LTE – how can Africa prepare for this evolution?
MOBILEBy BiztechAfrica - Aug. 20, 2012, 10:21 a.m.
By Martin Ferreira, Executive Head: Technology and Operations, Jasco Carrier Solutions
Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology is the next step up from 3G. This all-IP network technology will give users three times the wireless throughput and increase network capacity considerably.
It’s much needed in South Africa as the uptake of bandwidth hungry smart devices – smartphones, tablet PCs, etc. – grows and the backhaul capabilities of the networks become increasingly stressed. However, LTE technology is not compatible with 2G and 3G – it calls for a totally new technology installation and rollout. For new players, the first investment will be high but in the long run the cost per Megabit per second (Mbps) will make this an attractive solution.
With every major network provider in South Africa trialing LTE technology and ICASA looking like it may soon finalise the spectrum allocation issue, 2012 may well be the year of LTE. But trialing LTE is not the same as rolling out an LTE network, or offering an LTE quality service. Without doubt it’s the direction every network provider needs to take, but there are challenges and considerations. An evolution rather than a revolution is on the cards.
The big challenge is to exchange the Telkom copper currently used on the backhaul with fibre. While there is now a lot of fibre rolled out, primarily by the big network players, smaller players are also rolling out fibre and presenting a new “open fibre” model. This model essentially opens up use of the fibre to any network provider with a need, for a fee of course. The technology used by these smaller players is going to be an important influencer as network service providers will want to easily integrate to and across these networks.
Current trends are leaning toward use of technology from vendors who represent the entire digital echo system in their product set. Samsung offers a good example with its end devices for consumers (smart phones and tablet PCs already equipped with LTE chip sets) as well as other carrier grade equipment and solutions.
Of course, few networks will migrate completely to LTE in the near terms. While this technology is per Mbps of capacity cheaper than the 3G technologies to install, it remains a significant investment.
It is after all not a complementary network, but an additional one. Network providers will want to sweat their existing assets, most likely deploying LTE in metropolitan areas to service the large broadband demand here, and using current CDMA/WCDMA technologies for voice. In addition, older WiMAX technologies could be put to good use if redeployed to rural areas.
Alternatively the reuse of Wimax frequencies (3.5Ghz) on LTE can have very positive impact on the network, eliminating the need to pay additional frequency costs. In this way, the networks can evolve, introducing new technologies to users of smart devices with the quality and speed of service that they desire, but also targeting new users and introducing new services and products to them as infrastructure build-out and demand allow. They will also have the providers of open fibre and specialised telecoms services to rely on to close gaps.
Smaller, new and hybrid telecoms players now on the scene may well change the traditional playing field and offer strategic advantage to existing local and international players entering the South African market.
The picture is bleaker for Africa due to lack of high capacity backbone infrastructure that the Broadband solutions rely on. Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Ghana are moving towards LTE technology with many other countries trialing LTE. But the LTE challenge for Africa is much higher.
While the landing of the EASSY, WACCS and SEACOM undersea cables means there is a huge amount more bandwidth capacity available to the continent, fibre reach to the shore to access that bandwidth is slow. In addition, budget to acquire and install LTE is limited. Nonetheless there is huge opportunity here, especially for greenfields players to launch with pure LTE offerings.
The big players in South Africa have the appetite to move to LTE – indeed are being driven to this new technology as their cells fill up and gaps are left in their RF coverage. For network providers, a hybrid technology strategy followed by the full launch of a LTE network is on the cards. My advice for consumers: ensure any new end devices you acquire are LTE ready as LTE services are likely to be here by the second quarter of 2013.
MORE MOBILE NEWS
IFC promotes mobile financial services in Cote d’IvoireIFC and the MasterCard Foundation this week convened key financial industry players to build further momentum for mobile financial services in Cote d’Ivoire. Read More
Nokia introduces new flagship phoneNokia has unveiled the Nokia Lumia 925, described as a new interpretation of world’s most innovative smartphone. Read More
KasiMP3, GoMetro take mobile music to SA rail commutersA new partnership will see rail commuters in South Africa enjoying free and legal music from over 40,000 music artists from across Africa. Read More
NBIC launches mobile labThe Namibia Business Innovation Centre (NBIC) has launched a Mobile Lab with the aim of giving mobile developers a platform to develop mobile applications and to launch them into the market. Read More
Safaricom gives Kshs. 10m to flood victimsThe Safaricom Foundation has donated Kshs.10 million to fund rescue efforts for flood victims following a USD 3.5 million (Kshs.292, 950,000) appeal by the Kenya Red Cross. Read More
TNM launches mobile bankingTelekom Networks Malawi Limited (TNM) has launched a mobile banking facility, TNM Mpamba. Read More
Mobility changing the face of African enterpriseMobility is changing the way business is run across Africa, and the IT department needs to step up to enable it, says Ayanda Dlamini Business Development Manager at LGR Telecommunications. Read More
Nokia, UNESCO use mobile for literacy in NigeriaMobile phones can soon be used to help teachers improve English language literacy skills among primary school students in Nigeria. Read More
Orange launches bonus mobile internet offersOrange Kenya is offering up to 25% bonus airtime for on-net voice and SMS on purchased data bundles. Read More
FEATURED STORYICT opens doors for Kenyan slum dwellers
A Nairobi based group is equipping high school girls from Nairobi's slums with ICT skills to help them participate meaningfully in building the economy.
BEST READ NEWS
IN DEPTHBetting on the cloud
In Africa, an emerging ICT industry is betting its future on serving customers and businesses through cloud based applications, Riverbed Technology has told Biztechafrica.