LTE flourishing in Africa

Africa is getting a taste of LTE, spearheaded by Movicel in Angola working with vendors Huawei and ZTE. With services launched in April 2012, the operator is using spectrum in the 1800-MHz band.
Namibia’s MTC launched services on May 16 in conjunction with its vendor partner Huawei. MTC is also using FDD spectrum at 1800-MHz for its 4G service.
In June, commercial 4G services were launched by Smile Communications in Tanzania. The operator is working with Alcatel Lucent and is using spectrum in the 800-MHz band for its deployment. Vodacom Tanzania has also awarded a network upgrade contract to NSN.
Also in June, Emtel in Mauritius announced plans to launch its 4G commercial offerings at the end of July. MTN’s Nigeria awarded network upgrade contacts to Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE to bring the operator to a state of LTE readiness. In Botswana, Mascom has launched a pilot LTE network with plans for the launch of commercial services in 2012. Belize Telecommunication is aiming to launch LTE services in 4Q12, while Ghana’s National Information Technology Agency has contracted Huawei to transition its e-government WIMAX network to LTE.
Meanwhile, Kenya’s Communications Ministry is standing by a plan for the deployment of an open access network with a proposed launch in 2013. This assumes that appropriate spectrum is made available and that agreement and cooperation between multiple prospective participants in the process is achieved. Independently, Safaricom has trialed LTE in Kenya using spectrum in the 900-MHz band.
South Africa’s operators are pursuing trial and network upgrade activities although uncertainty surrounding long-delayed new spectrum allocations and regulatory approvals are affecting the timing of 4G launches in the country. In Tunisia, Tunisiania has also awarded a network upgrade contract with LTE launch timing yet to be announced.
Namibia’s Movicel has launched with the most extensive device portfolio. It is offering a Samsung Galaxy tablet and Galaxy SII smartphone along with an MTC modem. Under the ‘Netman 4G’ banner two services are available with differing speeds and data allowance and discounted pricing until the end of September. A 5-GB capped service is offered with a downlink speed of 50-Mbps and upload speed of 25-Mbps, while users have the ability to purchase additional data allowances. MTC’s unlimited plan, subject to fair use policy, comes with advertised speeds of 100-Mbps downlink and 50-Mbps uplink.
Clearly LTE presents a huge opportunity for many African nations where fixed infrastructure is lacking and computer and broadband penetration rates are low. With the recent surge of LTE activity in the region, mobile operators are using an array of spectrum bands in their network launches and upgrade plans. This is necessitated in many countries in the region where digital dividend spectrum will not be released until the 2015 timeframe, and where spectrum in the 2.6-GHz band remains encumbered.
LTE developments in Africa will be driven by competitive forces within individual nations and by the regional subsidiaries of large operators including MTN, Airtel and Vodafone. Notwithstanding the plans of such major operators, it is notable that launches and launch commitments to date have largely been spearheaded by smaller operators in the region.
Dianne Northfield is vice president of research at Tolaga Research.