Jayhun Mollazade, AzQtel: We want to overlay Baku with LTE
and then move the WiMax equipment to rural areas.
the WiMax there until we have successfully rolled out TDD LTE
WiMax operator AzQtel is planning to start switching its
customers in Azerbaijan to TDD LTE as soon as it can conclude
negotiations with potential vendors.
The company has been running WiMax operations in Baku, the
capital, and a number of other cities since 2007 and it
relaunched using the brand name Sazz three years later.
Now, though, the network is full in the urban areas, says CEO
Jayhun Mollazade, and the company is planning to overlay it
with the TDD — time-division duplex — variant
of LTE, the 4G system which is the latest generation of the
global GSM family.
"There is more demand that we can supply," says Mollazade, who
was speaking to Global Telecoms Business at Mobile World
Congress in Barcelona in February. "We want to overlay Baku
with LTE and then move the WiMax equipment to rural areas.
We’ll keep the WiMax there until we have
successfully rolled out TDD LTE nationwide."
Mollazade was speaking to Global Telecoms Business at an event
hosted in Barcelona by Huawei, one of the biggest proponents of
TDD LTE technology, but according to him AzQtel has not decided
which vendor to use.
"At the moment we are in negotiation with vendors to come up
with a solution for the migration from WiMax to TDD
WiMax still has three years of life in rural areas "and 60
smaller towns", says Mollazade, "but for the capital city and
other cities we are moving to LTE". That will require 350 to
400 base stations, he says, while 450 WiMax base stations will
be moved to the countryside.
The TDD variant of mobile technology was originally proposed by
Chinese developers and the Chinese government imposed it on
China Mobile when it awarded 3G licences. It has not taken off
seriously outside China for 3G systems, but is increasingly
being seen as an attractive proposition for 4G data networks.
Most networks, on 3G and 4G, use frequency-division duplex.
That allocates the same bandwidth for transmissions in each
direction — one channel from the base station to the
handset, an identical channel from the handset to the base
station. That’s ideal for voice conversations,
when each party is likely to be speaking, but is seen as
wasteful of bandwidth for data services where the end user is
consuming services, whether websites, video or games, rather
than uploading data. With TDD the same channel is used for the
terminal-base station link in both directions.
"TDD LTE will give us a chance to get more out of the
technology," says Mollazade. "Our network is gradually
saturating. There are limits to how much you can carry."
The fundamental problem is, he says, that "you
can’t put WiMax base stations closer than about
300 metres together" in order to serve more customers. "But we
are already doing that." With TDD LTE, vendors including Huawei
and its rivals are developing techniques to pack base stations
more densely together, including in some cases using a mixture
of large — or "macro" — cell sites and small
picocells to fill in the gaps or provide coverage in buildings.
Developers are also working on the technical challenges that
occur when signals from neighbouring LTE base stations overlap.
"Increasing capacity is our major goal for 2013-14, and we see
that in TDD LTE," says Mollazade. "We’re better
prepared for this technology, and the downloading capability of
TDD LTE is higher than the uploading."
Mollazade was born in Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet
Union, in 1960, and after independence when the USSR broke up
he became Azerbaijan’s chargé
d’affaires to the US for a couple of years in the
early 1990s. Now a US citizen, he became a consultant working
on energy and other infrastructure projects.
He lives in Washington DC but spends an increasing amount of
time in his homeland. He is listed as a member of the board of
directors for 2009-10 of the US-Azeris Network, which also says
he is president of the US-Azerbaijan Council.
Mollazade set up AzQtel — which is not related to
Qtel, the Qatar-based operator now called Ooredoo — in
2005 and began to raise funds to build the wireless broadband
network. Eight years ago LTE was but a dream, but the first
draft standards for WiMax had been drawn up a few years before.
"We are not a traditional GSM operator," says Mollazade. "We
are a wireless data provider, so we have more downloaded data
The company has spectrum of 128 megahertz in the 3.5-3.6
gigahertz band. "We can build five or six channels of 20
megahertz each to give good bandwidth to our customers," says
Mollazade. Each channel can carry data at possibly up to 100
megabits a second, "and definitely 70 to 75 megabits", he
notes, "but we could double that by spectrum aggregation", as
defined by the LTE-Advanced standard.
The present Sazz WiMax network promises "download speeds of up
to 10 megabits", according to the website, at a monthly cost to
residential customers of 25 Azerbaijani manat, equivalent to
about $32. Business customers are charged 30 manat a month.
The market in Azerbaijan is "very vibrant", he says, with
competition from a number of 3G operators. "The president of
Azerbaijan has been very supportive, and 2013 is the year of
ICT [information and computing technology] in Azerbaijan." The
government has allocated $500 million to build an optical fibre
backbone to cover every village in the country — a
backbone that will be ideal to backhaul AzQtel’s
wireless network. "We and the others can bring the last mile
solution," says Mollazade.
He sees that the next five years will bring "a revolution" in
the build-out of broadband in Azerbaijan, under which broadband
"will extend from the haves to the have-nots, narrowing the
digital divide", he says.
The backbone will be operated by a national broadband company,
he explains, and these developments will have profound
political and social effects: "Azerbaijan is making bold and
rapid steps to information and freedom of speech," helping the
development of the economy — which is founded on the
oil and gas industries.
Funds from oil and gas are being used for that backbone
investment. In addition, says Mollazade, a free trade zone is
being set up in the city of Sumgayit, about 30 kilometres from
Baku. "It will be for technology companies, local and foreign,
and the government is setting up an investment fund."
Meanwhile, Mollazade is ready to look at proposals for the move
from WiMax to TDD LTE. "Our shareholders and bankers have set a
requirement for proposals from at least three vendors," he
says. "We are trying to get the best."
The company is aiming for "decisions before the end of April",
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