LTE in Africa: A question of spectrum

LTE network rollouts and subscribers are on the rise in Africa, even though the obstacles to rolling out the next-generation mobile technology there are often very high. In addition, the business case for operators frequently does not yet exist. The difficulties of obtaining the right spectrum (such as 700 and 800 MHz frequencies), the high upfront cost of devices, and the cost of backhaul are all hurdles that are yet to be overcome.

Hans Piet, Ericsson's head of sales for mobile broadband in Sub-Saharan Africa, also points out that there are still many markets in Africa with no 3G or very low-quality 3G networks and low average revenue per user.

The fact that Tier 1 operators are nonetheless rolling out LTE is in many cases being driven by the desire to be first to market, Piet said. However, once users have experienced LTE, it is very hard to go back. What's more, a new breed of LTE-only players have spotted what they believe is pent-up demand in the market, leading to the arrival of Smile, Surfline and others.

Ovum has been following the progress of LTE across Africa, noting that the number of networks has now reached 34, up from 22 at mid-2014. Ovum predicts that there will be 11 million LTE subscriptions at the end of 2015, up from 1.6 million in the first quarter of 2014. In 2019, the number of LTE subscriptions across Africa is expected to surpass 100 million.

Our latest special report looks at LTE developments in Africa in order to gain some insights into progress so far, and what some of the players are planning to do in the coming months. You can read the report here.--Anne