Race to roll out 4G in Vietnam: Winners to be revealed in the long run

As expected, the race to launch 4G services in Vietnam has been full of drama ever since the first days and has become more and more exciting as of late as mobile carriers are set for a full-scale nationwide launch in a few days’ time.

Race to roll out 4G in Vietnam: Winners to be revealed in the long run

For now, Viettel is enjoying a considerable advantage over its competitors thanks to its methodical yet somewhat daring preparations. But experts have said that it is still too early to say who will ultimately take the cake as there are still other decisive factors such as service quality and costs, and the overall winners will be determined after a long-distance race.

Pioneering steps

Less than two months after being granted the licence to provide 4G services, Viettel began a widespread SIM card switching plan since early January even though the company was still in the process of building infrastructure. With simple and time-saving procedures and with a network of more than 1,600 outlets in every corner of the country, Viettel’s scheme has created a frenzy, giving it an initial edge over other service providers on the tough competitive market.

According to its own statistics, millions of users rushed to Viettel’s outlets to exchange their current SIM cards to 4G-enabled ones for free in the first week of the programme. Subscribers of other carriers also secured Viettel’s 4G SIM cards so that they could also enjoy this advanced technology.

In the meantime, Vinaphone did not implement its free 4G-enabled SIM card swap plan until mid-February despite being the first carrier to be licensed and given the rights to broadcast 4G signals in Vietnam. Around this time, Mobifone also began allowing its customers to switch to 4G-enabled SIM cards but the exchange is only free for those who have never switched before while others have to pay VND25,000. It is reported that this carrier also had launched a free SIM card switching programme before but it only applied to those who have subscribed for at least ten years, a criterion that few could meet.

Focus on quality

Clearly, both Vinaphone and Mobifone’s slow pace has enabled Viettel to gain a significant initial advantage in this new gruelling race of the telecommunications market. But such an advantage does not mean Viettel will be the most profitable over the long run because the result of the race ahead involves many factors, with quality service being the most important one.

4G is a new technology with many superior benefits in terms of speed and stability. Therefore, for 4G to be truly 4G, and not 3G+, mobile carriers have to possess strong and widespread infrastructure to provide consistent quality to its customers. Viettel’s Deputy General Director Tao Duc Thang says if there are too few 4G broadcasting stations and narrow coverage, 4G speeds may only meet 3G+ standards. That is why as soon as being granted the licence to offer 4G services, Viettel got down to procuring and installing equipment with plans to set up about 36,000 4G stations to ensure a widespread and extensive 4G coverage. At present Viettel has activated 28,000 stations and after only four months, the company’s 4G signals have covered 99% of all districts in Vietnam.

Vinaphone Chairman Luong Manh Hoang says its 4G services will cover all of the country’s 63 provinces and cities by the end of 2017. In order to ensure the quality and stability of its 4G network, Vinaphone has selected the best equipment, software and technologies from the world’s leading providers. The company has also installed equipment based on careful calculation and testing to guarantee quality and stability. Finally, Vinaphone also aims to provide 4G services at the best quality by timely addressing arising issues.

For Mobifone, the company is in the process of installing about 8,000 stations in 2017 in 53 provinces and cities. In the initial phase, Mobifone will only focus on major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang and roll out services in the remaining localities in later phases.

At present, in addition to promptly building infrastructure, carriers are also pushing digital content development, which is also a strategy to diversify their offerings and enhance the quality to attract more customers. The race to roll out 4G services has entered its final phase but there is still a long road ahead and only the carriers that provide the best service quality will have opportunity to be ‘winners’.