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Turkey’s new 4G mobile network comes with many dark clouds

Turkish mobile phone users had to wait for bureaucratic infighting and uncertain market conditions to clear up before they could use faster data connections. In May 2015, following an intervention by President Receipt Tayyip Erdogan and lobbying efforts by a mobile service provider that was not ready to compete, Turkey’s Information and Communications Technologies Authority postponed the 4G tender to August 2015.

Today, those uncertainties seem to be a thing of the past. Turkey’s move to its self-declared “4.5G” network is taking place amid much pomp and fanfare. On April 1, Minister of Communications Binali Yildirim launched the new system by holding a video conference with Erdogan, who was in Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit.

Turkish mobile operators have engaged in even more impressive marketing stunts to sell new phones and data plans. The market leader Turkcell appeals to popular and patriotic sentiments with its “bagliyiz biz” (we are tied / connected / loyal to each other) campaign. Vodafone, with its “4 bucak g” (4 corners g) campaign, showcases folk dancers from the four corners of Turkey performing their own regional dances as well as those of other areas. Former telecom monopoly Turk Telekom (previously Avea) takes a different route and uses Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo to emphasize its 4G network’s speed.

These campaigns, however, have had a limited effect on the target audience. While service providers, phone vendors and consumers are excited about the long-awaited boost to connection speeds, high prices discourage customers. Three storeowners in Ankara’s affluent Cankaya district told Al-Monitor that although customers with phones that are not equipped to use mobile data have expressed interest in upgrading to 4G-compatible phones, they get cold feet upon finding out that the cheapest devices cost 750 Turkish lira (about $265).

Subscription plans also do not come cheap. Modest plans with 2 gigabytes (GB) of data, 1,000 text messages and 1,000 minutes of phone calls vary between 35-50 Turkish lira ($12 to $17). But some plans with 15 GB of data can reach as high as 159 Turkish lira ($55), including taxes and other fees. For a country where the net minimum wage is 1,300 Turkish lira ($457), even the cheapest data plan seems like a luxury.

To boost consumer demand and usage, Turkey must create a mature 4G network and, more importantly, a robust Internet infrastructure.

Kozan Demircan, one of the country’s leading technology experts, calls the new 4.5G an “April Fool’s joke” because Turkey simply does not have the fiber optic network to support the promised connection speeds. High levels of fiber optic penetration (an area in which Turkey comes up short) enable high-quality connections between personal computers, mobile devices and cell towers.


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