Mascom brings 4G LTE to Botswana


Image: Thari Pheko. By John Churu
Thari Pheko

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

Mascom Wireless has announced extended 2.5G and 3.5G coverage and the launch of the first 4G LTE pilot in Botswana.

Mascom Wireless, one of the three mobile phone services providers in Botswana, continues to score firsts in the mobile communication arena in Botswana. During a presentation on its network developments to stakeholders this morning, Mascom CEO Jose Vieira Couchero said it was important that stakeholders were briefed on the efforts that Mascom continued to make in developing the ICT sector in Botswana.

“These developments are to ensure that we retain the market leadership as we have been for the past 14 years,” said Couchero. He said Mascom: “was the first to bring innovative technological developments to the country. For this reason, we are pleased to be the first to bring to Botswana the launch of the last generation of mobile technology, the 4G LTE and in fact also the first in the SADC region.”

“This will not only ensure that we remain competitive and number one, but also that Botswana remains a part of the fast evolving technology world.” He added that Mascom remained convinced that ICT and internet use presents great possibilities to Batswana. We believe that ICT provides a golden opportunity for Batswana to generate income, combat hunger, ill health and most important - enhance literacy.”

Thari G Pheko, Chief Executive of the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA), welcomed Mascom’s key initiatives.  “Mascom is announcing three very important initiatives, including an increase in 2.5G coverage, coverage and capacity increase of the 3.5G service and the launch of the first 4G LTE pilot in Botswana and one of the first in the SADC region.”

Mascom CEO Jose Vieira Couchero

BTA said these developments were “very encouraging and a step in the right direction” and “in line with the Service and Technology Neutral licence awarded to Mascom in 2007.” The award of the service-neutral licence authorises Mascom to provide all forms of telecommunications services and to extend their existing network coverage as far as their vision desires.

“We believe that this investment in their network will allow Mascom to continue to grow its portfolio of products and services and especially those services that target internet penetration.” 

Addressing penetration concerns

Like Government, the BTA is also concerned about the low level of internet penetration in Botswana, which stands at under 10%.  “Therefore developments such as the one we are witnessing today will be vital in increasing levels of Internet penetration in this country,” he said.

“We believe that the quality of networks, and the good mobile penetration level of about 150%, place Botswana in an ideal position to drive internet connectivity via mobile phones.  The industry is calling for broadband mobile internet and this can only be possible through investments such as this one .”

The BTA boss added: “It is also encouraging to note that the investment in the network improvement from Mascom addresses at least two important strategic themes of the BTA Strategic Plan, notably; ‘network efficiency and effectiveness’ - which aims at ensuring that operators run an efficient and effective network; and ‘global competitiveness of the communications sector’ - which seeks to ensure that by 2016, the communications sector in Botswana is able to compete on the global stage.”

He said the development of the ICT sector is an immense task that requires all stakeholders to work in tandem in the quest to transform Botswana into a regional ICT hub. 

To date, the Government has invested heavily in high capacity undersea cables in the East and West coast of Africa to increase bandwidth capacity in bid to advance Botswana towards the information age. “An important deliverable on the part of the BTA is to support Government in the development of a National Broadband Strategy that will among other things encourage the development of local content and applications,” Pheko explained.

National broadband strategy revealed

BTA, in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport and Communications, recently awarded a tender for the development of National Broadband Strategy that will provide a holistic and coordinated approach to supporting and enhancing the broadband eco-system of ICTs in Botswana.  The company has already started consultations with all key stakeholders including Mascom, it was revealed to Biztechafrica.

The aim is to realise long term national strategic outcomes by facilitating the construction and use of higher speed, high quality and reliable ICT networks that are able to carry large volumes of digital data and information

“Developments such as this one by Mascom will ensure that indeed Botswana achieves her goal of using ICT’s to drive the economy and maximise the economic and social benefits for Batswana.  Mascom made an application for non-commercial LTE technical trials in mid-December last year to investigate technical matters such as compatibility with their existing systems, coverage, cell handover etc. We subsequently allocated Mascom spectrum in the 2.5G band to do technical trials for a four months period which is why we are here today.”

80% coverage by next year

According to the Mascom Chief Operations Officer (COO) Ricardo Luz, close to 80% of Botswana population should be within 3.5G coverage by 2012/2013. “Our target is to provide the fastest mobile broadband in Botswana which currently is at 21 Mbps. We also wish to have the lowest internet tariffs and be able to sustain Mascom’s innovative drive.”Mascom COO Ricardo Luz

Luz said with 4.5 LTE Mascom would be the first to pilot that in the country and will be one of the first in the region. MTC of Namibia was the first operator in Africa to commercially roll-out 4G LTE in the African continent.

The 4G rollout will set Mascom as a market leader and market pioneer in the industry. It was also the first to start mobile operations in the country in 1998, first to have a 100% EDGE data network in 2005/2006 and they have also become the first to deploy a 3.5 data network in 2008. Recently they were also the first to complete the Nteletsa II project. 

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