Vietnamese mobile carriers are improving their 3G service quality to attract more subscribers before 4G is allowed in the country, the Vietnam Investment Review (VIR) reported on September 8.

Viettel, MobiFone, and VinaPhone recently announced that they have raised their download speed six-fold to 42 Mbps, which will allow subscribers to watch HD video clips on their mobile phones.

The three carriers have increased the number of 3G base transceiver stations (BTS). In fact, MobiFone has reused its 900Mhz frequency for 3G transmission, thus tripling the stations’ coverage. The telecom firm has just finished upgrading 1,000 3G BTSs in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Dong Nai to a speed of 42 Mbps, and is planning to build another 1,000 42Mbps 3G BTSs in Da Nang and Can Tho.

Meanwhile, Viettel has finished a trial run of its enhanced speed 3G, and plans to complete upgrading its BTSs countrywide in 2015.

VinaPhone assured its customers that its 13,000 3G BTSs will be completely upgraded to 42 Mbps in early 2015. In addition, the leading carrier is co-operating with equipment suppliers to pilot 84 Mbps 3G.

The VIR quoted Jan Wassenius, General Director of Ericsson Vietnam, as saying that Vietnamese carriers had not yet fully tapped the potential of 3G. He added that “only when demand for 3G is very high should we commercialise 4G LTE.”

Vietnam currently has 19.7 million 3G subscribers, up four million on year, while 2G and 3G subscribers combined total 127.8 million, down eight million.

The number of 3G subscribers accounts for only 16 percent of the total number of mobile users in Vietnam, in comparison to 75 percent in the US and 45 percent in China.

Thieu Phuong Nam, General Director of Qualcomm Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, said that Vietnam should design an appropriate business model for 4G before running it. He suggested holding off on commercialising 4G LTE until 2017-2018, giving time for the percentage of 3G subscribers to rise to 50-60 percent, meaning about 40-50 million new 3G users.

Currently, revenue from 3G users, mostly from value added services, accounts for about 50 to 60 percent of carriers’ total revenue.

According to General Director of the Authority of Radio Frequency Management (ARFM) Doan Quang Hoan, the majority of investment in 3G does not come from carriers but from mobile users through end use devices. He added that if mobile network operators invest in 4G LTE now it will be a waste, as the number of users is low and people have not yet made full use of 3G.-VNA