. But this is mobile Internet. We are expecting customer experience to be consistent no matter where he is.
The conclusion here is that there is always a theoretical performance on a network. And this performance is almost never reached in the real world.
When your theoretical performance is already so low that you can barely call it 4G, how do you want to be credible in the real world? When you start facing congestion, radio sub-optimization and weak signal, obviously, you will be way below the standard.
How do you want to be credible when even your flagship, your headquarter, the belly of the beast show pathetic performance?
Do the operators really believe consumers will swallow the bitter pills of their fake publicity without being truly disappointed and betrayed deep inside them?
Once again, this review demonstrates that behind the spotlights, the reality about Internet in Myanmar is not that shiny.
At the end of the day, this is not “the operators vs. the consumers”. There is a third party that is completely absent of the front of the scene: the regulator, authority that gave the operators a license to operate, authority that has the power to sanction them.
The regulator has a key role to play in the market to control that the operators deliver what they promise. This is already happening across the world (like in India recently) and we truly believe Myanmar will follow that path soon enough.
Herbert is a nom de plume.
I am an experienced telecom professional blogging about the fastest growing Internet market in the world: Myanmar.