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Race is on as Vietnam grants first 4G service licenses

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People wait for a bus in front of an advertising billboard of Mobifone in Hanoi on Jan 5.   © Reuters

HO CHI MINH CITY -- Vietnamese mobile users will be able to use commercial 4G services starting next year. The government has officially granted licenses to the three biggest carriers -- Viettel Group, Vinaphone (subsidiary of VNPT) and Mobifone -- to set up public telecommunications networks and provide 4G services in the country.

Vietnam's Department of Radio Frequencies said 4G services might only be popularized in 2018 because of concerns that the infrastructure may not be completely installed in the short time. However, the major telecom providers said they have prepared their infrastructure so they can officially launch the service in the coming months.

"Viettel has started installing infrastructure to provide 4G service in Vietnam in the first quarter of next year," a Viettel representative confirmed to The Nikkei.

Four major carriers in the country, including Vinaphone, Viettel, Mobifone and FPT Telecom, were earlier allowed to provide the service on a trial basis, when the government gave the green light for testing the fourth generation of mobile telecommunications technology in the country.

Last year, Viettel offered trial 4G service in Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Hanoi, then offered 4G LTE -- a new technology for Data Roaming service -- for customers when traveling to certain countries, including in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, the U.S. and Russia, this June.

The Vietnam Post and Telecommunication Group, the parent company of the second biggest carrier Vinaphone, tested the service in Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island earlier this year. MobiFone began a trial project of the service in Hanoi, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City in July this year.

FPT Telecom, a subsidiary of FPT, previously mentioned a trial 4G service, but the company has not provided any additional information about this project.

Vietnam's telecom market surpassed $15 billion in 2015, dominated by Viettel ($9.9 billion), which is followed by Vinaphone ($3.9 billion) and Mobifone ($1.7 billion).

However, experts said commercial 4G providers may face challenges in their efforts to commercialize the service in the country because 4G-supported handsets are not popular because they are expensive for average-income consumers.

Vietnam is home to more than 136 million mobile subscribers, including some 37 million 3G subscribers, with some 5% of their products compatible with 4G technology. Samsung is among the few mobile device makers that offer 4G accessibility via their latest models that are available in Vietnam.

(Nikkei)

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