Smile claims VoLTE first for East Africa

Smile Telecom said it is the first mobile operator to offer voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) in East Africa after it launched the 4G voice service in three cities in Uganda.

The launch means that the company, which has been offering dongle-only 4G data services to date, has met its goal of launching VoLTE services before the end of this year, enabling it to offer both voice and data services to its subscribers.

Smile COO Tom Allen told FierceWireless:Europe earlier this year that the company's voice service "will be very different and offer HD voice, instant call setup and a step change in the reliability of calls connecting and staying connected."

The operator said the VoLTE service, which also enables video calling, is initially available in Uganda's capital city, Kampala, as well as in Entebbe and Mukono. VoLTE will then be rolled out at a later date in Jinja, Mbale, Soroti, Tororo, Lira, Gulu, Masindi, Kasese, Fort Portal, Kabale, Mbarara and Masaka. Smile said it intends to provide VoLTE throughout East Africa.

The VoLTE service uses Smile's own IMS technology, while long-time technology partner Alcatel-Lucent has conducted network integration, project management and testing activities to prepare the network for the launch.

Daniel Jaeger, vice-president of Alcatel-Lucent activities in Africa, said: "Network transformation to ultra-broadband continues apace in Africa. Universal access is vital to promote ICT and reduce the digital divide. Alcatel-Lucent is supporting the integration of Smile's own IMS to ensure a converged network architecture that delivers new subscriber features in a cost-effective way."

Initially established as a WiMAX company, Smile now operates LTE broadband networks in the 800 MHz band in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, with plans to launch services in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) early in 2016. In September, the company raised funding $365 million (€343 million) to expand its existing LTE networks and services.

Allen has previously said that spectrum remains the biggest hurdle for the company's LTE rollouts. So far, Smile has launched services where it has been able to get hold of 800 MHz spectrum.

For more:
- see the Smile release

Related articles:
Smile raises $365M for Africa LTE expansion, plans DR Congo launch in 2016
LTE in Africa: Newcomers Smile and Surfline join Orange and Vodafone in lighting up 4G networks
Africa gears up for LTE deployments, with Orange, Surfline and Smile leading the charge
Vodafone wades into Uganda as Orange bows out
Africa bustles with innovative ideas to get its citizens connected